I hope your new years have started sweetly. For me, the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris was a needed infusion of goodness.
[Getty Image by Joe Raedle]
You have likely heard the recent Cambridge Public School headlines, namely that
- Superintendent Salim submitted his resignation for the end of this school year,
- the School Committee approved plans to expand in-person learning to additional students beginning March 1, and
- the teachers union voted no confidence in both the Superintendent and School Committee.
These developments have emerged from challenging and tense times in the Cambridge Public Schools, with almost everyone experiencing pain of some sort:
- Many children learning remotely are struggling with isolation, facing mental health and/or academic setbacks, though many of their peers are thriving in remote classrooms.
- Many educators and staff are feeling afraid, disrespected and demoralized as they prepare to return to school buildings. All are grieving the Covid-related death of Jimmy Ravanis, an employee of the schools and beloved colleague for thirty-five years.
- The distrust between our Superintendent, Committee and educators is palpable.
- And, on our home fronts, caregivers and families are experiencing a range of emotions, from fear about school safety, to concern about their children, and exhaustion from parenting and working at the same time.
That our community is frayed is a tragedy that didn’t have to be. Ideally, the Covid Task Force and multiple associated working groups would have provided spaces for teams of administrators, educators, caregivers, staff, and community partners to develop a shared vision and shared plans for the school year. As a Member of the Task Force, I can attest that it did not. We missed critical opportunities to transform the way we work together, developing goals and centering the voices of educators and caregivers of color. This has meant that, though we have layers of Covid-19 protections in place, critical segments of our workforce and families - including populations that have been disproportionately impacted by Covid - are not on board with the plans.
Personally, I struggled with the hard choice between moving forward with a plan that emerged from a flawed process or keeping children isolated for what I calculated would be the rest of the school year. Either way, we would risk harm to loved ones. I decided to (paraphrasing Stacey Abrams) compromise on my actions, but not my values. After conversations with many in our school community, an imperfect but practical way forward became clearer. As I came to see it, principals, who generally have the trust of their teams and families (and have incentive to maintain strong relationships for the years ahead), should develop school-based strategies for expanding in-person learning. Our principals respond to staff concerns with empathy and a collaborative problem-solving approach. The Superintendent was headed towards school-based planning and, seeing additional reasons for this, I advocated for principals to have decision-making authority.
Another concern I had about the in-person expansion plan was the difficulty of ensuring equitable resources for students who will remain remote. I wanted to officially underscore our need to, at a minimum, maintain current staffing ratios for students who will continue to learn from home.
As I said before our vote Tuesday, when the Committee considered amendments reflecting these changes, this is the best of bad options. Only a few weeks ago, I did not appreciate the value of pushing staffing plans to the school level, as I feared for inequities between schools. But, given the competing needs, on the one hand, to offer struggling students in-person experiences, and, on the other, to honor educator voices, I now believe this is our best way forward.
On a happier note, this year is full of great potential for the Cambridge Public Schools. In the coming weeks, teachers should receive their first vaccines. My School Committee colleagues and I are committed to working with the union, all staff, students and families to rebuild trust. And we have the opportunity to hire our next Superintendent, one who must bring a collaborative approach and new vision for how we transform our district in the months and years ahead.
With the stakes so high, many people I love and respect see things differently. To state what I hope you already know, I am always grateful to hear your perspectives and experiences. They truly inform and guide my decisions.
Wishing you health, love, community and joy throughout this year,