Our Essential Challenge
Cambridge is an urban district that is uniquely small and highly resourced.
We are a city of multi-generational Cantabrigians and first-generation immigrants; our families raise their children in private homes and in public housing; our residents are accomplished Ph.D.’s and hard working high school graduates. We come from all over the world to work and live in a city that values diversity, equity and the well-being of its residents.
The dynamism of our community, and what it means to be a Cantabrigian, is vividly on display every day in every classroom of our 17 public schools.
But despite our city’s rich array of resources and opportunities, we still have students unable to thrive in our schools. Year after year, despite incremental gains, a gap persists between those students who succeed and those who struggle.
Often silent in public discourse are the struggles of those chronically challenged by poverty, their immigration status or a learning disability. The demography of the students in our schools tells an urgent story: almost 45%, or 3000, of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 1100 live in public housing, and every Friday 500 students leave school with a backpack of nutritional food to eat over the weekend. There are food pantries in four of our elementary schools and one in the high school.
The challenges at home that students bring to school, food insecurity, language barriers and learning disabilities, all make learning hard for our most vulnerable students.
We are a city with high expectations for our students. But success in school should not be left to chance, a zip code or a parent’s advocacy skills. Continuing the status quo of mixed results will not ensure all our students graduate prepared to succeed.
Our schools are the community centers of our city. It is the common ground on which we all unite. Working together – with our schools, our city providers, and our neighborhood groups – we can, and must, make sure all our students get what they need – reliably and consistently – to realize their dreams.
My Priorities to Build Bridges to Excellence in our Schools
* Accelerate implementation of Universal Pre-K
Research makes clear: the best advantage we can give our students to close the persistent achievement and opportunity gaps, is access to high quality pre-school education. But despite the urgency, especially for our low-income students, implementation of a systemic early childhood education program has been slow. I will ensure the needs of our earliest learners are given the attention they deserve. Access will not only better prepare our early learners for school, but it will also create opportunity for families to build the habit of engagement with teachers and their schools.
* Create a Partnership in STEAM Education
The greatest opportunity for our graduates is in the rapidly growing tech sector both locally and globally. A recent Massachusetts report identified 300,000 state jobs unable to be filled because applicants lacked the high-tech skills and training necessary to be competitive. Working with key stakeholders in our business community and at our local institutions, a STEAM Partnership would be key to capturing the internship and apprenticeship experience necessary for our students to pursue new career pathways and jobs.
* Make social and emotional learning (SEL) best practices common in every school
Research shows that students learn best when they feel safe, unstressed, and valued for who they are. But for some students, due to the home stresses they bring to school or a learning disability, school is an anxious, high stress environment. For these students, learning occurs best when they feel safe, trusted and valued. To do this well takes professional skill building, use of best practices to mitigate anxiety, and school-based compassion. Some schools have embraced more nurturing cultures, but this is not true district wide. As a member of the SEL Advisory Board, I will advocate for all principles to adopt this pedagogy of relational best practices and implement it building wide.
* Develop Resident Teacher Training Program
Research substantiates what our own student say: they feel most affirmed and receptive to learning when the teachers in front of them look like them and share their cultural experiences. But despite being a majority minority school district, only 15% of our teachers are a minority or a teacher of color. Our School Committee has set a goal of 30% without a plan for achieving this. When last on the School Committee, I began this work and will continue to conduct the outreach necessary to recruit and build the pipeline of talent our students deserve.