Did you know?
Patty's leadership style is inclusive and effective. She recruited parents and community members to the Controlled Choice Team — the only team with outsiders. As a result, the team's work involved a comprehensive review and led to hard-hitting recommendations, many of which are already adopted.
Patty receives Cambridge Chronicle and Cambridge Day endorsements! And Patty is the only woman endorsed by either one.
from Chronicle endorsement:
Dear Cambridge Voter:
I ask for your # 1 vote and support this year. As the only candidate with broad management experience and proven analytical ability, I add a valuable perspective to the committee.
To achieve our goals we need leaders to take a stand and work together. I do both. I push for answers to difficult questions and take tough votes. Our district has pockets of excellence, not excellence across the board. We can do better. I am proud of working with my colleagues on a range of issues. I have kept my promise to hold us accountable. I will keep pushing until ALL students are challenged and supported.
Dear Follower of Cambridge Public Schools:
First, Happy Summer! School just ended for CPS students and the whirlwind of year-end activity is about to shift into summer mode. Personally, the past few months have also been even busier than usual. We recently celebrated our daughter's bat mitzvah and my husband had an insanely busy schedule leading up to the reopening of the Planetarium at the Museum of Science, (he's the Director), with a spectacular new show. Our son finished his first year at CRLS and will participate in the Mayor's Youth Summer Employment Program -- one of the many incredible opportunities our city offers young people. Our daughter finished up 7th grade at the Peabody School where a highlight of the year was a performance of an original musical play on bullying in schools. (Both our children find times when their years at Amigos speaking Spanish come in handy, and we are grateful that opportunity was available to them.)
In my last update three months ago I wrote at length after the vote on approving a major initiative in our school district, to restructure our schools, called the Innovation Agenda [IA]. That initiative, which was quite wrenching for the community and for me, has been the main focus of our work of the last few months. The issue of how to address the challenges of living our dream of excellent education for all in a district as diverse as Cambridge is hugely important and hugely difficult. As those who follow our district know, there are still many decisions to be made about how to implement the Innovation Agenda.
As always, I am absorbed in a range of issues, both related to my work as a School Committee member, and my volunteer work in the community on mostly educational and environmental sustainability issues. With the world facing monumental challenges and many people I know experiencing very difficult and challenging times, including several members of my family, I try to remain focused on positive work on all fronts to meet the challenges.
I welcome your feedback, comments, suggestions. And, of course, this being an election year, I plan to run for re-election and respectfully ask for your support. As usual, I've been very busy working hard on issues. I look forward to continuing that work with your help.
1. Superintendent evaluation & contract renewal
Part of our June 21 School Committee meeting was devoted to an evaluation of Superintendent Jeff Young. And subsequent to us summarizing our feedback, we unanimously voted to enter into negotiations for a successor contract. I fully hope and expect that those negotiations will be successful and that Dr. Young will be in Cambridge for several more years. His contract runs through June of 2012, and we needed to give a one year notice of intent to renew.
As Dr. Young's earliest and strongest supporter in the superintendent search of two years ago, I am gratified that he has garnered so much community support. This year's unanimous decision to enter into contract negotiations for a successor contract was a relief compared to the extreme tension and divisiveness generated by past superintendents.
As I said during our evaluation of his performance this week, he has many strengths and we are lucky to have him as our superintendent. Like all of us, Dr. Young also has areas of weakness, and opportunities for improvement. I look forward to continuing to work with him on behalf of our shared vision of excellence in the Cambridge Public Schools. In my evaluation, I spoke appreciatively of his personal commitment to addressing issues of achievement, his approachability, his public speaking prowess, his courage in restructuring central administration, his exceptional ability to market the Innovation Agenda and his warmth and dedication to our students. I also spoke of the need I saw to be more respectful of other people's input especially teachers (many of whom feel uncertain and demoralized by the IA process), to be more inclusive of parents in decision-making, to be more supportive of all schools, and more open about schools not meeting our students need or educational goals.----------------------------------------
2. Innovation Agenda [IA] follow ups
The IA will shape the district for years to come. And, it will absorb most of our collective energy over the next couple of years. Next year is a planning year, and in September of 2012 Cambridge will have one high school, the newly renovated Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, one JK-8 school (Amigos dual way bilingual immersion school), 11 elementary schools of JK-5 (possibly JK-6), with two of those schools hosting dual way bilingual programs (the King Chinese Bilingual Immersion Strand and King Open's Ola Portugese Bilingual Program).
Much information related to the IA, including documents and updates can be found on the CPS website: http://www3.cpsd.us/Schools/Innovation_Agenda
As we move forward implementing this ambitious plan, there are many unanswered questions especially about the new upper school campuses. Unresolved questions include leadership structure, curriculum, grade structure, and the future of the ISP, (the district's long standing middle school magnet program for academically motivated students).
A question has been raised on how the decisions on each of these issues will be made. School Committee sets policy and the Superintendent carries out the will of the Committee and is charged with implementing the policies and deciding administrative and managerial issues within the parameters we set. Recently we reviewed the IA status and agree to outline the areas of responsibility as we see them. Below is my email to the superintendent and my colleagues. I welcome any feedback from you.
You asked us all to confirm which decisions related to the Innovation Agenda we believe need to be voted upon by the School Committee.
The question really is which decisions are policy and which are administrative implementation of policy. I told you verbally, and I indicated in an email a sense of which decisions I believe fit into the policy realm. However, I have not written it down in a more formal way, hence this email.
Using my understanding of School Committee role, from standard school board roles, our own practice, contacting the MASC and reviewing the state's advisory on governance it seems that the following decisions definitely are policy and therefore should be decided by the School Committee. As always, the Committee should seek input from you as administrator of the district and implementor of the policies we set. There may be other items which arise as we dig into the details, but the major ones I see are below.
NOT AS CLEAR:
An overarching question is whether we have already voted on the above questions. I believe not. Each of the above was an open question at the time of the vote on the IA. Even though the grades 6-8 were listed in the IA, the question of having campuses be 7-8 instead was on the table, and a specific motion was voted to be referred to you for study as part of the IA.
Hope that helps clarify my understanding of the law.
3. Summer learning loss
An issue near and dear to me is the question of addressing summer learning loss. My colleague Richard Harding and I put forth two motions on this issue. First, that the district communicate the importance of summer assignments. Many kids do assigned work over the summer, come back to school and see it get tossed sometimes literally into the recycle bin. Definitely not a message we want to impart to students. We believe strongly that we need consistency, and need to respect our students and teachers.
We also believe strongly that we miss an opportunity if we ignore summer learning loss. Our second motion was to explore, as part of the IA, some mandatory summer learning experience for all middle school students. For a little more of my thinking on this issue, below is the op-ed by Richard Harding and me in the Chronicle from a few weeks ago: (copied below)
Guest commentary: Summer learning for all in Cambridge
We have a dream. Most of us in Cambridge have a dream -- of a stellar school district with high achievement across the board. Yet achievement gaps with academically struggling students persist. Many academically strong students feel unchallenged or unsupported. With major change upon our district and explicit attention to our need to do better, we hope the dialogue includes a look at one promising strategy.
When's the last time a student had to help out with the family harvest? Right. Yet our school year has a ten-week gap. During that time, convincing educational research shows that some students continue to grow - through camps or family vacations or museum visits or other engaging activities with meaningful content, even if outside the classroom. Ask any teacher how much time they spend each fall getting students back to where they were in June. Too much.
Time magazine's story last July on this issue summary of research should compel all of us to rethink our aversion to mandating summer learning: "By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind, and summer was the biggest culprit. By ninth grade, summer learning loss could be blamed for roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap separating income groups."
Similarly, a Nellie Mae study found very compelling evidence that most schools do a wonderful job of teaching students, and learning grows over the school year. Then students without summer opportunities either slide back or hold steady while other students, mostly middle class, continue to learn. Extended learning time during the day hasn't shown convincing improvements in achievement.
That knowledge spurred us to jointly offer a motion to explore extending the school year by requiring all middle school students to be intentionally engaged in learning for several weeks during the summer. For some students, attending nature camp would qualify while for others work as a junior counselor.
Our own children aren't crazy about this idea. And many in Cambridge resist mandatory anything -- especially a "loss" of summer. But it doesn't have to be a loss if every student has a 3-4 week summer program that is fun, inspiring, and a cross between camp and summer school. Breakthrough Cambridge has led the way, with an intense program with impressive results with their students who are mostly students of color from low-income backgrounds. The program marries the excitement of young teachers with engaging classes. The energy in the program about the thrill of summer learning and the saliency of teacher relationship is quite inspiring. What if every student had a similar experience for part of the summer?
Summer classes could include robotics, biotech, philosophy and other enrichment classes in every subject. We hope our colleagues across the city will see this idea as a potentially exciting one, which may put Cambridge on the map in fulfilling our mission.
Bold solutions are needed. We share a dream. Let's go for it.
Richard Harding and Patty Nolan are Cambridge School Committee members.
4. Differentiated learning
An ongoing, contentious issue in CPS is whether to offer different classes to students based on aptitude and facility with the subject. People often refer to this issue as "tracking", a term I resist since tracking usually means no route off an assigned track. I remain ambivalent about this question. However, I am not ambivalent about believing that our students' educational needs now would best be served by different classes in math in the middle grades. Our district has a general policy that students will be challenged through differentiated instruction within the same class, rather than differentiated classes. Other urban districts offer schools or classes based on preparedness. CPS does not. (The ISP has a related but slightly different mission and history.) The question of how we will meet students educational needs in the new middle school campuses is an open one, explicitly so for math.
I have been struck by some students experience that they are not being well served by our current policies, even in a small class with differentiated learning. We have a long proud history of offering different lessons to students who are behind their peers, recognizing that they need instruction tailored to where they are. Many in our community don't recognize the needs of kids who are ahead of their peers. Some of our schools do engage them, some don't. All should.
Let me relay an anecdote sent to me by someone in our community. A quite powerful statement on leveled classes, based on painful personal experience:
It is a mistake to imagine that students in non-tracked classes will magically be unaware of how they compare academically with their peers, and it is my experience that without tracking the contrast is only made more obvious.
As a student who spent many years at the academic bottom of differentiated classrooms, I can tell you that it is not an inspiring experience. The absence of tracking in the schools I attended, did not hide from me that I was least competent student in the class. In fact, the contrast between me and the higher level students was only made more stark. So stark, that I mostly gave up trying and even ended up failing fifth grade.
My story is similar to many students who struggle in school as result of a less than ideal home life, being raised by a single parent who struggled with alcoholism and mental illness.
By ninth grade I was in a high school that had academic tracks which they tried to disguise, fooling no one, with the titles such as environmental science versus biology. Finally, I was in a class of academic peers and the possibility of succeeding within this more narrow group seemed less daunting. Taking small steps, I moved into more challenging classes until by senior year, I was in all top classes.
Even so, I missed a lot of valuable years of education. One of my only regrets is that I was not placed in tracked classrooms at a much earlier age.
Ideally, all students would be able to get their needs met in a heterogeneous class. However, we know that is not always the case currently. When CRLS did away with honors classes, the high school lost a lot, including its accreditation. Now CRLS is viewed as very successful. Offering different level classes does not have to mean that the expectations or quality of instruction are different.
More in math than in other subjects, when there is a wide range of learners and ability and aptitude in a class, the challenge for teachers is monumental. If we put two teachers in every class, or had a relatively narrow range of preparedness, or had an extraordinary teacher who could effectively differentiate instruction, then yes, we could and should offer heterogeneous classes. But if none of those conditions are present, I believe it is not educationally sound to not have leveled classes.
Never mind that it takes either a long time or a particular skill set -- probably both -- to be an effective differentiator as a teacher. And we can't rely on all teachers being superstars.
When we do a review and have the discussion, we should include students voices. By a certain age, kids have a sense of how they learn best. Often kids themselves do not care so much how they are placed. I have asked them -- they know who is strong and they don't necessarily care if they're working in separate group or class. It's not as though we're hiding that by not having separate classes. And as the above personal story makes clear, it can hurt some students not to offer them classes with academic peers.
Students should be engaged, and to be challenged -- the key is to have high expectations -- for that student or group of students.
Take a student in first grade who learns to read easily, as though s/he doesn't need to go through the typical steps. S/he picks it up almost as if on their own -- appropriately high expectations for her/him might mean a book more typically read by 2nd or 3rd graders. We all know students reading Harry Potter in 4th grade, for instance. Others can't get through it until 7th or 8th grade.
Take another first grader who doesn't learn so easily, and who has to be brought through the steps to literacy slowly, with difficulty. Asking that student to read the same book would be unfair and educationally unsound. High expectations might mean getting to a first grade level by year end -- and that might be a stretch.
Of course, we'd want the first child to be challenged, and the second. And for the second to be given enough help to develop reading skills. How best to do it? With enough effective adults in the classroom, it is easier to effectively differentiate. With one adult, and a range of aptitude and experience among the students .....?
All to say, the "right" answer is not always clear. And equity in education does not necessarily mean the same. Students needs vary. So should their education. What should not vary are our expectations and standards.
5. The future of the Intensive Studies Program [ISP]
The ISP is the district's middle grade magnet program for students who are academically motivated. It is under review, and honestly, it is difficult to see how it will continue under the IA. However, there is a review underway and at a minimum I hope we learn from the study of the ISP and incorporate findings into the planning around the implementation of the IA. I have advocated strongly for a transparent and comprehensive evaluation of the program which can only serve us well for planning for the new middle schools, even if the program itself is ended.
The ISP has served our district since 1952, and is the only districtwide academic program for middle school students. We should learn from its experience. I have spoken with many ISP parents from many years ago, a few years ago and current. The program recently has not lived up to its potential. In my view, that is due to it not being supported by the district. Students now are entirely self selected, with no clear academic standard. And schools of course hate to lose students to the ISP, so students without involved "in-the-know" parents are not encouraged to enroll. Which leads to, at one of the ISP programs, a striking imbalance in socio-economic status.
The program does not offer as accelerated instruction as in the past. Students in the program report not being challenged. Yet many also want the program to continue, but to be an accelerated program of studies. I have long noted that we should be using our own data on selection into the ISP as a measure of how well our existing schools teach. Some schools lose almost no students to the ISP -- (notably Graham & Parks and King Open). Others lose enough to have a noticeable impact on the sixth grade (notably Baldwin, Morse). In our review of the program, it would be good to include an assessment of why some students and families select it, and why others don't. That knowledge can only help us in planning the program of studies for the new middle schools.
The most troubling aspect for me about the ISP is that it seems to be a poor stepchild. If we have a program, we should support it. If we don't think it meets our educational needs, we should not have it. The ISP was barely mentioned in the Innovation Agenda recommendations. It would be one thing if we had discussed this question, talked to educators in our district, brought in outside folks, reviewed literature, surveyed our own students. Instead, none of that has happened.
The ISP review planned a year ago is now in progress. Unfortunately, it started very late in the year, and had no community input to the process, the questions, the protocols for interviews and focus groups. The initial plan did not include systematic outreach to all parents and students, past and present. The review was in our goal for this past year, but did not happen when expected. That is completely understandable, since the amount of work accomplished this past year by the administration is remarkable.
But it is understandable also that many parents are frustrated. Parents wrote to us quite respectfully last October about wanting to be involved with the ISP review and evaluation, and the superintendent met with a group of parents in January with expected follow up. Unfortunately, the promised follow up never happened until after the review process was decided and defined. I understand the pressure of time, and the amount of work which has been done on a range of issues. But for those parents who have felt dismissed, the lack of involvement is distressing and I feel for them.
Now, what we need to do is try and mitigate the missteps. There is supposed to be more outreach. And since the initial review did not include any exploration of the role of the ISP in the district as far as retaining families who otherwise might leave, I have asked for that issue to be added to the scope.
I could support having the ISP replaced with something better, as long as we do it thoughtfully and provide a clear sense of how it will improve education in Cambridge. Below is a letter we all received last October from a group of more than twenty parents.
Dear Dr. Young and Members of the School Committee:
Middle grades education has been a major focus of the district over the past few years. Last spring the Superintendent presented five different proposals for the district's middle grades. However, given other concerns which came to light during this process, any proposed re-structuring was put on-hold in order to carefully examine areas, such as Cambridge's controlled choice policy and our current physical plant, before making a final recommendation. We appreciate the time and effort that has gone into this effort to date, and are grateful for the thorough approach you are taking in reviewing the middle grades program.
In the Middle Grades Improvement Plan for 2010-2011 a series of action steps are outlined, which all "focus on improving achievement for all students and reducing our persistent achievement gaps." One of these steps includes an evaluation of the Intensive Studies Program (ISP), in which "the district will evaluate the curriculum, assessment and overall effectiveness of the ISP Program and its capacity to meet the needs of advanced learners."
As families of current, former and future students in the ISP at both the Peabody and Kennedy-Longfellow Schools and therefore stakeholders in the evaluation of the ISP, we are eager to learn about the specifics of the evaluation process. Additionally, we would like to offer our knowledge and experience of the Peabody and Kennedy Longfellow programs as the parents and guardians of its students. You have indicated that families will be involved. Please let us know how, both we as parents and our children, will be part of the review. We think our experience will be very valuable in understanding the strengths and challenges of this program, not just from an academic/learning standpoint, but also from a social/developmental perspective. We also hope that you have a plan for speaking with alums of the ISP, currently at high school or in college or graduated.
It is critical that the ISP be looked at in terms of not only meeting the needs of advanced learners, but should also be reviewed in terms of what needs it may be meeting for middle school students in general. Given the K-8 structure of the District, the ISP has served as a de-facto middle school program for the district -- an opportunity for students from across the district to begin a program together, and not just transfer individually into another K-8 school. Also, are there particular impacts the ISP has in the development of students as they move up from the elementary school grade level? As they transition from middle school student to high school student?
Historically, Cambridge has lost students at each grade level, which meant that by the time a cohort was in middle grades, the total number of students was noticeably smaller than kindergarten and first grade. We believe that the ISP kept that number from being even lower. It is all of our hopes that the program be strengthened. But we also believe there is a need currently filled by the ISP. Without the ISP, there needs to be another way for those needs of our students to be met.
We look forward to hearing what the steps are in the evaluation of the ISP, and how we can contribute. We are also interested in the overall Middle Grades Action Plan. Thank you.
6. Shorter updates
Initiative around teacher evaluation
CPSParents is a Yahoo group for group emails for parents of children in the Cambridge Public Schools. The group's web location is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cpsparents/. The purpose of this group is to:
Cambridge Family Information Network [CFIN]:
CFIN is a district wide parents' group whose mission is to provide information and act as a watch dog for the implementation of CPSD's Innovation Agenda. We welcome all parents and our meetings are open to the public. Please join us, or send us information you would like posted, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
SPED & 504 review:
One clear result of the review, and of parent input, is that starting in September the Office of Special Education will be responsible for overseeing student with 504 plans. This change is especially important since many students with 504s transfer off IEPs, and if the process of understanding how to meet their educational needs is not handled well, it may represent a step backwards for those students.
The separations for strands of self-contained classrooms will be addressed and the bringing together of classes is now being planned, and will take effect with the implementation of the IA in the fall of next year. Progress is being made on addressing other important issues raised in the review: e.g. a resource room in the high school, co-teaching evaluation and review, training for general education teachers and equitable staffing across all schools
I will continue not only my strong support for innovative programs like the Chinese Immersion program, but also continue my quest to get second language in all schools starting in Kindergarten. I have asked for second language to be a districtwide goal for years, and feel that we could find funding in the budget to make it work -- after all, we have about the most generous budget in the state. Last update I wrote at length about bilingual programs, so won't elaborate here -- feel free to resurrect that email from your files. Or ask me to resend.
Sports injury report:
The report did show some areas of concern. The overall number of head injuries is high compared to the two districts cited as comparable data. And there are real outlyers in the data -- the girls and boys soccer teams. Both of those teams have far higher number of head injuries than any other team except football. If you want the full information, feel free to ask. CPS district is doing a lot to keep players safe and instituted some benchmark testing for concussions and has suggested that the district test all students, even those in non contact sports and perhaps all students including those who engage in sports outside of CPS.
There is a group of community members who are organizing a yearlong celebration of CRLS, headed by former mayor Frank Duehay and Andy Farrar. It promises to be a wonderful celebration, full of substance and style. Check it out at https://sites.google.com/site/celebratecrls/