Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 15, 2011

Cambridge Public Schools – Decision Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 5:30 pm

Sat, Mar 12

9:00-11:30am   School Committee Public Comment on Innovation Agenda  (Sullivan Chamber)

Mon, Mar 14

5:30-8:00pm   School Committee Public Comment on Innovation Agenda  (Sullivan Chamber)

Tues, Mar 15

6:00pm   School Committee meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

VOTE on Superintendent’s Recommendations for "Innovation Agenda"

Mar 8, 2011 – ‘Upper school’ proposal goes on with minor changes (Marc Levy)

Here are the main changes:

1) The revised Agenda now proposes an upper school campus in the Cambridgeport/Riverside neighborhood rather than two campuses in East Cambridge.

2) The revised Innovation Agenda district configuration provides JK-­8 immersion opportunities for students in the Amigos two-­way immersion school and for students in the Ola program.

3) The King School JK-5 will remain at the Putnam Avenue building.

4) The Amigos School JK-8 will relocate to the Upton Street building.

5) King upper school students will attend the Putnam Avenue campus (rather than the Rindge Avenue campus).

6) Morse upper school students will attend the Putnam Avenue campus (rather than the Spring Street campus).

7) Kennedy-Longfellow upper school students will attend the Putnam Avenue campus (rather than the Spring Street campus).

8) The Ola Program JK-8 will remain at the Cambridge Street building.

Revised Upper School Campuses & Feeder Schools

Upper School Campus Location Elementary School Communities Assigned (Revised) Initial Proposal
Cambridge Street

Fletcher Maynard Academy
King Open

Cambrideport School
Fletcher-Maynard Academy
King Open
Putnam Avenue
(previously at Spring Street)
Amigos School
Morse School
Rindge Avenue Baldwin
Baldwin School
King School
Peabody School
Vassal Lane Graham and Parks
Graham & Parks

March 8 revisions (PDF)


  1. So far the testimony at this School Committee meeting has been unusually thoughtful. Passions, however, clearly run deep and it seems likely that strong opinions may still dominate as the night proceeds. My vantage point is from The Big Table that used to be in the center of the Sullivan Chamber years ago – for the press. Unbelievably, there was once a day when multiple reporters used to cover City Council and School Committee meetings and they were positioned right in the middle of it all. Now The Big Table sits empty in the far corner in the front of the Chamber – but not tonight. It’s a fabulous vantage point.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

  2. My sense so far is that most of the teachers in the Cambridge Public Schools see the necessity of the Innovation Agenda plan or a variant thereof. Tonight’s testimony seems to support this, though, as Cambridge Teachers Union president Chris Colbath-Hess pointed out, the teachers will show up for work tomorrow and make the most of whatever is decided tonight.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

  3. Several of us civic observers were handicapping the vote that’s expected to take place later tonight. My bet is that it will likely end in a 5-2 vote in favor of the revised plan with Alice Turkel and Patty Nolan voting against the plan. However, there’s an even chance that Patty Nolan may yet vote in favor after some effort is expended to amend the plan. The harsh reality is that some School Committee members may tonight vote in a way contrary to some of their close friends and supporters.

    I will be the most shocked person in the room if Alice Turkel votes for any change to a pure K-8 elementary school structure.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

  4. After two hours, it seems like public comment is winding down. Now comes the “fun” part – and the hard part for the School Committee members.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

  5. Public comment has ended, outgoing CRLS principal Chris Saheed received a standing ovation, and it was noted that Damon Smith will serve as interim principal. Marc McGovern and Alice Turkel have noted that there will be proposed amendments prior to the vote on the Innovation Agenda. Superintendent Jeff Young is now speaking on the proposal.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

  6. The School Committee has now quickly voted all other matters at the meeting. The only matter now is the Innovation Agenda and any proposed amendments. Alice Turkel opens the discussion lightheartedly with a story of her making cupcakes for the meeting. The first proposal is for opening the school system for children as young as 4 years old. She makes clear how much she hates the aspect of the plan that might effectively end the K-8 schools. She does like the improvements to class size for the 6-7-8th grades as well as the benefits for special educational students. She is now telling her colleagues that she wants to vote for the plan if some concessions are made, but she expresses her belief that segregation will result if the plan goes forward as proposed. She is actually intermittently crying as she explains herself.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

  7. Alice Turkel is now speaking on the evils of tracking and “leveled” classrooms – the suggestion being that the proposal would somehow add to the practice of leveled classes. (Having read the proposal, this observer has seen no such aspect to the proposal.) After quoting Bob Moses, Turkel is now submitting a proposed amendment that would ban any leveled classrooms in the middle school grades. Patty Nolan suggests that the proposal be simply referred to the Superintendent but not have it be tied to the main proposal. Mayor Maher agrees. Marc McGovern says that he agrees with Turkel regarding tracking, and suggests that perhaps one day there will be no need for the ISP program. Patty Nolan notes that preemptively forbidding leveled classes goes against the whole ongoing discussion about mathematics curriculum.

    Nancy Tauber notes that though Alice Turkel has expressed how much she hated the plan, nobody has worked as hard as Turkel to improve the plan. That said, Tauber says it would be disingenuous to vote in favor of Turkel’s proposed amendment.

    The dynamics of this meeting are unusually strange. It seems as though most of the other members are speaking in a way to prevent Alice Turkel from crying. It’s an understandable situation, but fundamentally unfair in debating an important matter.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

  8. We’re back to Turkel now who is speaking against any plan that would level classrooms. She makes it out as a civil rights issue and intimates that failure to support her amendment is tantamount to not supporting civil rights. This is devolving into coercion. Marc McGovern constructively suggests that there is a distinction between an amendment and a motion. I believe he is suggesting that motions from Turkel and others could be made separate from the vote on the Innovation Agenda proposal. Richard Harding is now proposing a substitute amendment that would set up a process to address the concerns of Turkel and others. Harding calls this an “academic challenge” policy and a process to be undertaken in 2012. Harding’s substitution passes on a voice vote (apparently Fantini and Turkel voting NO).

    New motion from Turkel, McGovern regarding program for 4-year-olds, though the full details are greater than this. The matter is referred to the Superintendent.

    Turkel is now proposing a change in the configuration for the Amigos School and the Ola program. (I’m a bit unclear on what this is about.) – approved

    Finally, Turkel proposes a plan for enrollment control for all grades – idea is to have no more than 88 students per grade(?) in the upper schools. Motion is referred to the Superintendent for a report.

    Nancy Tauber now proposes that the Superintendent develop a plan to address socioeconomic inequities in the lower grades. Fred Fantini notes that the controlled choice system is broken.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

  9. Richard Harding now is speaking about changes in the controlled choice program to ensure greater balance in the early grades. Jeff Young acknowledges the issue and vows to work hard on it.

    Nancy Tauber and Marc McGovern next propose modifications specific to the G&P and it’s related feeder schools. (details omitted)

    Turkel notes that upper school children in the Amigos School will not be part of the potential benefits of the Innovation Agenda. Motion is to get a report on how these students may be included in benefits of the larger program.

    Patty Nolan asks for a budget estimate for implementation of the plan. She also asks that review of ISP be conducted in a specified way (specifics omitted). Matter is referred to the Superintendent.

    Marc McGovern addresses issue of safe environment in the schools. He also proposes that a community organizing agency be contacted to outreach to populations that have not been part of the conversation. Several other minor motions also offered.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 9:14 pm

  10. The main vote is approaching, but there are a few minor motions being tossed out now for clarification.

    We are now onto the main motion. Marc McGovern gives the first speech. His emphasis is on the divisiveness of the consolidation process a number of years ago and the need to put this aside in this matter. No delay. No further hostility on listserves. Twelve K-8 schools as they are now doesn’t work. He emphasizes the unequal preparation for high school and says that he believes this plan addresses this problem. He also emphasizes social justice issues, especially in regard to special education students. He supports the plan.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

  11. Nancy Tauber is now speaking, gives her involvement over her 4 years on the School Committee on the middle school issue. She notes how receptive the Superintendent has been to all legitimate concerns. The current K-8 system is not working for all children. She supports the proposal. It builds on what is best in our current system.

    Alice Turkel says that she will not vote for the plan, saying there are a million things wrong with this plan. She’s a K-8 girl. She thanks her colleagues for trying to bring her along. She again emphasizes her belief that the plan promotes tracking and that “this is a social justice issue.”

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

  12. Patty Nolan recalls the consolidation days, noting that at the time she was not on the School Committee and wanted a seat at the table. “The seat is now very hot….. Problems that were identified at consolidation are still with us today.” She notes her essay of “a tale of two districts.” There has to be change but suggests there is not enough research to support this plan. She would prefer to delay the decision. She could not support the original plan, but the revised plan is better. Now she’s the one who is crying and noting that “the community is split.” She states that we did this process all wrong and that communities are ripped apart. She wasn’t sure how she would vote up to 5 o’clock tonight. “I’m still torn, but the right thing to do now is to support the plan.”

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

  13. Fred Fantini states that he believes we have a good school system now with the K-8 schools. Predictably, he notes the importance of protecting people’s jobs. He will support the plan. “The bad thing about this plan is the lack of details, but the good thing about this plan is the lack of details…. Nurturing and loving is not enough. We live in a global economy.”

    Richard Harding is now up. “We’ve had 25 years to address the achievement gap…. It’s time to end this game of delay.” Harding believes this plan will help all students in some way.

    Mayor Maher thanks all his colleagues and notes how passionate people have been about this issue. “The School Committee charged the Superintendent when he arrived to address the middle school issue. A process was developed, but it was realized that all that could be come up with was a framework.” Maher supports the plan. He notes the importance of correcting the controlled choice plan as well. He asks everyone to roll up their sleeves and help us. “There’s a place at the table for everyone.”

    Maher winds up by noting that when all is said and done, this will end up costing more than anyone has imagined. He notes that it will take several hundred million dollars in upcoming school building renovations. “The City Manager and Deputy City Manager are ready.”

    They are ready to vote.
    Vote is 6-1 with Alice Turkel voting NO.
    Reconsideration fails. The Innovation Agenda is adopted and the vote is final.

    Comment by Robert Winters — March 15, 2011 @ 10:03 pm

  14. This is a very good account. Thanks very much for the time and care you put into it.

    Comment by mockovak — March 16, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

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