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School Committee Elections Near

On Nov. 3, the citizens of Cambridge will go to the polls and elect six members to the new Cambridge Public School Committee. The outcome could significantly change the character of the city’s public schools, which are now perched at a crossroads.

Cambridge Public Schools currently face a daunting array of issues, including a race-based achievement gap, inconsistencies in middle-grade education, a controversial policy to establish socioeconomic diversity, and looming budget concerns.

The roster of candidates includes five current committee members: Alfred B. Fantini, Joseph G. Grassi, Marc C. McGovern, Patricia M. Nolan ’80, and Nancy Tauber. Of the four remaining contenders, two—Richard N. Harding, Jr., and Alice L. Turkel—are former committee members. Charles L. Stead, Sr., and Alan R. Steinert, Jr. ’58 are the only candidates with no past school committee experience.

How and if the district solves its problems will depend on which of these individuals—whose educational philosophies range widely—gets a seat on next year’s school committee.



Cambridge’s subpar standardized testing results (LINK), and its subsequent designation as “in need of improvement” by the federal government, have catapulted the issue of student achievement to the forefront of almost every candidate’s platform.

The main concern is the so-called achievement gap, the ever-persistent disparity between test scores of white and minority students—a trend that is reflected across the nation.

In Cambridge, white students consistently outperform minority students on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests. Last year, 62 percent of the district’s white seventh graders, compared to only 18 percent of black seventh graders, scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math. And while 79 percent of white seventh graders scored proficient or advanced in English language arts, only 44 percent of their black counterparts met those standards.

All of the candidates running for office said that they found this disparity completely unacceptable, but only a few have articulated specific plans to rectify the issue.

Nolan, who is currently seeking a third consecutive term on the committee, said she believes that the answer lies in establishing high standards for all students—an approach that McGovern, another current committee member, said he also supports.

“What one means by achievement varies,” Nolan said. “For me it’s making sure we have higher expectations all around. The way for us to make good on our potential as a district is to treat everybody as though they can be high achievers.”

But Stead, a newcomer to school committee politics, said he believes the key to closing the achievement gap is hiring more minority teachers, who could serve as desperately-needed mentors for students of color. Stead, who is black, has worked in the district as a principal and teacher for 34 years and considers himself to be one such role model.

“I have long contended that the city has not done enough to supplement its minority staff teaching,” he said. “I believe sincerely that the increasing of the number of minority staff members would have gone a long way to defeating the gap.”

Turkel, who previously served on the committee from 1996-2003, also advocated for expanding diversity among faculty, but she added that solving the problem of achievement would require schools to implement “a variety of approaches so that all students can access and engage with the curriculum.”