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Cambridge School Committee Candidates Talk Standardized Tests, Teacher Pay at Forum

Nine of the 11 candidates for School Committee attended a forum at the Cambridge Public Library on Wednesday evening.
Nine of the 11 candidates for School Committee attended a forum at the Cambridge Public Library on Wednesday evening. By Frank S. Zhou
By Muskaan Arshad, Sally E. Edwards, and Dylan H. Phan, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated: September 14, 2023, at 4:14 p.m.

School Committee candidates gathered at the Cambridge Public Library to debate the future of the Cambridge Public School District at a Wednesday evening forum.

Nine of the 11 candidates for the committee — including four incumbents — attended the forum, which was held by the Cambridge Education Association. Candidates discussed issues from the School Committee’s relationship with district Superintendent Victoria L. Greer to their positions on the Thrive Act.

If adopted by the state, the act — which the committee had previously supported unanimously — would eliminate the MCAS standardized testing as a high school graduation requirement.

Andrew King, a CPS alumni and Boston University education researcher, was one of seven candidates on stage who supported the adoption of the Thrive Act.

“For two decades this test has failed to close achievement gaps or opportunity gaps,” King said. “The curriculum has harmed teachers. It’s forced teachers to focus on ‘drill and kill’ test prep, at the expense of more music, art — learning holistic curriculums.”

Incumbent David J. Weinstein — who sponsored the School Committee motion in support of the Thrive Act that was passed in April — concurred.

“The test can be a barrier to graduation for students who do not perform well on standardized tests, despite the understanding of the subject,” Weinstein said.

Still, Elizabeth Hudson — an engineer and parent in the district — said she did not fully agree with King. Hudson said she would support removing MCAS as a graduation requirement only if the district were to adopt “other ways of holding ourselves accountable.”

“I also agree that the MCAS are not a perfect measure of achievements — I don’t even think they’re a good measure of achievement in many cases,” she said. “But I struggle with having a complete lack of accountability for school systems.”

Moderator and CEA Vice President of Community Relations Banke Oluwole asked candidates to discuss compensation for Cambridge educators, in particular, whether they supported pay raises for full-time paraeducators, who currently receive $26,000 annually.

Robert V. Travers, Jr. — a paraprofessional himself — said district officials “need to put their actions into words” to better support those in similar roles.

“When I started in Cambridge, 20 years ago, the starting salary for a paraprofessional was $18,000, so it’s only gone up about $6,000,” Travers said.

Another topic of discussion concerned how the School Committee will hold the superintendent accountable. In recent years, Cambridge’s superintendents — who are appointed by the School Committee — have been criticized for a lack of transparency.

The School Committee completed an evaluation of the current superintendent, Greer, over the summer, which concluded that she “needs improvement” on her “overall summative performance.”

“The superintendent recently said that she’s going to get survey data on how teachers have evaluated the new elementary school schedules,” said candidate Eugenia B. Schraa Huh ’04, a former Crimson News editor. “I am requesting that you call her on that and that if she doesn’t have an answer for that — and she doesn’t have it written down so that you can see — that you request that we can see that because we deserve to know.”

Incumbent Rachel Weinstein speaks at the Wednesday evening forum.
Incumbent Rachel Weinstein speaks at the Wednesday evening forum. By Frank S. Zhou

In a Thursday statement, Greer did not comment directly on criticisms made during the forum but said she values her working relationship with the School Committee, calling the partnership “critical” to her tenure.

“We all have the same desire to ensure that each of our scholars receive a high quality education. While we may not always agree on how to make that happen, it is healthy for there to be candid dialogue and professional discourse,” Greer said. “In the short time that I have been here, I have been able to build a collaborative relationship with the Cambridge School Committee and value our working relationship.”

“I look forward to partnering with whomever is elected in service to our scholars, staff, families, and community,” Greer added.

During the forum, candidate Richard Harding, Jr. — a former School Committee member and CPS alumni — highlighted the importance of effective collaboration between the committee and the superintendent.

“I want to make sure that we have a strong relationship with the superintendent that we hold in this case, are accountable to make sure that she’s reaching the goals that we agreed to as a community, as parents, teachers, and scholars,” Harding said.

Rachel Weinstein, an incumbent, said the School Committee must provide “checks and balances” in working with the superintendent.

“We want to support our superintendents — we want them to be successful — and it is our job to hold them accountable to do the things they're supposed to do,” she said.

—Staff Writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at sally.edwards@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @sallyedwards04.

—Staff writer Dylan H. Phan can be reached at dylan.phan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @dylanhieuphan.

—Staff writer Muskaan Arshad can be reached at muskaan.arshad@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @MuskaanArshad.

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