School Committee Candidate Profiles, Group 1 of 2

CRLSPhoto by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

Twelve candidates will go head-to-head for Cambridge’s six School Committee seats this November.

The mayor joins the School Committee to make a seven-member board that serves two-year terms. The city runs a proportional representation election where all candidates run at large and are not connected to specific districts of the city.

Scout is putting together profiles on every candidate running for School Committee in Cambridge so that voters can get informed about the slate of people who could shape Cambridge’s schools for the coming years.

Election Day is Nov. 7, and the last day to register to vote is Oct. 18. Find your voting location here.

The School Committee candidate profiles are not grouped in any particular order. Keep an eye out for the second group of candidates. Candidates’ answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

Manikka Bowman (note: Bowman currently serves on the School Committee.)

What should we know about you? 
Growing up in public housing, I learned at a young age that public education was a key pathway to opportunity. I received my Bachelor’s degree from Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black university, and went on to obtain masters degrees in both urban policy and divinity. My life experience has shown me the importance of quality education, and I want to ensure that Cambridge Public Schools are a bridge of opportunity for all Cambridge children. I live in North Cambridge with my husband, Jeff, and our three-year-old daughter, Zora. As an Urban Policy Specialist, I have worked on policy in public health, education, community development, and land use. I am also an alumna of the Emerge Massachusetts program and currently serve as the Vice Chair of the YWCA Cambridge.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?
Supporting educators and administrators, investing in Universal pre-kindergarten for the City of Cambridge, and supporting minorities, girls, and high-needs families.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?
I want to build on my first-term accomplishments, which include: expanding sanitary hygiene products in all schools, helping vulnerable K-2nd graders through a no-suspension policy, and setting a vision for the district that will disrupt the status quo.

What sets you apart from other candidates?
My daughter was 18 months when I first ran for School Committee. It’s very challenging to run a campaign and now serve with a small child, in addition to my full-time job, but I’m committed to the work. Currently, I’m the only committee member with a toddler serving. I couldn’t do the work without my very supportive spouse and compassion from the public. It’s a challenge, but people like me should be at as many decision-making tables as possible. Serving can’t just be reserved for those who have the privilege and time to do so. I believe there must be a place for working moms and people from more humble beginnings in important decision-making bodies.

Give us a fun fact about you.
When you look at me, you wouldn’t automatically think minister. In fact, in some people’s view, a woman isn’t supposed to be a minister at all. But I am. And once you know I’m a minister, you probably wouldn’t leap to salsa dancer. Some might say you can’t be a minister and into salsa. But I am. I don’t see anything wrong with or strange about being a passionate clergywoman and salsa dancer. The two can, and do, coincide just fine in my mind!

 

Fran Cronin

What should we know about you?

I served on the School Committee (2013-2015) and led several initiatives that brought best practices into our schools: phonics instruction was added to our elementary curriculum; funding was approved to create the Teacher-in-Charge position for social and emotional learning; permanent funding was secured for immigrant student supports; and financial literacy counseling is now available for all seniors.

As Chair of the Curriculum and Instruction subcommittee, I called for reviews of assessments, hiring practices, and reading instruction.

I’m committed to making sure Cambridge uses its abundant resources to address the root causes of our mixed-achievement results, particularly with third grade reading proficiency and post-graduation success.

I lost my last election by 33 votes, and am looking forward to getting back on the School Committee to continue the work I started.

What would your top priorities be if elected?

  • Expand access to Early Childhood Education
  • Ensure every school adopts social and emotional learning best practices
  • Recruit and retain a high-quality teaching force as diverse as the students we teach
  • Build a Partnership in STEAM Education to develop 21st century career pathways into our innovation economy and local businesses.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

I’m a widowed mom who raised her two children here in Cambridge, one of whom is a special needs student. I’m a trained Orton-Gillingham reading specialist and have experience as a classroom teacher, and also teaching ESL and afterschool. I served two elected terms, four years, as co-chair of the Parent Advisory Council for Students with Special Needs. In addition to having served on the School Committee, I currently work in City Hall as the Legislative Aide to City Councillor and former mayor David Maher.

I’m the only candidate with experience in both City Hall and in the halls of our schools. My successful record while serving on the School Committee speaks to my skill as a consensus builder who can achieve cooperation and get things done.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I’m a twin with a fraternal brother and my birthday is Valentine’s Day.

 

Jake Crutchfield

What should we know about you?

I’m an educator who’s worked and studied in many different educational settings throughout the City of Cambridge: I have worked as a substitute, an afterschool teacher, and have helped train afterschool teachers. I got my masters in education from Lesley University.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

My top priorities would be supporting the superintendent’s district plan framework, encouraging the administration to hire more staff that are culturally reflective of our diverse student body, and improving communication and community engagement between the School Committee and the public.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

One thing I would plan on changing is using subcommittees more proactively to serve as a place for community engagement. In addition, I would hold reverse office hours where I, and hopefully other members of School Committee, would hold listening tours throughout the community to gain more feedback and input from people to help create more inclusive policy. I would also want to look into the creation of a high school teacher residency program, which would be a program to encourage more students to follow the path of becoming a teacher themselves.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

My experience in Cambridge classrooms. One of the major functions of the School Committee is to create and propose policy to drive the district. Over the past four years I’ve worked throughout many of the schools in Cambridge, and I’ve gotten to see what it looks like when that policy goes into place.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I spent almost two years teaching abroad in China where I taught everything from kindergarten to financial services English for Chinese bank executives.

 

Emily Dexter (note: Dexter currently serves on the School Committee.)

What should we know about you?

Originally from the Washington, D.C., area, I’ve lived in Cambridge with my spouse since 1990. Our two daughters attended the Cambridge Public Schools, K-12, one graduating from CRLS in 2010, the other in 2014. In addition to having been a CPS parent for 17 years, I have worked in the education field for 25 years, including as a language specialist at a school for Deaf students for five years, and as a literacy researcher at Harvard and Lesley University. I have a doctorate in child and youth development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I also received advanced training in research methods, program evaluation, and statistics. Because of my training, I view the schools through a developmental lens, and I know the power of data and how to ask good questions. 

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

1) Giving teachers and principals the autonomy and resources they need to individualize, differentiate, and personalize their teaching and curricula more than they are currently able to;

2) Ensuring we have small enough class sizes and enough staff who work directly with students, including teachers, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, and mental health specialists; and

3) Providing affordable preschool, afterschool, and summer programs, particularly for low-income students.

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

1) Expanding our junior kindergarten program, which currently is available only to older 4-year- olds born between Sept. 1 and March 31, to include all low-income 4-year- olds;

2) reducing class size caps in 1 st and 2 nd grade from a maximum of 25 students to a maximum of 20;

3) creating more flexible pathways in the high school that would allow all students to follow particular interests while also taking classes to meet state requirements. Potential pathways might include an Arts Pathway, a Humanities
Pathway, an Engineering Pathway, a Community Connections Pathway, etc. 

What sets you apart from other candidates?
1) I have extensive knowledge of the Cambridge Public Schools and the district administration from being an activist and connected parent for 17 years.

2) I have excellent training in child and youth development, which informs how I think about teaching and learning at the different grade levels. I also have excellent training in research and statistics, which helps me understand CPS
data and know what kind of data we need to inform our policies and to make changes.

3) I am very focused on both the CPS budget and the City budget. Even before being elected to the
Committee, I read the CPS budgets carefully, advocated for more dollars to be spent directly in
the classroom, and compared our budgets to those of other school districts and to those of other
City departments. I watch where the money goes from year-to- year, and where it does not go,
and I publish my impressions on my blog, Public School Notes.

4) I consider communicating with the public and connecting with civic and neighborhood leaders, parents, and residents to be part of my job as an elected official. I answer every email, I have a newsletter reporting on what happens at School Committee meetings, and I post longer reflections and opinion pieces on my blog.

Give us a fun fact about you.

One of the high points of my life was appearing as a singing and dancing ladybug in the North Cambridge Family Opera’s production of Antiphony in 2006.

 

Alfred Fantini (note: Fantini is currently the vice chair of the School Committee.)

What should we know about you? 
Master’s Degree in Management with a specialized graduate certificate in Diversity from Cambridge College in May 1999.
Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Finance from Bentley College.
Parent Advocacy Training from the Federation for Children with Special Needs
Brings 30 years’ experience as a municipal finance professional as Deputy Treasurer for the Town of Arlington.
Experienced on both sides of the collective bargaining table representing management on the Cambridge School Committee and workers with labor as President of SEIU/NAGE local 113.
Former Treasurer SEIU 888
Served for 30 years as a member of the Cambridge School Committee.
Sponsor Cambridge Little League-Major League Braves and All-Star team
Sponsor Cambridge Girls Softball.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?


1) Continue to Improve our Middle Schools
It’s important we refine the upper school program to meet the Innovation Agenda goal of a providing a superior academic and social experience for all students that prepares them for success in high school and post-secondary education. Students enjoy attending schools with larger cohorts of students instead of the isolation that many experienced prior and the school system can provide enhanced offering in the visual and performing arts areas. The goal of having these middle schools racially balanced is also important to me. My goal is that every child leaving the middle school structure is ready to do rigorous work at CRLS.  

2) Implementation of our approved three-year District Framework
The superintendent spent all last school year gathering information and knowledge on how our school system functions to formulate a District Framework that was presented to the School Committee for adoption and implementation this school year. It is important that the school committee now stayed focused in working with the Superintendent to implement this plan.

3) Closing the Achievement Gap
The performance of our students at greatest social and economic risk continues to fall below the rest of the student population. These include families who live in poverty, in socially vulnerable family settings, in homes where they are not yet English speakers, or who are homeless or transient and do not remain long in one place.  This is a statewide problem, not just for Cambridge, but we have done so much as a district and as a city to welcome and serve high risk students and families that we want to protect our investment in our community by ensuring that we have high expectations for success for all our students.    

The School Committee and the superintendent need to create a real “sense of urgency,” not panic, and a plan to end this disparity. With the recent work with our professional development, curriculum development, and district framework plan, I am encouraged that we are making progress.

What are specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

  • Support and expand our Visual Performing Arts department (art, drama, Kodaly music program, orchestra, etc.)
  • Start a program to grow your own school teachers so that we can have our own feeder system for jobs in our school system
  • Work with the police department to create a pathway for our students to become Cambridge Police Officers 
  • Expand our relationships with businesses so that more of our students can be interns in their companies  

What sets you apart from other candidates?

My 30 years of experience in municipal government in Arlington as its deputy treasurer and tax collector and my 30 years of union leadership provide me with unique skills—leadership, experience, empathy, and negotiation—to be a leader in making progress in our school system.

Give us a fun fact about you.

I have a good sense of humor.

 

Elechi Kadete

What should we know about you? 
I am a graduate of the Cambridge Public Schools. I went through the entire system and graduated from CRLS in 2007. I graduated from Brandeis in 2012 and I currently work at WGBH as a financial analyst.

What would your top three priorities be if elected?

  • Expanding early education opportunities
  • Expanding the World Language K-5 Language Immersion programs
  • Supporting the recruitment and retainment of high quality teachers of color

What are three specific new programs or changes you would make if elected?

  • Change the attendance violation policy at the high school.
  • Extend RSTA to the Extension School
  • Make early education accessible to all of our students

What sets you apart from other candidates?
I went through the Cambridge Public School system as an ESL student and I was in the achievement gap.

Give us a fun fact about you.
I am the former president of the Brandeis Chess Club.

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