2019 Candidate Survey: School Committee

Welcome to Scout Cambridge’s candidate survey for the 2019 municipal elections, which will take place on Tuesday, November 5. We sent surveys to all candidates running in opposed races for Cambridge city council and school committee, and present their answers to you here. 

Today we are featuring the school committee race. All candidates were given the same five questions, and were limited in the directions to 50 words in their answer; longer answers have been truncated and are indicated with an asterisk (*) at the end of the text. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Ruth Ryan Allen
Pronouns: she/her
Cambridge resident: 55 years

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
Ensure proper funding for the health centers. Check on smoke detectors in the bathrooms. Request more education and outreach from Cambridge Health Alliance for elementary and middle school students. Increase awareness in CRLS health studies.

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
First, special education issues including but not limited to more communication, more resources, increased support, and inclusion for all abilities of learners both inside and outside the classroom.
Second, build more Career Pathway programs into our schools. Include more trades, apprenticeships, internships, and technical opportunities for our students.
Third, support*

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
We really need to look at class size and support programs for our students and teachers. We need to fund more literacy programs for all abilities of learners. We need a more holistic approach for all children and not try to make them fit into what we have. We need*

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I am a “what you see is what you get” candidate. I am open and have been very active in our city. I will bring an advocate’s voice to ensure inclusion of all. I have been supporting the children of Cambridge all my life. As a teenager I worked with*

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I am a proud owner of the oldest family- and woman-owned bar in Cambridge!

Manikka Bowman
Pronouns: NA
Cambridge resident: 13 years

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
At our Sept. 17, 2019, school committee meeting, my colleagues and I passed a motion that instructed the district to add a health unit on the effects of vaping to the ninth grade health curriculum, in addition to creating an action plan that would outline the essential public health measures*

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
I understand the importance of the school committee as an institution. Traditionally these roles are occupied by people who have the privilege of time on their hands. As a working mother in public life, I will continue to be a voice that represents the thoughts and interests of working families*

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
As the chair of the governance subcommittee, I have been working with the administration and my SC colleagues to create a budget process that is tangible and transparent for the general public. Because we live in a very privileged city, we don’t have conversations about the trade-offs and decision-making*

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I pride myself on being a balanced voice that gets things done. In my tenure on the committee, I led the effort to expand sanitary hygiene products in all CPSD schools. I also ensured facility equity within the district by providing all older school buildings with AC units. My current project*

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I am a clergywoman with a passion for salsa dancing!

Bernette Dawson
Pronouns: she/her
Cambridge resident: 11 years

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
I’d love to partner with upper and high school student leaders to advocate for an expansive curriculum covering everything from vaping and drug use to safe dating and mental health. It’s also critical to make sure that we are communicating with families so they can continue the conversation at home.

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
1: Listening and supporting the needs of teachers, specifically increasing “hearts and hands” in classrooms.
2. Raising the level of excellence and expectations of excellence for all students, with a focus on the middle schools.
3: Continuing to be a fierce advocate for families and students navigating the CPSD system.

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
1. “Hearts and hands”: more well-trained, capable, kind adults in classrooms are key to overcoming many of the district’s challenges.
2. We must raise the rigor and expectations overall at our middle schools.
3. Finally, I would prioritize the initiatives set forth by the Building Equity Bridges grant. 

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I’ve spent nine years in CPS lifting my voice to demand better—for children with IEPs, for advanced learners, for people of color. I’ll be a voice on school committee that truly represents our families—I’ll fight vigilantly for the needs of every child, family, and teacher in the district.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I’m a small business owner! I own and operate MADE Organics—we curate personal care products made with organic and ethically sourced ingredients. MADE stands for Mother Approved Daily Essentials. Watching me run my own business inspired my sons to found an apparel company, AWSM BRWN, as well!

Emily Dexter (incumbent)
Pronouns: she/her
Cambridge resident: 29 years

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
I co-authored a motion to have vaping covered in the health curriculum, and a motion to reduce sugary drinks at school. Chronic absence can be a family mental health issue; I will work with Cambridge’s public health department to reduce chronic absence. I will also work to ensure adequate recess. 

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
1) A “Marshall Plan” to improve math learning and achievement. 2) Making preschool, afterschool, and summer programs affordable and accessible for all students. 3) Creating a 21st century internship program for all high school students.

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
Because of increasing enrollment, class sizes and student-educator ratios are increasing. We are also more aware of students’ mental health needs and the wraparound supports many families need. We need to prioritize more teachers to reduce student-teacher ratios, interventionists (math in particular), paraprofessionals, social workers, and guidance counselors.

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I know how to ask good questions and interpret data because I’m trained as an educational researcher; and I know CPS very well because I was a CPS parent for 17 years as my two children attended CPS schools, K-12.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I have just started taking piano lessons for the first time since I was a child.

Fred Fantini (incumbent)
Pronouns: NA
Cambridge resident: Lifetime

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
Every other year a health survey is done, one year for high school and the other year for middle schools. We teach health in second and third grades, all middle school grades, and for ninth grade. We take information from health survey and incorporate our learning in classrooms.

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
Key areas: Increase our students’ abilities to earn college credits while in high school. Create a pipeline for paraprofessionals to get teaching degrees at no or little cost that lead to becoming teachers. Work to make sure community college is affordable to all students by making funds available to assist

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
Priority areas are: Continue to support teachers in the classroom by providing the additional support they need, staffing and supplies. Continue to provide additional support to schools that are struggling, which is consistent with our district strategic plan. To make sure all students get the help they need to succeed.

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I will continue to be a full-time school committee member, literally 24/7, visiting schools, classrooms every day. Engaging parents, teachers, students every day to inform me about important issues to pay attention to. Also, my strong fiscal background, my strong union experience, provides important skills the school system needs.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I have a twin brother, enjoy doing yoga, ice skating, biking.

Elechi Kadete
Pronouns: NA
Cambridge resident: NA

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
When it comes to health, education is key. We need to ensure that the district is allocating resources to ensure that our students understand the benefits of eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle, as well as the harms associated with vaping, smoking, and leading any unhealthy lifestyle. As a*

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
• Expanding early education opportunities.
• Free tutoring for every child performing below grade level.
• Adding resources to the Innovation Agenda in upper schools.

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
• Creating an early education center.
• Placing more teachers and paraprofessionals into classrooms.
• Free lunch for all students regardless of income.
• Expanding the World K-5 Language Immersion Program.
• Creating a summer tutoring center.
• Adding more programs to the Rindge School of Technical Arts (RSTA).
• Creating a summer tutoring center.
• Resources to enhance social emotional learning 

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I am a currently a Financial Analyst for the Harvard Office of Technology Development (OTD).

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
Former president of the Brandeis Chess Club.

Christopher Lim
Pronouns: he/him
Cambridge resident: 16 years

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
Working with the administration to create more recess and outdoor time, partnering with public health experts to address specific issues like vaping early in the health education curriculum, and expanding support for Food for Free programs.

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
1) District wide disruptive behavior plan, with uniform standards for reporting and data collection.
2) Adding support to classrooms in the form of paraprofessionals/interns, making sure each building has an appropriate number of specialists.
3) Planning for growth and general systems development: better tools to analyze and assess change.

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
The largest components of the CPS budget are salaries and benefits (82%), out-of-district tuition (5%), and transportation (5%). Realistically speaking, this isn’t going to change so the priority should be trying to extract as much educational benefit as possible from the money spent.

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I’m an immigrant, father of a 6th grader, husband of a public school teacher, an engineer, a coach, and a volunteer. I’m focused on system design because of my education and career. I want to implement systems that assess change, empower students and teachers, and amplify positive work in CPS.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I met my wife at a Bruins game my first week after moving to Cambridge.

José Luis Rojas Villarreal
Pronouns: he/him
Cambridge resident: 16 years

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
As with other student health issues, vaping habits and diets need to be addressed through education. The district has a robust health education program that needs to incorporate new issues such as vaping and continue to address the importance of balanced diets.

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
Closing the opportunity gap. Equity of access to JK through joint school committee and city council task force.
Assessing systems intended to support learning of all students. Will support engaging learning environments and culturally responsive teaching practices.
Right-sizing school capacity. Build district’s ability to improve forecasting of student enrollment patterns.

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
One priority is to fund the identification and implementation of best practices across the district, while recognizing that schools have some unique needs that need to be funded accordingly. Another is to review the maintenance programs for the existing schools, to ensure that pupils are learning in a safe environment.

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I bring the perspective of an immigrant and English language learner to the school committee. I have the professional background to be a valuable addition, and a record of community involvement and dedication. I will invest 15-20 hours/week as school committee member, by reducing my personal job to part-time!

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
As a teenager, I lived on the U.S.-Mexico border where quirky things happen. For example, I lived in Mexico but crossed to the U.S. every weekday to go to a Catholic school. I also held a Texas driver’s license with a Mexican address, until I moved to Pennsylvania for university!

David Weinstein
Pronouns: he/him
Cambridge resident: 18 years

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
We should ensure health class curricula follow best practices, and coordinate with the Cambridge Health Alliance and citywide efforts. Starting in upper school, we should teach the dangers of vaping, how to get help, and tools to reject it. Healthy eating, healthy body image and sustainable exercise should connect holistically.

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
1) a relentless focus on closing the racial and economic opportunity gaps in Cambridge and meeting the needs of all learners; 2) helping our students and alums access opportunity through college and career guidance, internship and apprenticeship programs, mentorship, and other supports; 3) public junior kindergarten and pre-K for all.

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
Enough “hearts and hands” in every school: teachers, family liaisons, social workers, specialized staff—and planning time and supports. Individualized “success plans” for every child: those arriving with the greatest needs, those already achieving at the highest levels, and those not targeted by interventions designed for either of those cohorts.

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I’m the only candidate who has served as a full time, trained and certified public school classroom teacher – a necessary perspective as we design, implement, and evaluate policy. I have also researched policy at Harvard Graduate School of Education. I’m able to connect research and ideals with classroom realities.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
Last year my first-grader and I sang and danced as rebels in North Cambridge Family Opera’s 20th anniversary production of “Space Opera,” performed at the Peabody School! Founded by Cambridge parents, NCFO is a wonderful asset to our community: inclusive, excellent, multi-generational productions open to all, regardless of ability to pay.

No relation to candidate Rachel Weinstein.

Rachel Weinstein
Pronouns: she/her
Cambridge resident: NA

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
Student health is a prerequisite to learning.  We can’t expect our young people to reach their full potential when they are ill or hungry.  We should work with students in our upper schools and CRLS to design student-led public education campaigns that supplement the classroom health curriculum. 

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
I will push for Citywide Early Childhood Education, A Champion for Every Child (an adult helping them navigate school, identify interests and receive supports), and School Culture-Building (strengthening relationships between educators and students as well as ensuring a supportive workplace for teachers).  Please visit my website for more information.

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
I am interested in looking at structures and roles that could provide on-going support to classroom teachers in anti-racist pedagogy and practice. I also am interested in expanding high-quality public early childhood education and the access high school students have to internships and courses at RSTA.

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
I am a collaborator by nature and profession.  I staff a partnership between BPS, charter and Catholic schools in Boston.  My role is to help educators advance their shared agendas and address tensions in a productive manner.  I believe this orientation would bring added value to the Cambridge School Committee.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I have been practicing Iyengar yoga for 24 years—more than half my life! 

No relation to candidate David Weinstein.

Ayesha M. Wilson
Pronouns: she/her
Cambridge resident: 25 years

1) The issue of student health is growing more pressing for Cambridge schools, as administrators are paying attention to students’ diets and vaping habits. What efforts would you make on the school committee to address student health?
In conversations with students, many mention the issues of vaping and student health and I believe we should capture their own insights for solutions and collaborate with public health and school health administrators to explore ways to share healthy choices for our students and our broader community. 

2) What would be your top three issues if elected?
I would like CPS to expand and deepen our commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion by focusing on the adults in the schools. I propose PD workshops, specializing in social-emotional, trauma-informed, and culturally competent learning. I would like CPS to approach disciplinary policies with a lens of restorative and rehabilitation methods. 

3) What items do you think need to be prioritized in the Cambridge Public Schools budget?
I look forward to integrating what the ninth-grade students who dedicated their first weeks of school proposing budgetary changes. We also need to ensure our underserved students are supported with enough adults in the classroom, but also providing pathways for paraprofessionals to grow outside of their role. 

4) What sets you apart as a candidate?
What sets me apart is that I am a kid from Cambridge whose K-12 education had been in CPS. I currently work as a community partner based in CRLS, so I see firsthand many of the challenges students experience transitioning in and I understand how to help.

5) What’s one fun fact about you?
I actually enjoy working with middle school-aged students. And I have 11 brothers and sisters in three countries (U.S., Jamaica, and England).

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