By many measures Somerville’s schools are getting better and better. But, they, like our city, are at a crossroads. As Somerville gentrifies, can our schools hold onto the diversity that makes our city great while simultaneously meeting the needs of all our kids? I think the answer is yes, but my conversations with parents, students, and teachers have raised a number of issues to address.
High quality, accessible, affordable after school and summer programming.
Research tells us that wealthy parents are spending more and more of their money on enrichment activities for their children– spending that exacerbates racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. We also know that the typical work day doesn’t end until at least five, meaning that many families struggle to find the right after school care for their children. I am impressed by the district’s budgetary commitment to expanding afterschool and summer programming as well as early discussions about enhancing program quality, but my conversations have suggested there is more work to be done.
- The district’s Community Schools program is struggling to meet demand at many schools.
- Increased fees are pushing out many middle income families, and
- City staff estimate that 400 kids need more free or sliding-scale options to participate at all.
- At the same time, we have very few offerings for middle schoolers and next to nothing for children with special needs.
We need to work on integrating the many different afterschool and summer programs operating at our schools and local nonprofits and might benefit from starting a discussion about Extended Day opportunities.
High quality teaching and learning is the hallmark of the best school districts. Somerville’s test scores are rising and many of the parents I’ve talked to believe the district is doing a better job addressing the needs of students who are struggling academically. But:
- Too many parents are frustrated by the lack of differentiation in our elementary schools.
- Families want more progressive options like those in the proposed Powderhouse Studios school, and
- We need to start a conversation about our middle grades program.
- At the same time, many families of children with special needs report needing to hire an external advocate or threaten legal action in order to get the district to meet their children’s needs.
Support Services That Meet the Needs of All Our Kids
We know children can’t learn when they’re hungry, when they’re worried about being evicted, deported, or managing traumatic life-events. I am proud of the work of our Children’s Cabinet. I am glad we are starting to plan a “wraparound network” that would coordinate and “braid” services from various agencies to meet the needs of students and families.But:
- The school district is just at the beginning stages of this work.
- Further, current plans prioritize families with children aged 0-5, but similar services are needed in K-12.
- Students, parents, and teachers contend our counselor to student ratio is too high, and we need to do a better job preparing students for their college or career transition.
- At the same time, there are waiting lists for key services offered by external providers.
A Strong Community in Every School
In Somerville, we like to say, “We are one,” and the school committee has done important work developing new policies around equity and gender identity support. But African-American students still get called the N-word in class, transgender students still get bullied, and swastikas have been appearing at the high school. My conversations with parents and teachers suggest that we need to:
- Improve the cultural relevance and responsiveness of our curriculum as well as
- Implement comprehensive community-building and anti-bias programs in all our schools.
- We also need to ensure that teachers and administrators feel capable of productively addressing incidents of hate and intolerance when they occur.
As Ward 3’s school committee representative, I will work to address these issues and more.
Please reach out to share your thoughts, concerns, and ideas.