Christopher Lim

Christopher Lim

Register Forum (RF): What distinguishes you from the other eight candidates running for School Committee this year?

Christopher Lim (CL): I think it’s a combination of background, interests, as well as experience. I think having an engineering background means that I look at the world through a different lens, and I’m married to an eighth grade teacher, I have an eighth grade son. My kid has grown up in the Cambridge Public School system. I’m not a political operative; I have no interest in politics beyond [the] Cambridge School Committee, and I think that combination of all of those things is very distinct from what the other eight candidates offer.


RF: How do you think the School Committee could be more effective?

CL: The School Committee is a very strange beast in Cambridge … By legal responsibility, it has a very limited role… [to] approve and prioritize the budget, hire or extend the contract of the superintendent, and then … author policy. But there’s no actual enforcement of that policy, there’s no check-in with the in-school staff or teachers to see what the policy is. It’s just they announce a policy and it’s thrown into the wind. Just about anything would make [the] School Committee more effective. And I think this is where my engineering background and my built-in cynicism comes in, where it’s like, “All right, let’s start with the small problems, work the problem, and try and make incremental changes and see what we can do to improve things.”

So, that’s why the things that I have been interested in are system-level trying to drill down and figure out — well, we need more specialists in the classroom. We need to target resources to help address behavior concerns. We need to expand the internship program at the high school. We need … to take a look at busing. All of these things are very tactical, but these are things that we can get our hands around, at a certain level, relatively quickly. 


RF: Great. And in response to one of the things that you said — I saw that you mentioned busing. What are your plans to address the issues there, and what is happening?

CL: Well, that’s a fairly good-sized line item of our budget. It’s clearly something that COVID has impacted our ability to provide — I live something like 1.6 miles from my child’s middle school, and we’ve lost busing service this year because they just ran out of routes that were nearby and they had to trim things. It’s clear with COVID that we need to just take a look at some of these things from a “Can we provide this? Is it meaningful?” [perspective] …  Is it possible that the neighborhood school is workable, since we prioritize that anyway for a lot of families? Would it be better to start trying to minimize busing, especially during the time of COVID? It’s not great for an elementary school kid to have to get up at 7 [AM] to maybe dash out to a bus to cross the city.


RF: Additionally, I noticed that you mentioned the internship program, and I saw that that was also on your website. What are your plans for expanding that?

CL: I grew up in a very, very, very segregated community in Oregon, and it had a whole host of problems in the education system, but one of the things that we always had was an amazing internship offering every single year of high school …  One of mine was at the Oregon Graduate Institute of Materials Science, one of them was at a biomedical lab, there were some with auto body shops — there was everything. And it’s crazy to me that in Cambridge, with all of the technology companies, all of the biotech companies, with all of the industry around us that we don’t offer something more full-fledged than what we have at CRLS … If you want a kid to buckle down and go through all of the grinding that is necessary to finish your primary education and move on somewhere else, showing them what their future work life looks like is a pretty significant part of that equation. 


RF: I wanted to ask, related to that, how do you aim to close the achievement gap?

CL: Ultimately, this is where I lean on my wife as an eighth-grade teacher, and my own observation of having a kid that came through this system. We have to start early. There’s no excuse for Cambridge not to have universal Pre-K. And there’s no excuse for us not to be making an outreach to Black communities, English language learners …  We have the resources, we have the talent in town, and we’re not effectively reaching those communities barely enough.

The second part of it … is we have to change the culture. I’m a baseball and soccer coach. I love winning …  I’m 45; if I’m bragging about winning trophies as a coach, there’s something misaligned in my ego. The goal is teaching kids, getting them to enjoy sports, and all of the side benefits that you learn from sports … Something like 54% of Black children [in Cambridge] are not at grade level in math in eighth grade. I mean, that’s horrendous.

If you have a kid that shows up to a sports team that doesn’t care, as a coach I’m really skeptical that I can reach them. Right? So part of that is I have to build that relationship with that child, show that I am looking out for them, show where this could lead for them, before they’re going to start putting the work in to become the athlete that I know they can [be] … That has the parallels in education, where … we are doing a lousy job proving to Black children in particular … math could lead to something where they want it to lead for them.


RF: I know that you touched on this a bit before, but how—in a general sense—do you plan to make the School Committee more responsive to the needs of students, of families, of teachers? As you said, there is a bit of a problem with transparency, so how do you plan to address that?

CL: I think it’s a great challenge, and part of the issue honestly is that because of the stringent open meeting laws. All of those larger-scale meetings require such stringent transparency and reporting that I think in some ways it actually hampers our ability for the School Committee to have those honest interactions with … the community. If every meeting is recorded and televised, there’s going to be people that are not going to be willing to put themselves in that limelight. There’s going to be people who aren’t 100% honest about their feedback about what’s wrong about a system or their personal interactions. And so, I don’t know how we fix that under the current structures …  What I can promise is that I will, as I have been my entire time in Cambridge, be an active participant in the community. If people want to have a conversation with me, whether it’s you calling me up or a parent sends me an email or they want to meet me in a field or get a cup of coffee, I will make myself available to the community … And that’s part of what needs to happen.


RF: What would you say are CPSD’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness?

CL: I wish I had one more year under my belt so that I can have some of my own lived-in experience there as a parent. Anecdotally, I think what has traditionally worked really well for CPSD is the higher-achievement classes. I know that they don’t like to talk about them as tracks, I know that AP classes are sort of the antithesis of the Cambridge model, but … it seems like where they are able to provide opportunities for higher learning and for kids to push themselves, CPSD has really excelled. And kids have really taken the bull by the horns, they have really challenged themselves, they have gotten a pretty good education.

In terms of the weaknesses, it’s the same things that I saw in my kids’ elementary schools. We dramatically underserve the kids that are struggling from the very beginning. If you are in eighth grade and 54% of a certain population is not at grade level, there’s no time to make it up before ninth grade. And then that gap starts to feel like a massive chasm if it wasn’t already. This is the real challenge in modern-day teaching, from my wife included. When you have this massive skills gap in a class—in a truly heterogeneous class—can a single teacher manage that, given the class sizes that we have? And I think that’s been, from what I understand, one of the weaknesses of the CPSD/CRLS model.


This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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