Register Forum (RF): What distinguishes you from the other eight candidates?
Rachel Weinstein (RW): Okay, so there’s a few things. First, I’m the only incumbent who’s both a product of the Cambridge Public Schools and a parent in them, and now have this policy-making experience. I also work with schools in my other job … with the district charter and Catholic schools in Boston … I have been the first and most vocal advocate for vaccine mandates … And then I’ve also really walked my talk. I ran on a platform of racial equity and I have followed through on that … the first policy Member Wilson and I passed was to prioritize anti-racism for the term. That allowed us then in the budget process to fund the office of equity, inclusion, and belonging, as well as a more robust family engagement team. And to adopt this [this] summer, the community developed anti-racist mission statements.
But then it’s not just policy and budget. I’ve also walked my talk on sort of the process and culture piece of the district and racial equity. When Dr. Salim submitted his resignation, we learned that the school committee can just appoint an interim superintendent. And I said to my colleagues, we can, but we shouldn’t. I’m pleased that they approved a process that I developed, where I worked with a group of students, … families, and a third group of educators and out of school time professionals. We really centered people of color in that process, families who are English learners, students on IEPs, so that the voices of those we’ve historically failed, were … prioritized.
RF: How do you feel that the school committee could be more effective in accomplishing all those goals that you just mentioned?
RW: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think that, during COVID, everybody was working around the clock and trying to do the right thing for young people. And at the same time, what suffered, was that the time that we would hopefully, typically use for shared visioning and direction setting. And so I think what can make the school committee more effective is one that the community and the committee and the superintendent develop a collective set of priorities and strategies, and then we all row in the same direction to get there faster… I think we’re in a good place with Dr. Greer, with both her entry plan, and she’s starting the process for a new district plan and getting us all to agree on what it is we’re trying to do. What are those few things we’re going to go deep on? And that will make us more effective and collaborative.
RF: How do you aim to close the achievement gap?
RW: It has to be a multi-pronged strategy. The first thing is that we know that the early years are when the brain does most of its development. We need to move forward with universal pre-kindergarten; that’s something the city has talked about for a long time … You have heard me talk, in the past and in my first campaign as well, about having a champion for every child. I still think that is part of how we close the achievement gap. We know that our schools work best for young people who have an adult [to] help them navigate [the schools].
If we ensure that every student is able to access the support and opportunities that fit their interests, then fewer kids will fall through the cracks and the gap will close. And then, the third piece that I’ll [mention]… is really around culture… I think that we have to have students of color and students whose families have low incomes [be] the integral part of the policy and the processes in our district. And so I think we close the gaps when … we’re at the table together and listening to those who have been most impacted.
RF: What needs to change to make universal pre-kindergarten, early learning, and extra academic support actually happen? We’ve heard a lot of talk about things that have almost happened in the past. What do we need to actually close that gap?
RW: That’s a great question that, um, I don’t think I can give you the best answer for right now. I think that we had the beginnings of a timeline from the department of human services and the school department right before we went into lockdown, and I need an update from them. Like I know the new Tobin building will have a couple of classrooms. I know we’re talking about a mixed delivery model where we’ll be doing some private pay and some public programs, but it’s not exactly clear to me where things stand at the moment. And I think we need another round table where you have the city council and school committee meeting, and catching up.
RF: Are there any specific policies that you know that you want to implement that will help low-income [students] and students of color, really have their voices heard more in the policy making process?
RW: I don’t have a specific policy I would propose right now, but that’s partly because what I’ve learned in my first term is that when I come in with a policy that hasn’t been thoroughly developed with the stakeholders and with the educators, that [isn’t] the best way to move things forward. So I do think there are some ways we can change the way our meetings are structured … Whether it’s student councils or student government or other groups, I think there are things we can do. I just wouldn’t propose a policy at this exact moment.
RF: Right now, what do you see as CPSD’s greatest strength and greatest weakness?
RW: Our greatest strength is our talent, both in students, but also in our educators and families. I think we have some amazing, amazing educators and a very committed team. And we also have students like yourself. You were paying attention to the bigger picture and [are] weighing in on what the district needs to do. The most important ingredient. I’d say perhaps one of the biggest challenges is that there are all these great people who are doing work in silos … And we don’t have the most effective partnerships between the school district and our out of school time professionals or families, or even within internal departments within CPS to figure out how we actually collaborate deeply.
RF: Do you have any ways that you would want to bridge some of those gaps? Like if someone is doing really good work in one spot, but they’re not able to get it out more?
RW: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s some of this that the agenda for children has been pushing that I think is really powerful. Like this idea of having, the out of school time partners and the schools share data so that we know which young people are known by whom and accessing which resources and really being more of one team to say, oh, you know, I know [a student’s] family is going through a hard time, so here’s what the school can do. And here’s what I can do from out of school time. And here’s what other resources there are, and who’s coordinating. And I think putting those pieces together for a young person is really powerful.
RF: As we’re going through this year*, the school committee will have to look for a new superintendent. What will you look for in a potential superintendent? What qualities do you think the district needs in a new leader?
*The School Committee has the option to extend the interim superintendent’s contract for another year if both parties agree. This has yet to be worked out in this specific case.
RW: I think if I had to describe who I want for the next superintendent, it would be, a collaborative visionary who will commit to Cambridge for many years. Someone who sees what’s possible. Drives towards it aggressively. But in a way that brings others along and isn’t using Cambridge as a stepping stone to their next big district. So one of the things we, and school districts across the country struggle with is just the churn and what that means when leadership turns over and all the initiatives change… They also have to be somebody who believes in our anti-racist vision and wants to work deeply with the community.
RF: Do you think that CPSD has handled COVID well? And is there anything that you think should be done going forward in order to improve our COVID safety? Or change programs that have had to change because of COVID?
RW: Overall I do think we’ve handled it well. I think I’m confident that we have the protective layers in place … Going forward, what could be done to improve is really to up the number of young people who are doing surveillance testing. I don’t know what that’s going to take. I think we need to be a little bit more innovative [in thinking] about getting people to participate in surveillance testing.
RF: You mentioned earlier that you were a big proponent of the vaccine mandates. Now that we have one that’s scheduled to be in place in November, do you think that’s a good enough step? There are some caveats in this mandate.
RW: The mandate that’s coming in is really for extracurriculars as opposed to school. I respect Dr. Greer’s position that she didn’t want anyone to be denied schooling, and this is a big incentive to get more young people to get the vaccine. Our rates at the upper school level are actually much higher than at the high school. And so figuring out how to get [high school students] to get the vaccine and keep the greater CRLS community safest is the issue.
RF: If the vaccine gets approved for younger children, do you think there should be a mandate in place for them too?
RW: I do. I think that, honestly, the only way we put COVID in the rear-view mirror is to have this be one of our standard vaccines. I submit my child’s vaccines record every year to the schools. And this is going to have to be one of them. If we ever want to get to the point where kids aren’t wearing masks and are able to see each other smile. Yeah, I’m going to end up supporting vaccine mandates once we know they’re safe for younger kids.
RF: How have your priorities changed since your first campaign back in 2019? Why should people re-elect you? RW: I’m consistent in my values and goals. And people should re-elect me because I now have a track record of walking my talk. This is hard work that takes time, and I’m just getting started. That’s my case to reelect me; to continue the work on racial equity, on a champion for every child, and on COVID safety.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.