Cecilia Barron

Laurance Kimbrough, School Committee Candidate

Register Forum: What distinguishes you from the other eleven School Committee candidates?

Laurence Kimbrough: So, I think the fact that I’m a Cambridge Public Schools graduate, a former Cambridge Public Schools employee, and a Cambridge Public Schools parent makes me very different than anyone else that is running. I did a little research and looked at the past 20 years, and, at least during that time, there isn’t somebody who has had all three of those credentials who has run for the Cambridge School Committee. So I do think that sets me apart from the other people that are running. You know, if you add my experience with my current work on the Police Review and Advisory Board for the city of Cambridge, you know I have experience working on committees and having difficult conversations around issues of race, class, gender, and equity and how those impact policing, and I think those things impact schools in some ways, so I feel confident that that experience along with the stuff that I mentioned earlier definitely sets me apart from the other people that are running.

RF: I wanted to start by talking about your father, because he’s obviously had a big impact on you, and he was a popular teacher at Rindge. How has he had an impact on your life as an educator, and now as a School Committee candidate? How did his lifetime in Cambridge Public Schools affect your view of the district and of education as a whole?

LK: The one thing I would say about my dad is he really made an effort to build relationships and get to know his students, and I think he realized students didn’t really care how much you know until they knew how much you cared, and so I think that’s something that I took with me going into the Cambridge Public Schools. My hope is that the students I worked with previously, you know, would have considered me fair, friendly, and also sort of wanting what was best for them and their family, and I think that’s something that I got from my father.

In terms of how his educational work shaped my policy, I would consider my dad an educational activist. During the late 1970s, early 1980s—I don’t remember the exact year—but he filed a lawsuit against the school district for discriminatory hiring practices and there not being enough teachers of color in the schools, and I think, as life went along, I learned more about that and that was always something that stuck with me at CRLS—recognizing that we need to have a workforce that looks similar to the students we’re serving. I think that for me is a very core issue at the heart of my campaign—making sure the Cambridge Public Schools is hiring teachers of color, supporting teachers of color with their work, retaining them, and continuing to recruit more. I think those [actions] are really essential to assure that not only students of color have role models in front of them, but that, you know, white students as well are seeing people of color as leaders and as academics in the school so they can work towards dismantling some of their views around race that are just inherent in our society and oftentimes can be perpetuated through schooling that is no one’s fault.

One of the things that my dad was very intentional about [was] recognizing that importance. He was part of a coalition of concerned black staff when he was an educator at the Cambridge Public Schools. When I got working at the Cambridge Public Schools, I became part of a similar coalition of staff members of color within the city of Cambridge Public Schools. All of those things that I learned about in terms of his work and what was important to him I think he passed along to me.

RF: How are you aiming to close the achievement gap?

LK: I think you have to use a multi-faceted approach. Early on, you have to assure that all our kids are getting access to a preschool education that’s free within the city of Cambridge. … I would say an additional piece around the achievement gap is thinking about different ways to really evaluate students. I do think that many of the metrics that we have historically used, whether we’re talking about SAT scores or MCAS exams or grades, I don’t think [these metrics] really have much real relevance in terms of what it is that we really want our kids to be able to do for ourselves and our community upon graduation from high school.

I think if we were to make education more engaging for all students but also trying to create some sense of cultural relevancy and democratic importance that we’re giving our students, I think that in a lot of ways can also close gaps in educational achievement and outcomes as well. For so many of our students at the high school, many of our kids quite frankly are just doing school, in my opinion. You know, they take AP classes because it’s what their older sibling told them to do or their guidance counselor told them to do it, and they might not have any particular interest in that AP class, but they’re taking it anyways just because it looks good on a transcript. And that, to me, is also, in my opinion, part of this engagement gap that we have where kids are, quite frankly, just looking out for themselves in terms for what’s most important for them rather than thinking about democratically, for our community and for themselves in terms of personal fulfillment, what’s most important…

And I do think another important piece of it , as well, for students of color, is dismantling the legacy that slavery and racism has within our country. I can certainly think back to my time, being a student in Cambridge Public Schools, and really truly believing that black kids weren’t as smart as white kids were. I feel like when I started working in the Cambridge Public Schools, I heard black students say as much. I do think there are some students of color within our Cambridge Public Schools who, for reasons that are not their fault, have struggled to, on a personal level, see themselves as scholars who are capable of really doing great academic work, and I think that is something that is essential to dismantle if we want to be able to shrink the gaps in educational outcomes that we have for our students.

RF: With all the leveling-up this year, I think one of the concerns is “my kid’s in an Honors level class, and what’s it going to look like to colleges that everybody’s in an Honors class.” So how do you assuage those parents’ fears but also make the school more equitable for everybody?

LK: As a former guidance counselor and as a hopeful member of the Cambridge School Committee, maybe I’d start a book group and I would tell parents to read two books. I would tell them to read a book that was recently written by Frank Bruni at the New York Times and it’s called Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be—it talks about the college admissions craze. And the second book…I am not remembering the name of it, but both books talk about how we are ultimately losing ourselves and our families and our kids and our communities sort of based on this crazy race to have our kids really, really stand out.

I think ultimately what parents want is to be happy … I think as adults we have to think “we are adults.” The thing that is most important and the thing that we care most about for our kids is not the college that they’re gonna go to but who as a person they’re going to be, and we can’t lose sight of that. We need to be able to understand and recognize that there are so many different pathways to be able to get towards being able to be the person that you want to become and meet the goals that you want to have, and to say that success only runs through 30 colleges in the Northeast is asinine and is something that, as a community, we need to be able to challenge.

I’m happy to, as the only guidance counselor who’s running for the Cambridge School Committee, challenge families around these conversations and I have former students who will be able to say that, like, “These things are the most important and these people are the most important and the person that I’ve worked to become is the most important.” That ultimately is what should matter. I have friends who I went to high school with who I’m very dear to, they love me and I love them, [and] I don’t think any of them give a s***—excuse my language—where I went to college. We have things in common, we have deep shared interests in our community, in giving back—those are the things that are ultimately important to me. My wife doesn’t care that I went to the University of Arizona, I don’t care that she went to Trinity College—what I care about is she’s a great mom, she cares about education, every day she goes to work she works towards improving students lives and making our country better. That’s ultimately what’s important, that’s what we want for all of our kids rather than for them to just receive fat envelopes [an acceptance letter to a college].

Cecilia Barron

RF: What do you see as a strength of Cambridge Public Schools that the Committee could emphasize, and what do you see as a weakness of Cambridge Public Schools that the Committee could fix?

LK: I certainly think the Committee should be emphasizing the importance of educational equity and working towards dismantling the legacy of racism to assure that all students of color are being put in a position to be able to achieve the goals they want for themselves. So I think that is something that—when I look at the district website and see the phrase “for all students” being used a lot, for me, that’s not good enough. I think we have to be intentional in saying that, traditionally, students of color in the Cambridge Public Schools have not been treated as well. We as a school district are not responsible for the impacts that slavery has had on this country, but I do think we need to be intentional in recognizing the role racism has had within this city and the roles that the schools have played in perpetuating racism and being intentional in saying that we need to work towards fixing this and remedying this, and we believe that schools are a way to do that. I think that is something that the School Committee needs to be very intentional about in improving.

In terms of things that I really feel like the School Committee is doing well and that the schools are doing well that we should be thinking about, you know, I don’t think you have to look very much farther than the School Committee race in and of itself, and look at somebody like Will MacArthur. I don’t really care that Will goes to Harvard—I care that, as a white man, he is somebody who recognizes the opportunities and privileges that he has been afforded, that he took advantage [of]. [He] took the opportunity to run track and run cross country, and with those two teams being, in my opinion, some of the most diverse teams we have in this school—that even though he was an outstanding student and probably didn’t have that many opportunities to interact with other students of different races within the school day in the classes he was in, that the students he ran track with helped him form his worldview and helped him understand the privilege that he had and that he wants to be able to be a really, really important voice for our school as a former student. I think that is something that, as a school district, we should be really proud of. I guess you could sort of make the joke that if Will loses, then the School Committee has ultimately failed in their mission because, you know, that means that the School Committee isn’t doing enough of a job in supporting Cambridge Public School students.

Obviously, that’s just a joke. But young scholars like Will MacArthur…I think of the work that’s been done by the Kimbrough Scholars Program and the opportunities that those kids received to be able to go down South and do these investigations, and to really see that Cambridge students, when given the opportunity, can really rise to the task and do the important work that allows high school students to shed a light on the deep legacy of racism in America. I think that’s something that we should be proud of. I think back to the walkout in 2016 when the girls in Cambridge Public Schools had said, “Enough,” and “We’re not going to expect the mistreatment we feel like we’re experiencing in the hallways of this school,” and they walked out. The girls varsity athletic team speaking up at the School Committee meetings last year and saying that they didn’t feel the same level of support and emphasis.

I should say, those girls standing up we should be proud of because we want all of our students—especially students who have been marginalized in our society and whose voices have not been heard as much… And I do think, historically, that has been the voice of young women, and to see the young women at Cambridge Rindge and Latin rise up and act in a way that has historically brought about change within our country by walking out and protesting and saying enough is enough… Those are things that personally, as a CRLS alum myself, as a former employee of the school, as a Cambridge resident, that I feel most proud of. And those are the things that as a member of the School Committee, I would look at and champion and say that our students who are doing that are on the right path towards assuring us that students who graduate from Cambridge Public Schools are ready to take on the challenges for our democracy. And I do think that many of our kids are ready to do that.

RF: If you want to add anything about your campaign or the last two months…

LK: Yeah, I do have something I wanted to add. So, yesterday I was walking through Davis Square and I saw one of the students I used to work with who is currently homeless. He had graduated from the Cambridge Public Schools and is now in a place where he doesn’t have a place to live, where he doesn’t have a job—he is on the margins of our society. I think there are plenty of people who would have walked by him who are running for the Cambridge School Committee and who would not have known that he was a Cambridge Public Schools graduate. And I want to be very clear that because I’m a graduate of the schools, because I’ve worked in the schools, I see all the great things that our graduates are able to do, and I also see the students who are on the margins of our society and who are having horrible, horrible, nightmarish struggles on a regular basis.

I would ask for people’s number one vote because I do think my experience as a former Cambridge Public Schools educator and as a parent and as an alum of the school makes me different. I think I’m the only person running for the Cambridge School Committee right now who would’ve known that that young man was a graduate of our Cambridge Public Schools and wants…and wants to make sure that the graduates from our schools have the skills necessary and the abilities necessary to be able to make sure that they can create the lives for themselves that they want. Because, right now, the man that I saw yesterday was not able to do that. And the fact that he was a graduate from our schools and is living on the streets now is unacceptable, and we have to be better than that.  

Clarification: The second book Mr. Kimbrough would read in his book club would be Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges—and Find Themselves.

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