Anticipating the Axe
Cambridge's Only High School Faces the Effects of Proposition 2 1/2
The Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), two blocks northeast of Harvard Yard, is a funky high school. No bells ring; instead snatches of rock music signal the end of class. Students can choose among several alternative educational programs. Even the dropouts have a place at CRLS. They run the sub shop. The unique atmosphere at Cambridge's only high school has emerged after years of confusion and controversy over priorities and programs. Many teachers and administrators describe a new equilibrium that has emerged at CRLS, between a commitment to academic excellence and a loyalty to the multi-racial background of the diverse student body. Yet many now fear that after weathering the tough political battles of the past six years, the economic hardships from round two of proposition 2 1/2 budget cuts will destroy the base they have formed.
Ten years ago there was no Cambridge Rindge and Latin School at all, only the Rindge Technical School and Cambridge Latin School. In 1976, hoping to integrate the vocational, blue collar orientation of the former with the academic, college-boundphilosophy of the latter, the city school committee decided to merge the two. Construction for a new one-campus high school began on the Broadway site, and students, staff and teachers met their shortly after.
But the new project has inauspicious beginnings. It suffered at first, form the predictable conflicts, the bruised egos, the infighting that results when different programs, different outlooks combine. More dramatically, three months before the new building was completed. In April 1980, 17 year-old Anthony Colosimo, a white East Cambridge student, was stabbed to death in a fight with three Blacks. "It was just one of those things that happened. Anthony challenged this guy to fight, the guy brought along two friends, and when the going got rough, one of them pulled a knife," a classmate now recalls. But at the time, the school closed for the week, and the incident cast a pall over the idea of mixing the two divergent groups.
But in the past two years, administrators feel they have succeeded in brining together all Cambridge students. They have adopted a strong commitment to affirmative action, trying to mix students from the different areas of the city and trying to build a teaching staff with a least 20 percent minorities.
They feel they have achieved a similar academic integration, by providing many distinct academic programs in the high school. The 2700 students attending Rindge and Latin enroll either in the main high school or in one of three alternatives--the Fundamental School, the Pilot School, or the Enterprise Co-op. The majority spend their four years in the regular high school, pursuing what outsiders would consider "normal" public secondary school education. But those with special needs may participate in the other set-ups. The Fundamental School follows the back-to-basics, three "R's" approach, offering the 400 students involved additional structure. Parents feeling that their children need extra-strict discipline opt for this course. The Pilot School, the smallest of the programs with only 190 students, provides education in a more relaxed atmosphere. In this "environment." Students, teachers and parents "share in the decision-making process." One-fifth of the staff are counselors. The Enterprise Co-op is an alternative career-oriented program for drop-outs and potential drop-outs. In addition to the sub shop, the Co-op runs a wood shop and a faculty dining room. "Students receive shares in the Co-op based on their productivity and the money they get reflects the profits for that particular pay period," says Henry Lukas, assistant headmaster for students and policy.
But despite the separate programs, all students meet in electives, club activities and athletics. Diane Tabor, assistant headmaster for instruction, sums up the accomplishments of the past two years: "There's a feeling that we're on the brink of merging the idea of academic excellence and a commitment to the multi-cultural diversity of the students."
"Sad irony," she then adds, "that just as we feel we have stabilized after all this time and programs are going full steam ahead, the threat of cuts from Proposition 2 1/2 is scaring people away."
When Proposition 2 1/2 the property tax-cutting referendum, passed in November 1980, cities and town throughout the state were forced to cut back public services. When the Cambridge schools first felt the pinch, most of the cuts were made in the elementary schools "because of the recent extensive changes and problems at the high school." Albert Giroux, spokesman for the school committee faces a possible 15-percent reduction in its budget for the next academic year, teachers and administrators are gritting their teach in anticipation of far deeper cuts in high school programs.
One potential victim of the cuts may be the school's affirmative action hiring system. Earlier in the fall, the school department had signed a contract with Cambridge Teacher's Association (CTA) which specified that teachers were to be layed off on a seniority basis. But when Proposition 2 1/2 was ratified, forcing the issuance of pink slips. Superintendent William C. Lannon made lay-off decisions using "qualification," a term unspecified in the CTA contract but defined by the school committee as experience in a subject, commitment to a particular program and race. The CTA challenged Lannon's policy and the case is pending in US district court.
Job insecurity and tension between teachers lowered the morale at Rindge and Latin. A CRLS teacher, who asked not to be identified, said this week. "Two and hall has destroyed our sense of spirit, and it makes the people we work with potential competitors for a limited number of jobs."
The philosophy behind the educational program also seems threatened. Lukas acknowledges that "everything is going to shrink," but he insists that "we are unwilling to harm the baste philosophy of each program, we want to keep that, at least, in-fact" But whether they can maintain that is unclear.
Margaret LeGendre dean of the Fundamental School, expects that her program well "suffer tremendously" from further cuts in funding LeGendre believes that with a smaller staff and larger class sizes the Fundamental School's purpose could not be met. "Last year we were able to make some cuts without destroying things but now no number of creative solutions can preserve the integrity of the program.
The Pilot program is also in danger, according to Ray Shurtleff, its director "In particular our historical commitment to having Black counselor is in danger, he says As well as forcing the school to cut out a counseling position. Shurtleff predicts that budget cuts will increase the size of the school, as administrators are forced to increase the load for each individual teacher. "Soon we would reach a point of diminishing returns. Research shows that we are now at our optimal size, "he explains, adding that an increase in population "would also threaten the race and sex balance which Pilot has been committed to."
The School Committee is not unaware of the problems that main school administrators and teachers face with further budget cuts, member Sara Mae Berman says. "Many elective courses will suffer as well as what are surprisingly considered extraneous activities, like athletics," she explains. When there are more students in each classroom, those who will suffer most, she predicts are those at either end of the spectrum, high achievers and problem cases. Berman further predicts that a fee system for special activities will have to be instituted to offset costs, a move "which would be a serious problem considering the number of students who come from families at the poverty level."
"I'm torn about being frank" regarding these problem, she adds. "I don't want to frighten people away. We need socioeconomic diversity at the high school, and I hate to see all the gain we have made there undermined by funding problems."
Students, as well as teachers and administrators, are concerned about the future of their school. Laurie Gallucio '85, who graduated from CRLS, describes it as "one of the best public high schools in Massachusetts." Galluccio led a student walk-out last year, in which hundreds of Rindge and Latin students joined thousands of other area high schools to protest the recent wave of public school budget cuts. She singles out that action as one of the occasions when the estrangement that often sprung up between different groups in the school "was completely overwhelmed by a prevailing feeling that we're all from Cambridge and in it together." Galluccio admits some of the students in her class were "barely literate" when they graduate, but CRLS, she says, was a valuable experience for them. "There's something there for everyone, be it occupational, educational or whatever, and that's the way public education should be," Galluccio maintains.
Whether it can be in Cambridge remains to be seen.
Proposition 2 1/2 has destroyed our sense of spirit, and it makes the people we work with potential competitors for a limited number of jobs," one teacher says.
Assistant Headmaster Henry Lukas says. "We are unwilling to harm the basic philosophy of each program, we want to keep that intact." Whether they can maintain that is unclear.