New School Committee Members Discuss Goals

The biggest vote-getter in this month's city elections was also the biggest surprise.

Alice Turkel, a newcomer to city politics, received the most votes in the city to win an open seat on the seven-member school committee.

Turkel's 2,760 votes exceeded those cast for extremely popular Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72, the top vote getter in the city council race.

Turkel credits her knowledge of the schools and some catchy campaign graphics for the overwhelming support she received.

"I think it was my involvement with schools, kids and families and being known in the community," Turkel says. "People knew that I had been very active and involved."

An eye-catching heart and hand campaign logo and an endorsement from the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA) may also have helped Turkel in her race.

"It undoubtedly helped to have a CCA endorsement," she says, adding that the progressive political association helped organize her campaign.

Turkel will be joining the school committee along with another CCA-endorsed candidate, Susan Segat, who came in fifth in the race with 2,095 votes.

This year the school committee is divided along political lines, with three candidates endorsed by the CCA and three by the conservative Cambridge Alliance.

Segat, Turkel and E. Denise Simmons are among the CCA-endorsed committee members. Joseph G. Grassi, David P. Maher and Alfred B. Fantini were endorsed by the Alliance.

The committee's seventh member will be the mayor, who will be chosen in January by the city council. Reeves, who is now an independent after a falling out with the CCA over his election last year, is rumored to be seeking a third term as mayor.

Whatever the political divides on the committee, Segat and Turkel agree it is their job as incoming members to build consensus and work toward their campaign goals of increasing school-based management.

"It doesn't matter if there are three CCA or three Alliance [members]," Segat says. "Because three is not a number that gets you a vote."

Unlike Turkel, who campaigned fervently for the position vacated by Henrietta Davis, Segat began seeking the seat in the months just before the election.

Turkel says she saw Segat as a tough political foe, vying with her for a committee seat. But Segat disagrees, saying she believes she and Turkel were targeting different segments of the population.

Both newcomers agree it is up to them to work together now for the good of the schools.

"I think that we can work very closely," Turkel says of her former adversary. "I think that she and I and [Simmons] can work very closely for a lot of positive change."

Turkel says she is also working with Robin A. Harris, the CCA-endorsed incumbent unseated in the election, to continue the work Harris begun during her team on the committee.

Similar Agendas

As political competition fades, the two newcomers' agendas seem strikingly similar.

Both emphasize working with the committee to implement Massachusetts educational reform initiatives, including increasing school-based management.

Turkel was a founding parent of the Cambridgeport School, which began with three classes in 1991.

A furniture designer and artist, she has taught wood working in the Graham and Parks Alternative School and has volunteered in other city programs.

The most important item before the school committee, Turkel says, is helping those in schools adjust to educational reform laws so they can improve the schools in the long run.

"I think a lot of this actually should be dealt with in schools," she says. "As the school committee we are the people who can keep pushing toward school-based management, pushing for some part of the budget to be in the control of the schools."

Segat has similar objectives for the new year.

She says she will work to assure that statemandated changes in education are "adequate, achievable and implementable."

Rather than micromanaging the schools, Segat says the committee must work to increase individual principal's autonomy by "letting go."

"It's very important to let go and let the principals have control," she says.

Finally, despite the political rivalry of the last few months, both newcomers say they are committed to a long range assessment of the city's current program of public school choice.

Turkel says she would like to work to eliminate "inequity between schools," especially with regard to high school preparedness.

Segat adds, "I think that we're at a point were nobody can ignore [inequality among schools] anymore, and I think this is a crucial issue that is not going to go away."