Cambridge School Debate Heats Up

Yesterday’s Cambridge School Committee meeting turned tense after committee member Alfred B. Fantini lambasted City Councillor Craig A. Kelley for making disparaging comments about the situation of Cambridge schools at recent City Council meetings.

“Every time [Kelley] hits us, I’m hitting him,” Fantini said.

After the meeting, Fantini expanded on his criticisms of Kelley, calling Kelley’s analysis of the school system “biased.”

“Every meeting he just has something negative to say about the public schools, and I just don’t think he’s helpful,” Fantini said.

Fantini made his anger at Kelley’s comments clear at the committee meeting, even after Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons intervened and asked him to temper his often bombastic remarks.

Simmons—who chairs the School Committee as mayor, a position chosen by the city council from among its own members—pledged to improve communication between the two.

“I am looking to certainly close the gap and level of acrimony that has risen between those bodies,” she said.

In other business, sophomore school committee members Patricia M. Nolan ’80 and Luc D. Schuster made a motion to discuss at later date the possibility of integrating an International Baccalaureate (IB) program into the Cambridge school system.

If the district incorporated the program, which is known for its rigor, into the high school curriculum, “there would be a hundred people who would come back to us from private schools,” Nolan said after the meeting.

Fantini was the lone member to oppose discussion of incorporating the program, saying that doing so would “give people false hope that we have the resources to do something.”

“Let’s have it on April Fool’s Day,” he said of the pending discussion.

The committee also got some welcome news last night when it was presented with new data showing that Cambridge Rindge and Latin School—the city’s only public high school—outperformed the state average by eight points in its four-year graduation rate.

According to the report, released by the Massachusetts Department of Education, 89 percent of seniors graduated from Rindge and Latin last year, an increase of two points from 2006.

While the data also showed some disparity in graduation rates by race, the direction of the gap was actually the reverse of the gap on standardized tests: 92 percent of black seniors graduated in 2007, compared to 87 percent of whites.

Superintendent Thomas D. Fowler-Finn, who narrowly won a controversial extension to his contract last week, was quick to highlight positive change enacted since he took on the job in 2003.

“Five years ago, students came to school in September and didn’t even have a course schedule,” he said. “Those days are over.”

Discussion of the report was not entirely self-congratulatory, however.

Schuster said that while the proportion of Cambridge students passing standardized tests are the near the state average, comparatively fewer Cambridge students score at the higher “proficient” level.

Simmons also emphasized the need to track students further, saying that the district should determine how students who graduate fare in their college career.

“It’s one thing to graduate, it’s another thing to be able to go to college and stay there,” she said. “The graduation rate is only half the story.”