Wandering through the grounds of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Will H. MacArthur ’20 eagerly waves to friends and teachers. Though he only graduated from the high school last June, the native Cantabrigian, 18, hopes to soon have a hand in shaping the education of his former classmates.
Now a student two blocks down the street at Harvard, MacArthur is eyeing a return of sorts: He is planning to run for the Cambridge School Committee, a body that oversees school policies and budgets for the district of roughly 6,500 students.
If elected in November 2017, he would be the youngest school committee member by far. But MacArthur says that as a product of the Cambridge Public School systems and his year at Harvard, he has unique insight into the issues facing students today.
“I think it’s really helpful to be a student,” he says. “Even though I’m no longer a CRLS student, the mindset of being a student, I think, is definitely helpful for putting myself in the shoes of a lot of people.”
That philosophy is reflected not only in his own age but also in the team of high school and college students supporting him. Over the next few months, the campaign team will help MacArthur compete against a field of at least 10 candidates for six positions on the board.
Cambridge municipal elections are unique among American voting systems. School committee members are elected to serve two-year terms through the single transferable vote method. Cambridge uses ranked choice ballots combined with proportional representation to elect the members of Cambridge’s school committee and city council.
This system is familiar to MacArthur, who convinced the CRLS student government to adopt a similar voting method while he was in high school. He says he thought having a voting system that mirrored municipal elections would give the young people of Cambridge practical insight into the inner workings of local politics.
“I’m really into teaching people in Cambridge about our city and even just how it works,” MacArthur says. “When people learn about Cambridge, they’re generally excited about it.”
MacArthur’s passion for Cambridge does not blind him to its flaws. He says he is running for school committee, in part, to address concerns of racial and socioeconomic inequality in the district.
MacArthur says he thinks CPS needs to prioritize closing gaps in equity and opportunity within the district. For example, he remembers that, while a student at CRLS—the only public high school in Cambridge—he felt that there were not many students of color in advanced level classes.
“My primary focus is on Cambridge,” he says. “It’s been super interesting to see what’s working really well in the schools, what’s continuing to work well in the schools, what’s changing for the better and what’s changing for the worse.
Pointing to a billboard on the edge of the CRLS campus facing Cambridge St., MacArthur reads aloud three words featured on the sign: “Opportunity, Diversity, Respect.”
“Those are our three school goals and I think, as a district, we need to focus much more on how the three come together and how opportunities are distributed to everybody,” he says.
MacArthur says he has tried to connect with voters about their concerns over the last few months. He holds office hours every Friday where students, teachers, and community members have discussed a wide range of issues: everything from sports, to classes, to living in the Trump era.
“There’s definitely a gap to be bridged between people who are making decisions in the district and people who are feeling decisions in the district,” MacArthur says. “The times I’ve heard people say the most candid stuff is when I’m talking to people who don’t know I’m running for school committee.“
MacArthur is not taking off time from Harvard to run his campaign. But he says he plans to take a leave of absence if elected.
“The reason I’m not taking time off now to run is I think that what goes on inside the classroom is super interesting and informs what I’m doing with my campaign,” he says.
MacArthur says he intends to concentrate in either Sociology or Social Studies at Harvard and will eventually go into public service—a goal he says would be partly realized by winning a position on the Cambridge School Committee.
MacArthur says he has always wanted to give back to those around him.
“I’ve wanted to do something in public service for as long as I can remember,” he says. “That’s shifted somewhat from wanting to be a firefighter-astronaut, when I was five, to doing this right now.”