Two defining issues in the Cambridge School Committee race — equitable math curriculum and inclusive special education — have juxtaposed some of the contest’s incumbents against their challengers.
The candidates for the School Committee have spent months campaigning and answering questions at forums. On Tuesday, city voters will go to the polls to decide who will craft the district’s education policy for the next two years.
Much of the debate in the race has centered around how and when to implement a plan to offer Algebra 1 to all eighth graders and the city’s special education services.
Every School Committee candidate in the race says it’s time for Cambridge to begin offering Algebra 1 to middle schoolers — a goal that has vexed the panel since the early 1990s. But they’re split over how to do it.
The four incumbents in the contest — David J. Weinstein, Rachel B. Weinstein, Caroline M. Hunter, and José Luis Rojas Villarreal —served on the committee that voted in support of a September motion to expand Algebra 1 to all Cambridge middle schools by 2025.
The motion was referred to Cambridge’s superintendent, Victoria L. Greer, who is tasked with finalizing the plan.
“My commitment is to make sure that we see it through and we see it through effectively,” said David Weinstein — a CPS father and former public school teacher serving his second term on the school committee — who jointly introduced the September motion.
But many of the challengers in this year’s race say the proposal moves too slowly.
Eugenia B. Schraa Huh ’04, a former public school teacher and CPS mother who has made the issue central to her candidacy, said the plan is “at best a partial solution.”
“Clearly, that’s not really a solution because that’s three years from now,” she said.
The issue took center stage in the race after a July Boston Globe report outlined CPS parents’ concerns about the absence of middle school Algebra 1.
The concerns center around inequities between CPS middle schoolers and students who leave the district and take Algebra at non-CPS middle schools before returning to Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in ninth grade. Parents say the district leaves their middle schoolers disadvantaged by not preparing them for upper-level math entering high school.
Some challengers say the district needs a more robust plan to implement its 2025 proposal.
“I have zero faith that it will be done successfully on the timeline that has been proposed by the district,” said Elizabeth C. P. Hudson, a challenger who has pushed for strong STEM education in CPS. “I’ve seen no discussion of the preparation.”
Challenger Alborz Bejnood said the current plan is a “step in the right direction,” but he said it doesn’t move quickly enough.
“I feel that it’s something that could be done within the upper schools by no later than next year,” he said. “In the meantime, I think that it’s not unreasonable to appropriate some of the funds for busing or commutes for kids who are ready or able to just take it at CRLS.”
Rachel Weinstein — who co-introduced the September motion — said the School Committee and superintendent have worked to create an effective plan, highlighting the benefit of offering the Illustrative Math curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“I would say, to the administration’s credit, that they did a thorough process,” she said. “They recommended adopting Illustrative Math, which all the math educators I talked to say is like a gold standard.”
Special education issues have been thrust to the forefront of this year’s race thanks to a federal inquiry into Massachusetts public schools’ support for students with learning disabilities.
Francisco Alves — CPS executive director of special education — recently released a new plan to revamp special education in the district. The proposal would establish a centralized pathway for students to receive special education support through Individualized Education Programs and supplementary tutoring.
Incumbent committee members have signaled they are open to the administration’s current approach.
Hunter, who is involved with the special education subcommittee, said she is “excited about the initiatives and plans” that are underway. She praised Alves’ review of CPS’ current special education structures, saying the district is currently “doing the best we can with our staffing.”
“I’m very excited about Dr. Alves’ plan for the district,” she said.
Rachel Weinstein said that the district’s new plan is “worth a try” to “see if it helps.”
“One thing we’ve heard is that our special educators are feeling burdened by their workload,” she said. “I think that Dr. Alves’ plan is an effort to be responsive to that.”
David Weinstein praised the process behind the district’s approach to special education, saying the School Committee’s special education subcommittee has “really sought to engage the participation of our educators.” He added that he wants parents and students to receive more individualized support as they navigate the district’s programs.
Some challengers are more skeptical of the administration’s proposal.
Schraa Huh said that “chaos” of the district’s existing approach to special education makes her hesitant to endorse the new proposal. She said she wants to know “what is on the agenda in the next two months and the next two months after that.”
“We need to check in on this plan,” she said.
Richard Harding Jr. — a former school committee member who is seeking to retake his seat on the committee — said he wants to ensure the plan will sufficiently involve parents, but he added that he is open to the proposal overall.
“I want to see each and every child in the Cambridge Public schools — with their vast resources — get everything they need to be a successful student,” he said. “We, like no other district in the state, have the ability because we have the resources to have a first-class special education program that meets students’ and family needs — with intentionality, not by accident.”