[This is my analysis of the 4 candidates on education and family issues. I sent this email to City Council and School Committee ahead of the Council's vote on Monday 6/6/22 for the new City Manager.]
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I'm not pushing one candidate, but do want to share what candidates have said on one issue: Children.
I feel that few people are spotlighting this issue — though education/childcare policy is one of the most powerful engines the City has for lifting people out of poverty and reducing inequality.
Problematic — Mr. Khumalo on closing education gaps
On Wednesday [6/1/22], Councilor Azeem asked Mr. Khumalo about closing racial gaps in the city. (Note: other candidates didn't get this question, so we can't compare answers.)
Mr. Khumalo answered, "Any attempts to close an education gap that doesn't affect workforce development, housing, etc. will not work."
This answer is dismaying. It gives public schools cover for not being able to close these education gaps. When I was a public school teacher in the Bronx, people constantly blamed poverty for not getting better outcomes for our students. That is wrong — in fact, CSCC is one local school that has closed the racial education gap, though its Black students share the same demographics as those at CPS.
Poverty does impact a huge proportion of Black CPS students (with almost 80% receiving free/reduced-cost lunch). But kids who are poor have just as much potential as others. It's vital that our next City Manager hold CPS accountable for success for all its students.
On Tuesday [5/31/22], all candidates answered a question on (1) Universal Pre-K, (2) adequate afterschool, and (3) closing education gaps (see my imperfect summary). None tackled that last part, though I don't think any tried to avoid it (just too much in the format).
Iram Farooq — problematic not to note major current DHSP failings
Ms. Farooq said this wasn't her "area of expertise," so she'd rely on that of DHSP Head Ellen for Universal Pr-K and Afterschool.
The problem is that DHSP has overseen major failings on these two issues.
I've nothing against Ms. Semenoff, but DHSP has had major failings under her leadership — whether preventable or not. I was worried that Ms. Farooq's answer didn't at least acknowledge these.
Cheryl Watkins Fisher — learning curve / strong instincts on cost
Ms. Fisher began by stating that we should move daycares into empty offices.
This answer doesn't show a deep understanding of daycare issues or office issues, as vacancy is at 7.8% and rent is exorbitant.
Daycare's cost model is extremely expensive for the youngest children owing to required high staffing ratios. That's why Universal Pre-K has the potential to hurt all families if done wrong (nonprofit/for profit centers rely on older kids to subsidize the younger).
But I loved Ms. Fisher's later statement — "We could also increase capacity for our working-class families in Cambridge who are at the cusp of being low-income slots vs. capable of paying for daycare; we need to start subsidizing that daycare for families."
Daycare is an enormous expense and stressor on families, particularly low- and middle-income ones. Finding ways to relieve this pressure is critical — that shouldn't start at age 3, but from the first moment a child is born.
Yi-An Huang — deep understanding of the issues
I know many parents have written about his accurate reading of the afterschool situation, and impressive approach: tackling space, staffing, and communication as discrete, solvable issues. I obviously agree.
On Universal Pre-K, I'll add that he noted that "It does feel like 2026 is a really long time away," and that he believes we can speed it up. He also said that DHSP needs to communicate better on the nuances and complexity of this issue.
DHSP's poor communication to parents is shameful (one example). I'm glad Mr. Huang called it out twice as particularly harmful to the families in our community.
Norman Khumalo — good, but vague
Mr. Khumalo's answer was vague. While it didn't have anything I found problematic, I didn't have enough specifics to feel I could assess it.
I hope highlighting this one issue can help you to think about each candidate and how they would approach any issue in Cambridge.
Note: I think my analysis is unfair, in that I don't think live, time-limited, public answers to this one question are a complete way of assessing how they'd operate in real life. But, again, I want to raise these issues and show the thinking that the candidates did bring to them in the interview process.
259 Washington St.
DHSP Preschool mom (2 years) and soon-to-be Baldwin K mom
* Email from 5/26/22:
Eugenia Schraa & Amanda Beatty
Cambridge moms of young kids, going slowly nuts trying to wrangle basic info from the City about schools, after schools, preschools, and probably much more.