Investing In Our Future: Why Public Education Matters

With only a few days to go until the election, I’ve been reflecting on the past four months of my campaign. During this time, I’ve canvassed almost every day to get my message across to the people of Cambridge. I think about the hours spent canvassing, the hundreds of miles walked, the countless number of doors knocked, and the thousands of conversations I’ve had with people.

 

While I’ve been asked a multitude of questions from all these different people, there is always one topic, or some form of one, that people inevitably end up asking. Why you? Why should you be on school committee? Why are you running? What makes you stand out among the other candidates? Common curious questions for a campaigner. And of course I have my quick responses, my thirty second pitches; my experience in the classroom, my perspective from the number of schools I’ve worked in, my commitment to improving communication and collaboration throughout the district.

 

Honest and good answers for really great questions. But really, these quick responses don’t always allow me to explain in greater depth about why I should be elected. So that’s why I decided to write this. To explain to you, the reader, why you should vote me, Nikolas Emack, #1 for school committee on November 7th.

 

You should vote for me because of my passion about public education and why I believe it matters so much. The truth is, I wholeheartedly believe that public education is the best way to save our country.

 

Whoa! Big Jump. I know, but hear me out on this. You can’t avoid seeing what’s happening at the national level of politics. It’s overwhelming and omnipresent. And it’s hard to not argue that we are at a pivotal moment in our history of the United States. But I think with a challenge this big, ironically we need to start thinking smaller. To me, the answer to this challenge starts locally.

 

Now more than ever it’s important that people are civically conscious and engaged. We need to make sure our students leave our schools not just with academic skills, but also with the ability to pursue their passions and envision a better future for themselves and others. When we invest in public education we are making an investment in our future. We invest in our future doctors, in our future electricians, in our future police officers, and in future careers that don’t even exist today. But most importantly, we invest in our future citizens.

 

Because the investment is so critical, it is crucial that our school committee sets the correct agenda and makes sure that money spent for public education is working towards this goal. As I’ve talked about during my campaign, it’s not for any one person or group to set that agenda.  This agenda needs to be set with input from all members of the community. That’s why I believe that communication with the community is essential so that every voice can be heard as we prepare our students for the world of tomorrow.

 

If you elect me, I will work to hold more community meetings where residents can give more input and feedback directly to the School Committee. If you elect me, I will work to ensure that the voices of students, families and staff are part of the decision making process. And if you elect me, improving the Cambridge educational experience will be my #1 priority, both in terms of my time and my focus. So when you go to the polls on November 7th and are thinking about who to invest your #1 vote with, I hope you consider me. If you would like to learn more about me and my platform, please check out website (www.VoteNikolasEmack.com) and my blog (www.VoteNikolasEmack.wordpress.com)

 

Thank you for time and consideration,

Nikolas Emack

Candidate for Cambridge School Committee

 

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My School Committee Resume

In order to be considered for nearly any job, you must first participate in some sort of interview process. For the job I am striving for, member of the Cambridge School Committee, the process is a bit different. Unlike interviewing with one or two people, I am interviewed by thousands of people throughout the election process as I canvass across the city speaking with residents about my ideas for education in the Cambridge Schools. To succeed, I must pass this rigorous, but fulfilling, interview process.

This had me thinking: what would it look like if I needed a resume for all my interviews with the different residents of Cambridge? What follows below is what I’m calling “My School Committee Resume”. It shares with you my past experiences that I find relevant as to why I would be an excellent #1 vote for School Committee.

 

Building Substitute, Cambridgeport Elementary School

  • Taught in a wide range of JK-5th grade classrooms, and also provided 1 on 1 as well as small group support for students.
  • Built relationships with 300+ students by providing social-emotional support and discovering how each student learns best.
  • Contributed as an active member in my school community by participating in school council meetings and volunteered at various school community events.

Trainer for After School Teachers,  Agenda for Children

  • Co-developed workshops for afterschool teachers focused on self-directed and student centered learning for the Agenda for Children.
  • Co-created curriculum based on this type of teaching method that taught students the importance of the community around them.

After School Teacher,  Elm Street Community School

  • Taught a variety of after school enrichment classes, including flag football, recycle art, and STEAM structures.
  • Developed an understanding of the importance of building a bridge between after-school programs and regular school classes.

Community Organizer, City Councillor Nadeem Mazen

  • Connected underserved families to afterschool and summer programs for their children.
  • Learned that the barriers to entry for these programs and others like this can be daunting to navigate, especially if they are busy working multiple jobs, don’t know how the system works, or if English is their second language.

Day-to-Day Substitute, Cambridge Public Schools

  • Taught in almost all of the schools in Cambridge, so I was able to see first hand what makes each school so special.
  • Learned that each school has their own culture and own identity, and has their own strengths and challenges.

Member of STEAM Working Group, City of Cambridge

  • Collaborated with numerous stakeholders in education and the city to create a list of recommendations on how to expand Cambridge’s commitment towards STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) learning.
  • Co-organized a presentation to deliver to the City Manager, which resulted in the creation of the STEAM coordinator position in Cambridge.

Master’s Degree in Political Communication and Education, Emerson College

  • Earned my Master’s of Education at Lesley University, which is known for its teaching program and community focused approach.
  • Completed coursework that focused my thinking around the principles of teaching, different types of pedagogy, and how to meet the social-emotional needs of students.

Student Teacher, Brookline High School

  • Fostered a classroom environment that encouraged a creative and open atmosphere.
  • Taught lessons that promote the development of analytical and critical thinking skills.
  • Differentiated instruction with lessons that contain multiple ways to access the material.

English Teacher, Beijing, China

  • Taught English in various classroom settings ranging from kindergarten students to adults in the Financial Services Industry.
  • Found my passion for teaching, while experiencing a new culture and learning about how that culture values education.

Financial Advisor, MetLife

  • Advised families on how to make proper financial choices for their futures by teaching them long term planning tools to help them make the right investment choices.
  • Given a unique insight into how intricate budgeting processes work and how to create these budgets.

How Voting Data Shapes Campaigns, and Why I’m Not Using It.

Over the past two years, I’ve had a chance to reflect about my experience running for local office. What most people don’t realize, is that as soon as you sign up to run for office, you are given access to endless amounts of voter data. Voter data that provides information about registered voters and their voting history. I have been surprised by how many people are unaware of how the heart of campaigning, knocking on doors, and talking with voters really works.

Traditionally politicians and campaigns use voter data to dictate how they are going to do their canvassing. So when they go down the street, they know which doors to knock on because they know who has voted in the past. To me, this is not an inclusive system. When we are only engaging with potential voters who have previously voted, we are leaving so many people out of the process.

We create a pipeline of the same voters, year after year, without any substantial effort to discover new voters to participate in local municipal elections. That’s why I’m going against the grain, and not using voter data to target which doors I knock on. My approach is all inclusive. I’ll try to knock on every door that I see, regardless if the people who live there vote or not. Because to me, when you just use voter data, you are missing the conversations with the immigrant family who may not be able to vote but have kids in the schools. You are missing the conversations with the family who just moved here and hasn’t registered to vote yet. And you miss all the people that have never had a conversation with a local politician.

If my campaign was focused on just using voter data, many of these conversations would likely not happen. By circumventing the typical voter data process, we engage all of the community in important and thoughtful dialogue. Also, doing this gets more people involved in a process that they normally would not be a part of. I am confident in our strategy because I have already had conversations with people who haven’t voted in a local election, that now will. The fact that you haven’t voted before in a municipal election doesn’t mean that you won’t this year, especially when you have a conversation with a candidate. And, recently, we can see this country needs to invite more people into the political process.

By attempting to knock on every single door, we can ensure that no Cambridge resident feels left behind because of their voting history. Bringing more people into the political process is now a necessity, and my campaign is starting this right here in Cambridge.

Although most political experts would scoff at the idea of not using voter data, my campaign team embraces this strategy. An all inclusive approach is much more modern and is the beginning of a new system that should be adopted by all campaigns. Judging by the 2016 presidential election, many voters felt left behind. This is because typical campaigns never reached out to these voters to hear their concerns. Under my philosophy, every door counts, every voice counts, and every community counts, regardless of the voter data.

My platform is built on the voices of Cambridge, not my own inner circle. This is also how I would govern.  As well as listening to the voices who have the time to come to School Committee meetings, I will make sure I am having engaging conversations with people who can’t come to these meetings.

It is time to try something new. It is time for every resident to starting feeling like they are now a part of the conversation. A great starting point is to avoid voter data to target residents. My campaign has done this, and has seen great success doing so. I look forward to continuing this approach and strive for a conversation driven campaign. If every candidate in both races would pledge to not use voter data, we can all build towards a more inclusive Cambridge.

Active Listening

If you ask School Committee members what they think the purpose of their committee is, most, if not all, would say the same thing: A School Committee’s main focus is to serve the needs of the students, teachers, and families in the district it presides over. Unfortunately, many committees, including ours, have struggles reaching out to all community members as they pursue this goal. I believe the School Committee must do a better job of Actively Listening to students, teachers, and families in order to better adhere to their needs.

What do I mean by Active Listening? To me, Active Listening is putting yourself out into the community, so that you are receiving as much feedback as possible from everyone involved with the schools. Active Listening means showing up to School Council meetings to get a better insight on the issues that are relevant to the each individual school. Active Listening means public input should be expanded to engaging and thoughtful dialogue between committee members and constituents rather than the short public comments at committee meetings where community members are restricted to three minutes per speaker.

One easy way to achieve this is to flip the script and instead of having constituents come to the committee, have the committee visit the constituents, and not just during campaign season. I like to call it reverse office hours, bringing the conversations to the people. By holding these reverse office hours, it makes it more convenient for families, teachers, and students to be heard. This ensures that all of the concerns for the community are part of the dialogue. Without doing this, more and more voices will slip through the cracks, and if not properly identified, can be very detrimental to an equitable process.

Another struggle students, teachers, and families face when it comes to being heard is the lack of clarity on the schedule of School Committee meetings. While you are able to regularly check on the website, and there is the ListServ that sends out emails about upcoming school committee meetings, the school committee could be using more efficient ways to keep people informed about their meetings. Why not use Facebook? If the School Committee created a Facebook page, everyone could have access to School Committee information without have to sign-up in order to receive it. It would be much easier for constituents to get information they need about the meetings, including alerts on when and where they are.

If elected, I pledge to hold these reverse office hours and advocate for a School Committee Facebook group to adequately listen to the concerns and thoughts from students, families, and teachers themselves. These would be the first steps towards having School Committee lead the way with Active Listening.

Nikolas H. Emack for Cambridge School Committee 2017!

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

 

With the school year over, now is the best time to officially announce that I will be running for School Committee in Cambridge again in this upcoming election. While I came close to being elected in 2015, unfortunately I fell just short. I want to thank all 1,221 people who considered me their #1 choice for School Committee, and to all of those who volunteered and contributed to my campaign. All of you have inspired me to have the confidence to run again, so I can help ensure that the district is on the path to success.

 

Since the last election, I have had the pleasure of working with many communities throughout the city. As the building substitute for the Cambridgeport Elementary School, I’ve gotten to experience the school year from day 1 to day 180. Working with the students has been an exceptional experience for me, and I am thankful for the relationships I have built with the students, their families, and my coworkers. In addition I’ve been an active member in the out of school time community, both teaching at the Elm st. Community school, and running trainings with the Agenda for Children. My time working as a teacher and being part of multiple learning communities gives me a unique insight into the Cambridge school district. I want to take all of that experience and knowledge and apply it to School Committee.

 

While working as an educator in Cambridge, I’ve realized that despite our amazing school district, we can still build on this great work. I believe every voice in education deserves to be heard. Students, families, and teachers – every person involved in the schools needs to be listened to. We need School Committee members that are catalysts of communication around the issues that matter to their constituents. I believe that we need to have serious conversations around issues like high-stakes testing, educating the whole child, universal Pre-K, and having a culturally diverse staff that fully represents our students. It is impossible to have these conversations without properly engaging our constituents to get to the heart of the problem.

 

I plan to be out on the streets, talking with residents everyday, to get their input and listen to their concerns about the Cambridge Public Schools. While not every resident may have a connection to our schools, the success of our schools is important to every resident. Investing in our city’s education and students is investing in our city’s future.

 

I truly believe that I can get elected and make a difference, but I can’t do it without your help. If you are able and interested to volunteer for my campaign, please contact me at VoteNikolasEmack@gmail.com , or fill out this form here. Also, if you would like to donate to the campaign, please Click Here to Donate.

 

Over the next few months, I will keep you updated about my campaign through my websiteFacebook, Twitter, my blog and my newsletter (sign up for my newsletter here). I feel honored to have this opportunity to make a difference in Cambridge and I look forward to this process of engaging with the community on the campaign trail. Hope to see you out there!

 

Best Regards,

Nikolas H. Emack

Candidate for Cambridge School Committee

Proactive Subcommittees

Since deciding to run for School Committee, I’ve thought a lot about how the Committee can be more proactive. With $27,000 spent per student, community partners like MIT and Novartis, and exceptional teaching and administrative staff, Cambridge has the resources to help students in comprehensive ways. But we don’t always make use of them as effectively as we could – and should.

I was rereading old School Committee minutes recently, and I noticed something interesting. The School Committee has seven subcommittees: the Budget, Buildings and Grounds, School Climate, Curriculum and Achievement, Community Relations, Governance, and Contract Negotiations Subcommittees.

While these subcommittees may only make non-binding recommendations to the full School Committee, their scope is relatively undefined. From my service on the STEAM education working group convened by current City Councillors Nadeem Mazen and Dennis Benzan, I know that committees such as these can perform amazing work if leveraged properly. That’s why it’s disheartening to see how rarely these subcommittees are utilized.

In the last three years (2013-2015) no subcommittee has met more than 8 times. Many of these meetings were convened in response to ongoing projects such as building renovations, or to hear updates on curriculum implementation like the Response-To-Intervention training. Obviously, these are all important and the School Committee is performing its due diligence here. But there’s a missed opportunity to do something more.

The title of each subcommittee is instructive. “Community Relations.” “Curriculum and Achievement.” “School Climate.” All of these are ongoing issues in our school district. We should treat each subcommittee as a working group for community initiatives. The Community Relations subcommittee, for example, could bring together Cambridge Housing Authority representatives, community leaders, liaisons from area nonprofits, and other stakeholders to draft an inclusive communications plan, so more families can get involved in the school system. The School Climate subcommittee could form an advisory task force of teachers, educational researchers, and administrators to determine the most appropriate social emotional learning program for the Cambridge Public Schools, balancing the best practices with Cambridge’s unique circumstances. The School Committee has the purview to mobilize task forces such as these as “Advisory Committees”, and as we’ve seen with the STEAM education working group convened by current City Councillors Mazen and Benzan, advisory committees can produce actionable material.

But all of that’s currently very pie-in-the-sky. What we can do now is commit to holding meetings for each of these subcommittees five times a year, without fail. The first step to proactively creating change is to instill a culture of proactivity. And the culture of our School Committee now – however well intentioned its members are – is reactionary. In recent meetings, every member of the current School Committee expressed a desire to become more involved in the schools. And while it’s true the School Committee is required to lead from a higher altitude, mobilizing resources that are ready and willing to help is a crucial step towards solving the persistent issues impacting our district. Our commitment must be more than just reactionary, we must work with the community to lead the charge.

Debates and Diversity

This may come as a surprise to some, but I do not consider myself a strong public speaker. Yes, I have been a classroom teacher, and no, I am not afraid of large crowds. But my entire campaign is built on dialogue, on listening to residents and reaching achievable, actionable goals to pursue for the good of our students, teachers, and families. At Wednesday evening’s debate, I realized how little this approach has in common with debating. I tried to convey a message of action, of outreach, of our pressing need to do more than just hold an open door policy for residents already outside the system. But it’s very clear to me that debates are not the place for honest dialogue. When each candidate has only a minute or two to discuss complex issues like the Achievement Gap or high stakes testing there is little choice but to rely on rhetoric and predetermined soundbites. To prepare for Wednesday, I watched last year’s CSAG debate. I am disappointed to hear so many of the same answers given two years ago. We need a profound change to move forward as a school district.

I do recognize, however that debates are an unavoidable part of the electoral process. So I will prepare more, sharpen up my talking points, and go in even more determined to win. But in doing so, I will not forsake my commitment to honesty, action, and discussing the issues – even if this means I come off less polished than my fellow candidates.

There’s another major observation about this debate, one with little to do with the candidates themselves. By most measures, this debate was well attended with a rough count of 80 people in the audience (doing a headcount is difficult when you’re onstage!). It was disappointing, then, that this debate did not do justice to the wonderful diversity we have here in Cambridge. Our district is made up of 60 percent students of color. Why is it that I so few of their families at school-related meetings? I am a consistent attendee at School Committee, School Council, and Superintendent search meetings, and can say with confidence this discrepancy is not unique to this debate. Until we put the legwork into giving these residents a real voice, well-intentioned aspirations of setting examples for urban youth to get into public service, or espousing the need for high achievement and excellence ring hollow. That’s why I am proposing the following:

  1. I am going to devote 6 canvassing hours a week to reaching out to lower socioeconomic status residents to get them to the debate – and I urge my fellow candidates to do the same.
  2. Each debate going forward should have a space for childcare and food to encourage residents who do not have the resources to hire a sitter for the night to attend.

Election season shouldn’t be the only time we open a dialogue with residents. I know that each of my fellow candidates is in this race because they care deeply about our schools, students, families, and teachers. So let’s not just talk about setting an example, or bridging race and class divides. Let’s do the work, right now, while all eyes are on us.