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.

Jake Crutchfield for 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 VoteJakeCrutchfield@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,

Jake Crutchfield

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.

Substitute Teaching

I’m a substitute teacher. It’s something I enjoy doing and it gives me a unique insight into our school district. When you’ve been in almost every school, in every grade, you tend to pick up on a lot of things. So when I’m out canvassing and people say, “that must be hard. I’ll bet it’s difficult because the kids must not treat you like a real teacher,” I tell them there are actually advantages to being a sub – especially if that same substitute is elected to School Committee!

Every opportunity to substitute is an opportunity for me to learn. I come away from every school, every class, and every student with a little more insight into how I can improve as a teacher. The ingenuity and creativity so frequently displayed in our halls and classrooms is staggering. Each time I step into a school I gaze in awe at the hundreds of projects plastered on the wall, from to-scale student created posters of our solar system to mathematical diagrams representing the school’s playground.

But it’s the students that I learn the most from. Every student teaches me not just how to become a better teacher, but more importantly, how to be a better friend. I try really hard to learn as much as I can about every student I get a chance to work with. Their names, their hobbies, what they’ve been working on in school, just about anything I can. And trust me, by this point I could be considered an expert in Pokemon (my favorite will always be Alakazam)!

Pokemon mastery aside, I’ve always appreciated how substitute teaching has taken me all across the district. Someone I know once referred to substitute teachers as “guest teachers”, and that view really resonates with me. We’re here to bring a different perspective into schools, one informed by our experiences across the district and from the diverse set of classrooms we find ourselves each time we sub. In a way, it’s not so different from serving as a School Committee member.

Every School Committee member brings different experiences, points of view, and people skills to the table. And, in the course of their governance, the School Committee interacts with people from all across the school district, from parents, to teachers, to community partners, to the superintendent, and to students. Committee members are often guests in and around the schools, listening to the concerns of different parties and collaborating with the entirety of our educational community to create the best outcomes for our students. As a substitute teacher, I’ve learned so much from our schools, our teachers, and our students. If elected to the School Committee, I’ll continue to serve as a “guest teacher” and a friend to our city, listening to all of our residents as equal partners in our students’ futures.

Public Comment on Superintendent Search, 9/16

Hi, my name is Jake Crutchfield and I live at 281 River Street. I’d like to comment today on the attendance of the meetings this upcoming report was based off of, and express my hope that the committee reports on the total number of attendees. I had the opportunity to attend the majority of these meetings and outside of a few meetings the average attendance was incredibly low. To the point that multiple of these had not a single person in attendance outside of myself.

I’m especially concerned that due to timing and scheduling teachers’ input was very under represented. For example, there was a slot for JK-5th grade teachers to give their input, but literally at the same time and in the same building there was a math in focus training for elementary school teachers. I’m saying all of this not only to complain on how outreach was done, but to inform all of the people that are interested in this search that this report may not fully represent our district’s thoughts and concerns.