A More Responsive “Schools at a Glance”

The Challenge

Cambridge Public Schools uses a Controlled Choice system for school assignments, which means that when families register for school for the first time, they are asked to choose between a number of options that may have available seats. A lottery is held for Kindergarten seats, but for the rest of the grades (and those who miss the lottery), there’s a strong chance you won’t be assigned to your first choice. The purpose of this publication is to orient families to the district while reducing any fear about this possibility by spotlighting the strengths of each school.

This document was established by a predecessor in CPS and there was a strong foundation to start from. However, the version I inherited lacked warmth and centered the concerns of educators and leaders rather than responding to the needs and concerns voiced by families. Seeking to improve the impact and usefulness of this document, I synthesized the insights of many diverse stakeholders including our city-run cultural broker team, family engagement specialists, school registration personnel, local experts in early childhood education, school Principals, the Chief Operating Officer, and families themselves. I also had the pleasure of collaborating on design with the talented CPS web and design manager Lisa Waters.

Among my changes:

  • Investing in an ongoing relationship with an excellent photographer and photojournalist, Bethany Versoy to broaden the array of available images and improve their impact and quality. Bethany’s work is nicely complemented by photos by Kristen Joy Emack, who works for CPS and is also an award-winning photographer and artist. Kristen’s work is on the cover and Bethany’s work can be found throughout the booklet.
  • Developing infographics to clarify some of the more confusing aspects of life in an urban, “controlled choice” school district, including accessing resources beyond the school day and understanding school assignment patterns.
  • Engaging with school principals to ensure that their program descriptions would “sparkle,” writing most of them myself and collaborating with those who felt strongly about developing the content to ensure that all schools communicated a warm welcome while highlighting distinct aspects of their identity.
  • “Chunking” complicated but important operational details about Controlled Choice, pre-paying for lunch (no money in the lunch line!), riding the bus (sometimes all the way across town!) and accessing preschool and afterschool programs – which are not part of CPS.
  • Using the opening pages to not only welcome new families but highlight the Vision and Strategic Plan for CPS.

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