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Martyn responds in details to Schlichtman's commentary
Lynette Martyn, a candidate for election to the School Committee, submitted this response to commentary by incumbent Paul Schlichtman.
As the mother of a child who has faced learning challenges, I experienced firsthand what it was like to be the parent of a student in our schools who has been overlooked. Specifically, one of our boys was struggling with reading, but the schools missed it. My husband and I almost didn’t catch it ourselves. We were only able to get him back on track because we were fortunate enough to have the financial resources to pay for special tutors.
While it was a scary and stressful experience, it brought me into the fold of other students and their families who have had similar stories, many of which do not end as well as ours did. This helped me understand that while it is true our district serves most of our children well, many are not having their educational needs adequately met. However, they are just as deserving of our attention and consideration.
This understanding led me to help found the Diversity and Inclusion Groups (or DIGs), which now has eight chapters in all of the elementary and middle public schools in our town. Some successful accomplishments of the DIGs include hosting multiple parent/guardian listening sessions at several of the schools, developing cross-school communication among the DIG chairs at the various schools, establishing collaborative relationship with such groups as the AHS Black Student Union and the Rainbow Alliance and organizing parent workshops, such as the popular “Difficult Conversations” programming, which was brought back by Arlington Public Schools to use in their staff professional development. I have been inspired by the dedication of our teachers, principals and families.
With DIGs, I combined my advocacy experiences working as an active member of the Arlington’s Diversity Taskforce Group and my former professional role as the director of a national early childhood literacy nonprofit that worked in at-risk districts. This eventually motivated me to run for the School Committee, where I was looking forward to collaborating with longtime incumbent Paul Schlichtman, whom I’ve long admired and respected. This is why I was particularly surprised by his recent letter published at YourArlington. [Read commentary here >>]
In this letter, Mr. Schlichtman states that the disparity gaps I referred to in the recent School Committee candidate debate broadcast by ACMi and emphasize in my campaign “simply don’t exist.” He seems to suggest that I have either intentionally fabricated the data, or that despite my extensive education and professional experience, I’m incapable of comprehending and interpreting the very basic and straightforward statistics supplied by the Massachusetts Department of Education. By doing this, Mr. Schlichtman not only dismisses the very real problems revealed by this data, but also my personal experiences as a parent of an Arlington Public School student and those of the many other families I have consulted and worked with.
All the data I discussed in the debate has been on my website since February and reviewed repeatedly and at length during numerous virtual campaign events. Any person interested in the numbers can visit the Massachusetts Department of Education website to view the data or click any of the links below to be taken to the specific data point.
Data never tells the whole story, and kids are not categorical. However, data does indicate trends and should inform how we can improve outcomes. I recognize that we have a lot of dedicated professionals working hard to make progress who are often overworked and underpaid. This is particularly true in our district where teacher salaries are comparatively low. We have improved social-emotional learning, cultural competency and professional development and training. We have introduced collaborative problem solving and have a marked reduction in suspensions this year. While we celebrate the progress, there is still work to be done and we cannot move together as a community to effectively tackle systemic issues if we are unable to name and own the problem.
By the numbers
According to the DOE, our district has a general accountability score of 71 percent; I’d argue some of the figures are in dire need of our attention, namely:
- Our accountability score for “high needs” students (which includes economically disadvantaged students, English-language Learners, and students with disabilities) is only 59 percent;
- Our accountability score for our Students with Disabilities is a shocking 51 percent, which places us second to last among comparable school districts;
- While Arlington has an overall 96-percent graduation rate, only 84 percent of our high needs students and 79 percent of our economically disadvantaged students are graduating;
- A whopping 61 percent of students being disciplined at our schools are classified as high needs students;
- Most disturbingly students with disabilities make up 16 percent of our student population, but 47 percent of our disciplined students;
- Economically disadvantaged students make up 10 percent of our student population, but 33 percent of our disciplined students; and
- Students of color comprise 30 percent of our student population, but 42 percent of all disciplined students.
To clarify again, these are the state’s findings, not mine. And yet, most of these figures are ignored altogether by Mr. Schlichtman's narrow analysis. Other than one time during the debate when I inadvertently overstated the rate at which Asian high school students are disciplined compared to white students (without notes mistakenly stating it was five times the rate rather than 2.6 times, which is the correct figure), I am unaware of any other error in my statements that evening. Meanwhile, it should be noted Black and Latinx students face much higher disciplinary rates compared to both white and Asian students. Overall, it is clear to me that the data collected by the state is compelling and shouldn’t be ignored. And it would seem others agree.
2019 meeting on suspensions
As noted in the January 2019 meeting on student suspension data by Arlington High School Principal Janger, suspension-rate statistics should be viewed like a "canary in a coal mine." As a result of that meeting, a letter was sent from DIG members of all the schools to the School Committee meeting members outlining suggestions, questions, and offering assistance. It received no response. Ignoring such data can have very real consequences for our vulnerable students and their families. By doing that, we imply the marginalized students represented in that data do not matter. But they matter to me and they should matter to Mr. Schlichtman.
Instead of pretending well-documented problems do not exist, we need School Committee members to acknowledge the needs and struggles of all of the students in our system. We can’t serve students and families we refuse to see. I am running because I see those students and I want to serve them, and all of the families and teachers with whom I have developed crucial relationships with over the past several years. I urge all Arlington voters to join me and keep the focus of this campaign where it belongs: on our children. Together, let’s strive to be the best school district that we can be.
This letter was published Wednesday, April 29, 2020.
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