Friday, October 12, 2012

Where are the answers about Innovation Schools? by Carol Strupczewski

The New Bedford Public Schools have been receiving much attention lately in newspaper articles and editorials as well as on the local talk radio station.
The first issue that comes to mind is "image." Last spring the high school earned its own "Triple Crown" when seven students received national recognition for passing the Financial Capability Challenge by the U.S. Department of the Treasury; students enrolled in the Robotics class placed 24th in the International MATE ROV competition; and the JROTC cadets placed eighth in the nation at the Junior Leadership and Academic Bowl competition. Yet not one of these groups of students received public praise and recognition from our School Committee members. Why aren't our elected officials and Mayor Jon Mitchell, ex officio chairman, showcasing these students? I addressed this very issue during the public comment section of the August School Committee meeting.
The second major issue deals with Innovation Schools. Here are a few questions:
1. Why are some members of the school committee, one of whom was an active UIA member, supporting the UIA's Innovation Schools proposal?
2. Why are some of our members willing to divide our school system into the have and have-not?
3. Weren't they elected to equally represent all the students with the same top quality educational experience? So why not provide all the students with more art, music, physical education and languages throughout the elementary grades?
Here are some of the proposals for the Renaissance Community School for the Arts to be housed in Gomes School. The class size will be approximately 15 students: first year pre-kindergarten through Grade 2 with an enrollment of 128 students, next year to Grade 3, 160 students, then to Grade 4, 192 students, and finally to Grade 5, 224 students with a staff of 22, 26, 32 and 34 respectively. The Gomes School has approximately 44 classrooms. Who will have first priority to classroom space? The first year alone the Renaissance School will be using at least eight classrooms. As the numbers increase each year, fewer classrooms will be left for the regular Gomes School population which last year increased to exceed 900 children.
Other information in the prospectus shows that Renaissance students will be having 360 minutes per month for art and music, compared to the 90 minutes per month for the regular Gomes students; and 180 minutes per month for physical education, compared to the 90 minutes for the Gomes students. The Innovation students will have four times more art and music classes and twice as many gym classes as the other students. Does this seem fair? Which students will have preference to the gym, art and music rooms, and who will have first choice for special assemblies?
Other questions to take into consideration are the media center, lunch period and recess time. Will all the students be eating at the same time or will there be separate lunch shifts? What about the office staff for the Renaissance School. Will they be housed in the main office of the Gomes School and share equipment or will they have separate office space? If so, where will that be located? How much will the start-up cost be for this school?
As far as the Esperanza School of Language and Culture dual-language Innovation School proposal for Roosevelt Middle School, once again what will the projected cost be for modification to the building to accommodate Pre-K to fifth-grade students? Many of the questions I posed above such as gym, art and music classes, lunch shift and office space also apply here.
During the UIA's Innovation Schools meetings I attended, when the question of cost came up, the answer was that it would be "cost neutral." Remember, the money to operate these Innovation Schools will come off the top of the School Department budget, leaving less money for the remainder of the district. The Innovation Schools within Gomes and Roosevelt will have their own principal and office staff. What about the cost of special materials and books? As far as I know, all new initiatives cost money.
My question to the members of the UIA is: Why not open your Innovation School in the former Mount Carmel School, of which the church is a member of the UIA?
To the members of the School Committee and mayor: "If you are in favor of the Renaissance and Esperanza concept of smaller classes, more art, music, gym and teaching other languages, why not provide this to every child throughout the entire district?
So many questions so few answers.

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