Thursday, March 28, 2013
A Member's Perspective
I attended last night’s special school committee meeting on Innovation Schools hoping to shed some light on what the big controversy was. All I have to say is WOW! If there is any message to take from the meeting, is that there is a great deal of concern regarding the future of the children of New Bedford. Though, after hearing both sides of the coin, I feel that the establishment of these Innovation Schools may be premature. I agree that an impact study should be done to assess the effect these schools will have on the rest of the District. I would like to comment on a few observations noted during the meeting from the perspective of someone who just went to gather information and watch.
I found it incredibly empowering to see so many people in line to sign up for an opportunity to speak. That alone gives me hope that we can forge ahead and have an open dialogue to work together for the sake of our children. What was disheartening was the fact that the Mayor unilaterally decided to allow people to speak through a random lottery rather than go in order of those who came early to sign up for public comment. It is my understanding that some people came from out of town, left work early or went to work late, just for the opportunity to speak on the matter. I found that unfair, and dismay was also expressed on the faces of many of the members of the School Committee as well as members of the audience.
As the meeting got underway, it was refreshing to hear from parents. As a Teacher, it becomes disheartening when only a fraction of your students’ parents attend open house or even return a phone call home. We do all kinds of things to engage our families and entice them to joining our school community, but there are some instances in which we will not get a parent involved. One great point that was made last night while some of the non English speaking population voiced their concern via an interpreter, was the fact that the School District FAILS to provide the proper translations in a timely manner. The School District FAILS to hire enough multi lingual staff to assist in translation/ communicating to families. The School District FAILS to listen to the concerns of the ELL Teachers and students. If I recall, DESE reported that the School Committee was one of the biggest hindrances to the success of New Bedford Public Schools. It remains true still today.
What encouraged me the most was the heart-felt and sometimes passionate pleas made by teachers who advocated for ALL students, not just a select few. Some shared their experiences of attending New Bedford Public Schools and the quality education that was afforded them. Others spoke of how their children are attending New Bedford Public Schools and expressed a desire for their children to receive the same quality education. Overwhelmingly, the message was not really against the ideas of the Innovation Schools, but to entitle ALL students throughout the district these “rights and privileges”. Arts, music, physical education, languages used to be the norm in our schools, but budget cuts have taken them away.
Which brings me to my next observation… if these Innovation Schools are truly cost neutral, then why isn’t the School Committee willing to implement their ideas district wide? Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel? Why not pull out the scheduling from say a decade ago when there was comprehensive co-curricular education taking place throughout the district and re-implement it? My guess is that it is not truly cost neutral. A custodian spoke of concerns about the impact on her job with the implementation of one of the Innovation Schools. It got me thinking about how would the custodian be paid? How would the cost of heating, water, electricity, transportation, etc, be split among the “two” schools within one building? What happens if a student gets disciplined by the “other” principal? Does the District have to pay for that percentage of time from one budget and not the other? How about in the case of illness or injury? How do the costs of the nurse and any supplies get divvied up? The district is $3 million plus in the hole right now, and trying to figure out how such a financial misstep had taken place. I don’t think now is the time to be financially irresponsible.
I believe the best move would be for the School Committee to conduct an impact study. They can determine if it is truly cost neutral. If so, they can also investigate affording these “innovations” back into the district as a whole. They were elected to represent ALL the New Bedford Public Schools, not just a select few. To be fiscally prudent, and truly indicative of representation, they need to do what is right by ALL students in New Bedford.
Posted by NBEA