Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Paul Toner's comments to the School Committee regarding Innovation Schools

March 27, 2013

Dear Members of the New Bedford School Committee:

I apologize for not being able to be able to deliver this testimony in person; however, I was already scheduled for a flight to another meeting and could not get out of it. 

I have asked Tim Sullivan to deliver this testimony in my stead.

As you all probably know, I have been very supportive of Innovation Schools and believe that they represent an important development in creating teacher- and community-led schools.  I am attaching a copy of my MTA Today editorial from September.  In the past two years we have seen 44 Innovation Schools established around the Commonwealth and more schools are currently under consideration. 

It has come to my attention that my comments and editorials in support of Innovation Schools have been used as a criticism of the New Bedford Education Association and its leaders for not supporting the proposals. Unfortunately, based on the information I have been provided, the two new Innovation Schools proposed in New Bedford do not appear to be supported by the vast majority of teachers who will be directly impacted. As a result, I felt compelled to have this testimony read at your meeting.

I would like to make it perfectly clear that I am supportive of Innovation Schools where all educators and their union are involved in the development and planning process and the plans have the support of the educators in the impacted buildings.  In fact, in most cases the Innovation Schools that have been created were conversion schools where the current staff at the schools were involved in the process and ultimately had a vote regarding the final decision on whether to proceed with the innovation plan.  Some have been new schools as opposed to conversion schools, but even in those cases the current staff and union were involved and engaged in the process of developing the schools.

I am well aware that this is a local decision and I am an outsider; however, I ask that you not support these two proposals at this time and bring all the parties together for further discussions with the affected teachers, parents and community leaders about developing school redesign proposals which will improve student outcomes in a way that is fair and inclusive and avoids the current divisiveness.  I applaud the educators and community members involved in developing these proposals for their deep concern and interest in proposing a new vision and plan for these two schools; however, they can only be successful if they are supported by the staff involved in their implementation.  In addition, with the news of a new charter school opening in the fall, the recent discovery of a significant budget shortfall and the hiring of a new superintendent, this seems like the perfect moment to hit the pause button and rethink how the Gomes and Roosevelt schools, and indeed the entire district, move forward on behalf of all of the students and teachers.

I will pledge that MTA will work with the NBEA and NBPS and the community to develop and support plans for creating and implementing serious plans for improving both schools and the district.  We currently have the Massachusetts Education Partnership, which is composed of the MTA, AFT-MA, MASS, MASC and other partners who want to support strong labor-management partnerships to improve student outcomes.  If NBEA and NBPS are willing to work with us we can help support this challenging work.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Paul Toner

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