State approves Alma del Mar/City of New Bedford expansion partnership

This morning, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 9-1 in favor of Alma del Mar expanding by 450 scholars in an innovative new partnership with the City of New Bedford.

Below is Executive Director Will Gardner’s full statement to the Board:

Thank you to the board for having me and a special thank you to the Commissioner for really having the boldness to enter what I know is an extremely difficult issue, and to facilitate a compromise that I think all of us believe will be in the best interest of kids in New Bedford. I’d also like to thank my counterparts Mayor Mitchell and Superintendent Anderson for their willingness to come to the table on this agreement and their willingness to think outside the box to hopefully create something that is going to be really great and also aligned with our common vision.

My name is Will Gardner, I’m the executive director and founder of Alma del Mar. When we first began work on Alma del Mar, I had founded it alongside a group of community leaders and concerned families and educators. I was working at the time at middle schools in the district in New Bedford. At the time there was great concern about the performance of these middle schools, the high school and other schools in the district. That concern remains, despite the progress we’ve made as a city. At the time, we believed that the best way to improve outcomes for the kids we were serving at that middle school level would be to start in kinder and to provide the kind of high demand, high support education, rich in content, that would lead to them being on the path to college.

We were chartered in 2011 and opened with 120 scholars in grades K-2. We’ve grown since then to serve nearly 450 scholars in grades K-8. Our middle schoolers are now the top performing students in the city. They outperform many students in the state as well as many of their suburban peers.

We’ve become known for serving English Language Learners especially well and we’ve also been cited by the Department for our exemplary work with family engagement. Among many things we do, we believe that relationships drive our success. Examples of what we do to build those relationships are: We start the year by doing a home visit for every single one of our scholars including those who are returning. We give cell phones to all of our staff members so that they are able to be in frequent contact with and put plenty of money in the bank in those relationships with families and that’s led to a lot of success.

It’s for this reason in particular that we are really interested in this innovative proposal before you. We believe that this neighborhood model of a charter school would enable us to magnify this strength we have in serving families and focus it on a targeted geographical area. We’re excited about this and we can’t wait to begin this work.

We’re also excited about this proposal because it’s in line with the vision that Superintendent Anderson and Mayor Mitchell have for the district and given that we believe it opens even more doors for further collaboration in the future. We believe we can bring a lot of resources to bare on turning around the district in the years to come. Along with Superintendent Anderson and Mayor Mitchell, I share a vision that very soon, as soon as possible, every family in New Bedford will be surrounded by high quality, high performing school options. We believe that this proposal is one important step toward that day. I ask that all of you on the board support this work and this important step that we are making together. Thank you.

Posted in Ops @ Alma

Alma welcomes Christopher Bator to Board of Trustees

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 18, 2019

New Bedford, MA

Alma del Mar welcomes Christopher Bator to Board of Trustees

Christopher Bator was recently elected to the Alma del Mar Board of Trustees.

A retired assistant US attorney from Boston, Mr. Bator now serves on the faculty of the Trial Advocacy Workshop at Harvard Law School. He also currently serves as board member and treasurer of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

“Chris will provide a legal perspective to any  strategic discussion and support the board’s overall governance structure,” said Jan Baptist, chairperson of the Alma del Mar Board of Trustees. “We’re excited to welcome him to Alma’s Board of Trustees!”

Mr. Bator prosecuted violent, drug, and organized crime cases as an Assistant US Attorney in Boston for more than 27 years. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1976, and his J.D. from Boston University Law School in 1985. He was an associate at Hale and Dorr (now Wilmer Hale) in Boston from 1986-1990.

Alma trustees are volunteers who serve three-year terms. They are entrusted with ensuring the school lives up to its mission, formulates a long-range plan and accountability plan, and complies with all laws. As a member of the Alma del Mar Board of Trustees, Chris will advocate on behalf of the 440 New Bedford children that we have committed to serve and put on a college trajectory.                                                                 

Other current Alma del Mar Board of Trustees members are: Jan Baptist (Chair), Chris Arnold, Bronwen Cunningham, David Eckert, Lucile Hicks, Martha Kay, Gail Fortes, Dr. John Polk and Maria Rosario.         

About Alma del Mar:

Alma del Mar is a public charter school serving New Bedford. Our mission is to put every one of our scholars on the path to college and to challenge them to be service-minded leaders. We are achieving this mission by providing a highly demanding, highly supportive education to every scholar who walks through our doors. Alma del Mar features a longer school day, a longer school year, high expectations for all scholars, and outstanding teachers from across the country. We currently serve 440 scholars in grades K-8.

Posted in Ops @ Alma

The Next Alma

Dear Alma Families,

I am excited to announce that we are moving forward with plans to open a new Alma campus this fall! We will be opening this new campus with 200 scholars in Grades K,1,2 and 6 in August 2019. The school will grow within four years to serve 450 scholars in grades K-8.

We expect the Commissioner to make a formal recommendation to the State Board of Education (BESE) on this matter momentarily (watch live here). BESE will then take their formal vote next week. When they do, they will have a chance to read all of the thoughtful emails and letters that so many of you took the time to write on Alma’s behalf. Thank you for your support.

I am also happy to report that as part of our growth plan I have signed a letter of intent with the Commissioner and the City of New Bedford for this new campus to have neighborhood enrollment. Should this plan move forward, we will be breaking new ground by creating a fully autonomous Commonwealth charter school that enrolls students based on neighborhood zone rather than through a blind lottery. We will share information regarding enrollment for the new school this spring as those details are finalized.

There are many details of this proposed deal to be worked out. I am optimistic, however, that we can reach a final plan that serves the best interests of kids and families, who have been waiting for far too long for access to high quality school options. 

While we realize we won’t be able to accommodate everyone on our current waiting list at the new Alma, we will continue to advocate to improve all schools in the city. This avenue for growth provides us with the possibility to seek even more seats in the future. This is one important step toward the day when every family in this city will have access to a high-quality school.

Eight years ago we set out on the mission to put New Bedford kids on the path to college and to challenge them to be service-minded leaders. Commissioner Riley’s recommendation both affirms the strides we’ve made in this work and sets the stage for more families to benefit from an Alma education in the future.

Thank you to all of you who continue to choose Alma for your family. We can’t wait to welcome 200 new scholars into the Alma family this fall.

In Service,

Will

Posted in Alma Profiles, Ops @ Alma

New Bedford families demand a strong education for their children


 

“Every single year we’re turning away 500 families in our lottery. We want to make sure that those families, and the additional families who want the opportunity that Alma represents, have access to this high quality education. That’s why we’re proposing this growth.”

SIGN THE PETITION: https://www.almadelmarfoundation.org/

Posted in Ops @ Alma

Alma to serve as New Bedford polling place on Nov. 6

We are so excited to show our scholars what service is all about tomorrow, November 6th! When we found out the New Bedford Election Commission was looking for new polling locations last minute, Alma stepped in and offered up our space. 
 
So, tomorrow we will convert our Cafeteria into an official polling place. This means the Cafeteria will be sectioned off from the rest of the building and closed down from usual daily activities. Scholars will eat breakfast and lunch in their classrooms.  
 
The election commission will supply polling staff, and the city will provide multiple police officers to monitor the polls. As always, Alma scholars will always be supervised by their teachers, and there will be additional supervision throughout the school day.

  
With that being said, arrival and dismissal may be more hectic than usual. Please be patient and plan ahead for traffic delays.
 
Alma is thrilled to show our scholars just how important the democratic process is tomorrow. Due to the level of importance, the school is willing to offer up its space to make sure every community member has a chance to vote.
Posted in Ops @ Alma

You shop, Amazon gives to Alma

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AmazonSmile has donated over $100 million to charities thanks to customers shopping at smile.amazon.com. To celebrate, AmazonSmile is donating 5% (ten times the usual amount) to the Alma del Mar Foundation Inc when you shop at smile.amazon.com/ch/45-2914995 through Nov 2. #AmazoSmile #StartWithaSmile

Posted in Ops @ Alma

Alma del Mar’s ‘high bar’ highlighted in new video

From the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research:

Alma del Mar Charter School in New Bedford, MA, is fighting for the chance to serve more students. It has applied to open two more K-8 schools that would educate an additional 1,188 students over the next five years. Alma del Mar students outperform their district peers on MCAS, and often score higher than the surrounding suburbs. In some areas they are even among the highest-performing public schools in Massachusetts. The school has relatively low attrition and suspension rates; and 500 students on its waitlist. Alma deserves the right to enroll more students! Read this op-ed in Commonwealth magazine and watch this video to learn more:

 

Posted in Alma Profiles, Team

MCAS is more than a test — it’s a ‘health check’

When state test scores come out each year, it is a big deal at our school. We celebrate our scholars, our families, and each other as a community of educators. We also take the opportunity to figure out what we, as a school, can learn about where our kids excelled and where they struggled in order to better support them this school year.

For us, MCAS is so much more than a test. As teachers at Alma del Mar charter school we treat this exam as an annual health check on our classrooms: are we supporting kids so that they can reach their full potential in reading, writing, math, and science? Of course a single test cannot tell you everything about what is going on in our school. Our work as teachers goes far beyond the problem sets covered in one assessment. But for us, MCAS provides a critical piece of data that indicates whether our scholars are being challenged and set-up for success when it comes to pursuing college and career.

We have a lot to celebrate at Alma this year. Once again, Alma’s scholars did better in math than the average student across the commonwealth. Our third graders showcased the same math abilities and knowledge as students in Wellesley and Newton. Alma’s middle school scholars were the highest performing students in the city in both math and English. African American and Latino scholars at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly double the rate of their statewide peers, as did our scholars who are English Language Learners and our scholars with special needs.

As our fellow public school teachers across the city know, none of these achievements came easily. Likewise, none of them are the result of just one individual’s labor. Our entire Alma crew, from our lower elementary school teachers to our phenomenal plant manager, works relentlessly each day to make sure our scholars reach their true potential.

Our work is never done. For example, we know we need to increase the number of hours that our scholars are reading if they’re going to truly catch up academically to their suburban peers. That’s why this year we’re increasing our efforts to ensure that every scholar at Alma falls in love with reading. In addition, data from last year’s scholar survey tells us that we still have a long way to go in making our classrooms as engaging as they can be. As experienced teachers, we’re working together and with colleagues beyond Alma to find more ways to turn the ownership of our classroom routines over to our scholars. The more they lead, the more our scholars will be invested in their own learning.

We teach because we believe in the potential of each child. We believe that the children of New Bedford can achieve at the same levels as children in any city. Don’t let anyone tell you that New Bedford kids, even those with significant challenges at home, can’t achieve at the same high levels as kids in the suburbs. Our crew, along with the teachers at several other New Bedford public schools, works hard every day to make sure that New Bedford kids get an education that is second to none. We are proud to be a part of the movement to improve education opportunities in the Southcoast.

Margaret Carvalho, is a fourth grade math teacher and math curriculum chair; Justin Edwards, is a fifth grade math teacher and middle school academic dean; and Brittney Sousa, is a seventh grade humanities teacher and middle school academic dean at Alma del Mar Charter School.

This column originally appeared on SouthCoastToday.com.

Posted in Alma Profiles, Team

The Power of Place in Teaching Hard Histories

37056740_10212838045569076_2395403690199482368_oDid you know that Spittal Pond in Bermuda was the spot where an enslaved man named Jeffrey hid from his masters in a cave, on a cliff, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean? Did you also know that during that time he developed a romantic relationship with another enslaved woman who brought him food and other supplies and helped him survive exile until his unfortunate capture several days later? Were you aware that enslaved Africans hand-made every brick at the Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana using mud from the Mississippi River, even during oppressively hot, dangerous conditions? Despite these tribulations,the enslaved gathered on Sundays to participate in church services and sing songs of hope and gospel.

As a teacher and a former student myself, I have come to realize that before you can truly understand and grapple with hard histories, you must understand that the people who lived them were more than victims and the places where these stories were lived, were more than the sites of grave violence. These people and places were the makers of life. These individuals had identities, families, hopes, dreams, and in many cases, created humanity at a time where conditions or the choices of others were inhumane. Additionally, they resisted both actively and passively for the life they knew they deserved.

Personally, this belief in the power of place and the power of individual stories has led me around the world to places like Navajo Nation, Ghana, England, and Canyonlands to name a few. Professionally, it has inspired me to apply this same lens in the classroom with my students. I teach humanities at Alma del Mar Charter Public School in New Bedford. Our school model is based on the concept of expeditionary learning, which means that I have the ability to help my students experience the power of people and place through hands-on-learning. It also means that the school values my own learning and exposure to the material that I teach. This past year, my school provided all teachers the opportunity to apply to a fund called the Alma-zing fund, which covered the costs of our summer travel to places that would deepen our understanding of the world and the topics that we would be teaching this fall. The idea that I could travel to Bermuda and New Orleans to learn on a school funded trip was incredible.

Thanks to the Alma-zing fund, this summer I visited places and talked to people that deepened my understanding  of slavery, the slave trade, the Civil War, and African Diaspora. This experience taught me the importance of teaching this history while keeping people, places, and their rich stories at the forefront of all lessons. One such story was about a man named Joseph Rainey and a place called The Tucker House.

Joseph Rainey lived in the Tucker House in St. George Bermuda before slavery ended in the United States. He fled with his wife to Bermuda, escaping his master and overseer. Upon arriving safely in Bermuda he styled and cut hair for the rich and famous to make a living. His success led him to move to the city of Hamilton. Eventually Yellow Fever broke out in Bermuda and he was scared for the safety and health of his family. He decided to take all of the money he had saved and move back to the United States. He joined the Republican Party and eventually was the first black person to serve on the United States Congress.

This story was inspiring, but it was not the only story woven throughout the contents and history of The Tucker House. The Tucker House was riddled with information that I never knew existed ranging from Spies and the experiences of the Bermudian enslaved. We saw the beds they slept in, the kitchens they cooked in, and the grounds they tended. At that moment Joseph Rainey and his wife became more than artifacts in a tangled history; they were flesh and blood, brought to life by the stories tucked into every corner of the place they inhabited. Thanks to this opportunity, not only do I have photos to share with my scholars of the places where this history came to life, but I have personal stories to share about the people who lived this history so that my scholars can begin their own journey to understanding the power of the places and the people that came before us.

Posted in Alma Profiles, Team

Alma scholars closing achievement gap on MCAS

ALMA DEL MAR SCHOLARS CLOSING ACHIEVEMENT GAP ON MCAS

NEW BEDFORD – Sept. 27, 2018 – For the sixth straight year, Alma del Mar showed strong performance on the statewide MCAS tests. Alma’s passage rate on MCAS significantly surpassed the state average in Math and nearly matched the state average in English. Alma’s middle school scholars were the highest performing students in the city in both subjects, while Alma third graders passed the Math MCAS at the same rate as students in Wellesley.

“We created Alma to be a game-changing school for kids from New Bedford,” said Will Gardner, Founder and Executive Director of Alma del Mar. “These results affirm that we are on our way toward that mission.”

This year’s data affirms that students with higher needs do particularly well at Alma. Most notably, Alma scholars classified as English language learners passed the MCAS at twice the rate of their statewide peers. In addition, students with disabilities at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly twice the rate of their statewide peers in math and at an 8% higher rate in English. Students of color, a group historically underserved by public schools nationwide, fare better at Alma, according to this recent data. Both African American and Latino scholars at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly double the rate of their statewide peers.

“I want to emphasize that we’re not the only public school in New Bedford that gets great results with a high needs population,” Gardner said. “We applaud the work of our colleagues at Congdon and Rodman, who are truly moving the needle for their students.”

Gardner added: “We’re also pleased to see our performance continues to improve, even as we grew our student population by an additional 20% this past year. This shows that our talented teachers are capable of leading even our new arrivals to significant gains in less than a year.”

Alma del Mar serves 440 New Bedford children in grades K-8. The student population is predominantly comprised of minority and low-income students: In SY17-18, 51% of Alma scholars were Hispanic, 13% African American; 72% met the “high needs” criteria as determined by the state. English Language Learners and Former English Language Learners make up 40% of the school’s population.

Other highlights of Alma’s 2018 MCAS performance:

  • 50% of Alma scholars schoolwide passed the English MCAS, up from 45% in 2017.
  • 76% of Alma 3rd grade scholars passed the Math test, compared to 50% of 3rd grade students statewide.
  • 61% of Alma 5th grade scholars passed the English test, compared to 54% of 5th grade students statewide.
  • 61% of Alma 6th grade scholars passed the Math test, compared to a statewide average of 48% for grade 6.
  • Scholars who are identified as economically disadvantaged by the state scored in the 87th percentile on the Math MCAS compared to their peers statewide.

Alma del Mar’s full MCAS results, as well as the statewide passing rates, are below:

 

  ELA

% Exceeding or Meeting

Math

% Exceeding or Meeting

  Alma del Mar State Alma del Mar State
3rd 60 52 76 50
4th 28 53 58 48
5th 61 54 43 46
6th 57 50 61 48
7th 45 46 38 46
8th 48 51 43 49

 

Posted in Alma Profiles
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