Below is the full statement that Executive Director Will Gardner made before the New Bedford School Committee during its regular meeting on February 11, 2019:
My name is Will Gardner and I am the founder and Executive Director of Alma del Mar. I am here to speak about the agreement between myself, Mayor Mitchell and Commissioner Riley to move forward in creating a first of its kind neighborhood enrollment Commonwealth Charter school.
Like any compromise, this deal is far from perfect. Voices from the extremes of various ideological camps will of course express their displeasure. School choice purists hate the lack of a lottery system. Those who believe that not even quality charter schools should exist decry any growth of any public school that is outside of the centralized district system.
But the job of this school committee and other decision makers is to listen to families, not special interests. What do New Bedford families want?
First and foremost, New Bedford families want good schools. They don’t care about a school’s governance model— district schools, public charter schools, innovation schools, vocational technical schools— they just want their kids to have access to the best possible education.
Alma is a good school. We are one of many good schools in this city. Though we’re not perfect and we’re continually improving, Alma’s results, rates of family satisfaction and the analysis of state decision makers attest that the hard work of our teachers and scholars has made our school a success. By the time they reach middle school, our scholars significantly outperform their citywide peers. It’s due to these strong results that the state Board of Education voted overwhelmingly to approve our opening a second campus.
Although we are continuing to work out the details of how the neighborhood model will work, (it’s never been done before) whether we add an additional campus is no longer up for debate.
New Bedford families want good schools and this agreement allows us to create another one.
In addition to good schools, New Bedford families ideally want good schools that are close to home. This is where, from Alma’s perspective, the neighborhood model of Commonwealth charter is particularly appealing. By creating the next Alma campus as a neighborhood school, we’ll remove the barrier of a lottery for families. This gives us greater ability to build relationships with our new families through focused outreach within specific neighborhoods.
As part of this agreement, you have been asked to initiate the transfer of the former Kempton School property to Alma for the purposes of creating this new neighborhood school. We are prepared to take a damaged, 100 year old building and—as we’ve done before and without using any MSBA funds— raise the money to beautifully restore it. We will bring life back to an empty lot and prevent another empty building from becoming an eyesore and liability. This is a win for everyone.
Our front desk has already been flooded with calls from excited families who live near Kempton and want to know when they’ll be able to enroll their kids at our next campus. We can’t wait to meet these families and begin building strong relationships with them.
As I understand it from the district’s perspective, this neighborhood model also makes it easier to adjust to any shifts of enrollment brought about by creating a new school for families. Rather than the scattered changes created by a random lottery, neighborhood assignment allows greater control, predictability and flexibility for the district as you plan for the future. Given this, Alma’s growth can more easily be taken into account as the Superintendent goes about the challenging work of re-zoning district schools.
Complex problems are not best solved by ideologues hurling stones at each other from a distance. Progress on these challenges can come when interested parties, at a local level, sit down and see if they can find common ground. At a time when our national leaders can seem incapable of reasoned compromise, we owe it to New Bedford families to try.