Published on Saturday, 26 January 2019 15:40
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met for their regular January meeting on Tuesday, January 22. Most of the agenda dealt with charter school matters, although the Board did also receive an update on assessment and see their 2018 report.
In opening the meeting, Chair Paul Sagan noted the significant number of speakers signed up and said, "now, we're going to practice good listening," adding speakers would lose any time lost to cheering and have time added back for time lost to disagreement.
City on a Hill Charter in New Bedford had the first speakers; several noted their changes in leadership, of their commitment to making change, and of their agreement with the report the Board was receiving. Taking the item out of order, the Board voted to put City on a Hill Charter in New Bedford on probation.
Mayor Dan Rivera of Lawrence sent public comment via his staff, urging the Board not to approve the Equity Lab charter proposal, which the Board will consider, should the Commissioner recommend it, in February. The applicant for the Equity Lab proposal has applied multiple times in Lynn and been turned down, the mayor's comments noted, and it now appears that he is ""shopping it around and Lawrence is his next stop."
Public comment on the proposal for Alma del Mar Charter's expansion in New Bedford was next: two parents of current students spoke in support of the expansion, citing the experiences of their children at the school. Attorneys of the Justice Center of Southeastern Massachusetts testified as to the high suspension rates of Alma del Mar, facing challenges from Chair Sagan on the statistics cited. They and an attorney from the Youth Advocacy project both recommended that the Board require an action plan from the school on this issue. Max Page, Vice President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, called the proposed deal "extortion," commenting "you have weaponized the charter process."
Commissioner Jeffrey Riley introduced the deliberation on New Bedford by noting that two proposed motions were before the Board: the deal, which would increase Alma's enrollment by 450 seats, transfer a school from New Bedford to the charter, and create an enrollment zone for Alma in New Bedford; and one which simply expands Alma's enrollment by 594 seats, if the effort to make the first work failed. The Commissioner asked that the Board pass both motions. Saying that criteria are set forth in statute and regulation, the Commissioner said, "Alma del Mar has met the regulations and it is incumbent upon me to bring it forward." He said that it was a "proof point for the Commonwealth" for a different process for dealing with charter schools.
The Commissioner then asked Alma del Mar Executive Director Will Gardner and New Bedford Superintendent Thomas Anderson to address the Board. Gardner was a founder of the school, and cited its growth and focus on establishing relationships with families. Anderson noted his own history as a charter school founding principal, and his work to establish relationships with all educational agencies in New Bedford.
Board member James Morton asked about suspension, at which Gardner disputed the earlier statistics, saying it was hard to make comparisons, though the middle schools were comparable. Member Mary Ann Stewart asked about public process, at which it seemed much of what was planned had taken place, 'though there would be meetings in the neighborhood in which the school is to be sited. Member Margaret McKenna said the area is "ripe for other collaborations and innovations that are possible." Member Michael Moriarty noted Alma del Mar's 3% chronic absentee rate, adding his hope that this could be something shared with New Bedford's district schools. Member Amanda Fernández said that she didn't believe we could move foward without shared collaboration, and she urged a close examination of the LOOK Act. Chair Sagan called the deal exactly why the Board had appointed Riley as Commissioner. Secretary James Peyser said this opens the door to charters being both schools of choice and neighborhood schools.
The Board voted 9-1-1 (Doherty abstaining, Stewart opposed) on the deal with New Bedford and 9-2 (Doherty and Stewart opposed) on the expansion if the first item fails.
The Board fairly quickly moved through putting Helen Y. Davis Leadership Charter of Boston on probation, with their Executive Director citing their changes in leadership and committing to further work; Chair Sagan noted that if the school came back again with no improvement he for one would not renew their charter. Likewise, Paulo Friere Charter School in Springfield on probation pending more information, including a now overdue audit of school finances and information about the school's proposed move to Chicopee. Commissioner Riley commented, "this is not how folks should be doing business." There was hope that this could be dealt with at the February meeting.
The Board then had an initial discussion 2019 accountability for high schools. As the current sophomore class becomes the first group to take the updated high school MCAS, the potential impact on those scores on the high schools' accountability status must be taken into account. However, because the Board has voted to scale the high school MCAS scores to the former standard for two years, the same calculation for that piece of the system can still be used. There will need to be a transition in two years, however.
The Board meeting closed with a presentation of the Board's 2018 Annual Report, which can be viewed online and features contributions from across the state.