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‘Glad that this part is over’: New Bedford’s neighborhood charter moves forward

Date Published: April 25, 2019

Author: Aimee Chiavaroli

NEW BEDFORD — A parent, wearing an Alma del Mar T-shirt, said she believes the opportunity to send her rising sixth-grade son to the second Alma campus will be fantastic.

“We are overjoyed with the fact that the vote went in our direction today,” said Bernadette Barreira with her husband, John, and her son, Garrett, who’s a fifth-grader at Carney Academy. They live on Sycamore Street, which falls within the neighborhood boundary to go to the new charter.

The City Council voted 8-2 on Thursday to receive and place on file the charter ruled items: communication from Mayor Jon Mitchell to the City Council, submitting draft language for special legislation to effectuate the agreement between the City, Alma del Mar and the state education department, and a revised draft of possible legislative language. The motion also included adopting an act relative to the operation of charter schools in New Bedford.

The act was included with Mitchell’s April 4 letter to Council President Linda Morad and members of the City Council.

On Tuesday, Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said if the council approved the language, it would go to Beacon Hill.

Barreira said Garrett’s older sisters went to Keith Middle School “and it was not a pleasant experience at all.” One of her daughters used a tape recorder in class because she has a learning disability, and Barreira said, “and all I could hear was nothing but noise.”

“How could you learn in that kind of atmosphere,” she said.

Awaiting the vote, School Superintendent Thomas Anderson sat beside Deputy Superintendent Karen Treadup and Alma del Mar leader Will Gardner.

A few months ago, Anderson and Gardner sat side by side before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, when the green light was given to a neighborhood charter school. But if it didn’t work out, Alma would be granted 594 seats.

The School Committee will still have to take up the transfer of the former Kempton School after the matter was unanimously tabled at a special meeting in March. The Massachusetts Teachers Association has alleged legal issues with giving the school for free to Alma; however, School Committee counsel said legislation would clear up the concerns raised by the MTA.

Councilors Hugh Dunn and Maria Giesta voted no and Dana Rebeiro wasn’t present. In September, Dunn and Giesta were two of four councilors who brought forth a resolution against charter school enrollment in the city.

There was no discussion prior to the vote on Thursday.

Lining one row of seats were those in support of Alma del Mar, some wearing blue T-shirts for the school. On the other side of the room were representatives of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools, sporting their red T-shirts. Among them were coalition leaders Ricardo Rosa and Jose Soler.

Also in attendance were Lou St. John, New Bedford Educators Association president, and Bruce Oliveira and Joaquim “Jack” Livramento of the School Committee.

After the vote during a conversation outside of the Council Chambers, Gardner said the school has had a positive experience so far working closely with the district on this plan, noting, “We are doing something that’s never been done before.”

He said Alma coordinated with the district on informational sessions so that everyone is aware of the new neighborhood zone and enrollment process, and they’ve also done informational sessions for families about the charter school.

“That’s made this real, now that we’re starting to meet kids and families; that’s what makes this work really exciting for all of us and has really energized our team,” Gardner said.

Anderson said, “From our perspective, we’re glad that this part is over.” He emphasized that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education made their votes in January and the district has to move forward in this situation. He said he thinks some people still don’t quite understand how the process works and how seats are allocated.

“We didn’t advocate for any additional (charter) seats,” he said.

The deadline to submit Change of School Assignment (COSA) forms was Friday, Anderson said. Those are for families who wish to remain in their current school, and not attend the new Alma del Mar campus, if they live within the new school boundary.

After the council’s action, people mostly dispersed, but Irwin Jacobs Elementary School Teacher Lori Silveira remained sitting on a bench outside the Council Chambers wearing a Save Our Schools shirt.

“We’re just here because we still don’t believe that public real estate should be given away to a charter school,” she said, adding that they “were hoping for a better outcome” with the vote.”

However, she said, “This isn’t the end of it, this just makes it a little more difficult.”

“We’re not stopping at this point.”

She noted that she’s more of a “foot soldier,” rather than an organizer in the group.

Parent Ashley Yankee lives on Liberty Street, also within the boundary, and plans to send her daughter Lay’lahna to Alma for second grade. She’s had unsuccessful attempts to get Lay’lahna into the flagship school through the lottery.

Yankee noted that she’s a big supporter of charter schools and went to Global Learning Charter Public School for eighth grade for the first year it opened when it offered grades 6, 7, and 8.

She eventually dropped out of New Bedford High School and got her GED diploma.

“I know that this is what’s gonna be best for her,” she said.

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