At hearing proponents say charter schools would offer educational advantages to Fall River

Date Published: 
November 15, 2013
Michael Gagne
News Type: 

And, in that regard, the delivered message sounded similar for each school, New Heights Charter Academy and Argosy Collegiate Charter School. The same held for the long-existing Atlantis Charter School, which seeks to expand its program to include high school grades. But Fall River has a little less than 1,400 available charter school seats.

At a hearing held in Government Center’s City Council chamber, state Sen. Michael Rodrigues told the board, “As a state senator, I am deeply invested in educational opportunities. I’ve always been an avid supporter of charter schools.”

Proponents of the schools spoke of low college attainment citywide.

“High school graduation is no longer a goal for districts,” said Omari Walker, the lead founder for New Heights, a proposed grades-6-through-13 early college high school. “It is imperative that our students leave school both college- and career-ready.”

Less than 15 percent of low-income students graduate with a four-year degree, Walker said.

“Our mission is to provide urban students an opportunity to develop career pathways to and through college,” Walker said.

Promising a “no excuses” school, Walker said, “We know if you give students the excuse to fail, they will. But we know the opposite is true as well.”

Argosy, a college preparatory program, renewed its charter school application from the previous year, with the founding group embracing feedback and acting on it “in ways that deeply improved the proposal,” said lead founder Kristen Pavao.

Pavao said, despite the “great work being done by skillful educators across Fall River,” as a collective, “our children perform in the bottom 10 percent of state assessments.

“We’re not interested in providing a good school for Fall River students. We’re fiercely invested in providing an excellent one,” Pavao said.

“The families of Fall River need expanded educational opportunities, and they need it now,” said Susan Walsh, chief academic officer for Building Excellent Schools, an Argosy advocate.

“We are very committed to our kids,” said Carlos Cesar, president of the Flint Neighborhood Association, backing Argosy. “It’s about a choice.”

Amy Blanchette, another member of the association and the single parent of an 8-year-old boy, echoed Cesar’s statements.

“I don’t feel my son is being challenged. But if I want to put him in a better school, I don’t have the option,” Blanchette said. New Height’s supporters said they were disappointed when the School Committee voted down its original proposal last summer. BayCoast Bank President Nicholas Christ cited a survey of parents indicating that 90 percent of them wanted their children to “continue on to college education.”

But “the most significant hurdle is the ability to pay for college education,” Christ said. New Heights helped remove that hurdle. “If you can get out of Grade 13 with two college years paid for ,I don’t think there’s more you could ask for.”

Bristol Community College President John Sbrega said New Heights “is not unique for the country, but it is unique for our students here in Fall River.”

“Part of our mission is to be a complement to the traditional public school system in Fall River,” said Atlantis Charter School director Robert Beatty, adding that Atlantis has a nearly “20-year track record of success.”

“I would ask that you first consider favorably Atlantis,” Beatty said, while offering praise for the other proposed schools.

Only two speakers spoke against the proposals: Fall River Educators Association President Rebecca Cusick and School Committee member Joseph Martins.

Cusick wondered how truly innovative the proposals are.

“If we are to divert considerable resources from our existing schools, we must be sure we are not leaving our neediest students behind,” she said.

Martins’ comments were pointed at New Heights. He said, if approved, the school would “siphon Chapter 70 funds."

"New Heights is not needed in Fall River,” Martins said.