Public Statement on Alma del Mar Charter School Expansion

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Last night, Jeffrey Riley, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) made a recommendation concerning Alma del Mar Charter School’s application to serve 1,188 more students in New Bedford.

Commissioner Riley is recommending that Alma be expanded to serve 450 more students, that the school accept students from a neighborhood rather than through the usual district-wide lottery system, and that the New Bedford district make one of its underutilized buildings available to Alma.

As these maneuvers are outside the bounds of the Department’s power and the statutes related to charter school approvals, they will require approval by the city and state legislature. Should the politicos fail to get behind the necessary compromises, the Commissioner will likely have to put forward a second, unconditioned recommendation.

Three facts should not be lost in the swirl of all this detailed maneuvering:

  1. Alma del Mar is a K-8 public school that serves a demographically representative student body and dramatically outperforms other New Bedford public schools. Alma’s original expansion request, if granted, would have significantly improved the city’s public education outcomes.
  2. While in a civil society compromises are necessary, it should be remembered that Massachusetts’ charter school laws are already the result of compromises among elected officials. The Department is advancing a negotiated settlement that is particular to this situation but in districts that are clearly failing their students, the law gives the Department the power to enforce the constitutional rights of students to a quality education.
  3. New Bedford is the fourth-lowest performing public school district in the Commonwealth and there has been persistent talk about the need for a state receivership of the city’s schools.

For the 450 families whose children may one day attend Alma, this is a victory. But the DESE recommendation is tacit approval that even 25 years after the passage of the landmark Education Reform Act, the Commonwealth will allow the continued violation of the constitutional rights of hundreds of New Bedford students.

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Watch: Alma del Mar Charter Public School is a K-8 school in New Bedford, MA, that is using a high-demand, high-support model to help all of its young scholars and teachers meet and exceed expectations for academic performance and behavior. In this video, Pioneer talked with Kaitlin Goldrick, Principal; Taylor DeLoach, Dean of Culture; and Xiomara Palmieri, Lead Kindergarten Teacher about the specific student supports and teaching requirements that contribute to their success.

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