"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Parent's Call to Action Against Charter School Plans in Gloucester

This letter is written by a parent who was a member of the original planning group for the proposed charter school in Gloucester. From the Gloucester Daily Times:
To the editor:

I am writing to express my serious concerns about the proposed Gloucester charter school.

I am a Gloucester resident and the parent of an eighth-grader at O'Maley Middle School. My son and I have lived in Gloucester since 1997. I have worked in Gloucester as the director of a family support and education center for over 13 years and have served as a volunteer in many capacities, including eight years with the Gloucester School Connection, a grassroots nonprofit that has been awarding student and teacher inspired grants for innovation since 1985.

I was also a member of the original planning group for the charter school application and attended meetings for several months.

Once I realized how the school would be funded at the expense of the rest of Gloucester's student body, however, I could no longer participate because it is not in the best interests of our community as a whole.

Since my son began first grade in 2001, the Gloucester Public Schools have lost 50 teachers. Gloucester elementary and middle-schoolers have not had the support of librarians for more than three years despite the district's strong emphasis on literacy goals. Class sizes have increased across the board from elementary to high school with some specialist classes at the middle school reaching 30-plus students.

Although entering high school next year, my son has not been exposed to world languages because of the cuts, unlike his peers in Manchester or Rockport. To his great dismay, he experiences 80 percent less physical education than the students who preceded him. Our high school is out of compliance for special education class sizes, physical education and its library collection.

In general, per-pupil spending on materials and equipment has been cut by 33 percent. There are more examples of our fiscal crisis and its implications on our students. Every one of them is a reason not to support the charter school application.

Some proponents of the charter school have made public comments that the school district can save money elsewhere and there will not be a negative fiscal effect on the students. Some claim opponents of the charter school are simply afraid of change and innovation. Both claims are simply untrue.

My son and his peers have already suffered enough. I believe it is unethical and undemocratic to divert any funds from the Gloucester Public Schools to support the charter school initiative of a handful of people who are not all Gloucester residents and are not representative of the community as a whole. The antiquated state Chapter 70 formula already shortchanges the working class majority of Gloucester residents because of limited pockets of property wealth such as large summer estates that skew the funding formula.

The rising costs of health insurance, utilities, and uncompromising fixed costs have already weighed heavily on what we can provide for our students as a school district. We have experienced significant losses since 2001. There is an unfair disparity already between Gloucester per-pupil spending compared to our neighbors Manchester and Rockport. We have a tremendous community spirit of truly grassroots efforts that residents have undertaken in collaboration with the school district to continue to support academic achievement and access to sports for all of Gloucester's kids despite our painful fiscal reality. These are all solid reasons why you should not support the charter application.

The timing couldn't be worse: the national recession and probable state budget cuts in the coming months. The supposed gain of 240 students should not be provided on the backs of more than 3,200 students who have suffered more than their fair share of inadequate financial investment.

We are a small city. Gloucester barely reaches the mandatory state level of 30,000 residents before a charter must be regional. Of the four communities of Cape Ann, Gloucester is the least able to support this initiative. As America's oldest seaport, Gloucester has a long history of understanding interdependence and advancement for the common good. The charter school application does not reflect this spirit, despite its claims to celebrate the arts and maritime history of Gloucester.

If you cannot attend the public hearing on Dec. 11, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Fuller School, please send letters to ask the state to reject the charter school application by Jan. 5, to: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Charter School Office, 350 Main St., Malden, MA 02148, or by e-mail to charterschools@doe.mass.edu.

The charter school applicants ask us to envision a school "where students, teachers, and parents work together on projects that enhance the quality of life in our community."

That particular vision is already alive and well in every school in our district thanks to dedicated teachers, committed parents, caring volunteers, and inquisitive children. You don't create that vision by piloting your own lifeboat while the rest of the crew is left treading water in your wake.

Haven Terrace, Glouceste

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:08 PM

    Feel free to look at our petition in opposition to New Roots Charter School in Ithaca, NY. We have just gone and are still going through a similar process. Our petition has been immensely successfully; however, I strongly urge you to send representatives from your community and school board (including attorney, pro bono if necessary) to meet with the charter granting agency so you can be fully informed of how the agency thinks and how you can best organize your community to fight this within their schedule of public hearing and comments. We waited too late and just sent letters which were ultimately disregarded. Charter granting agencies need to be held more accountable in the approval process to the community and taxpayers. If you want more information, contact us at our google site: newrootspostponement. Good luck!