Public Hearing on Innovation Schools in New Bedford, April 1, 2013.
Distinguished school committee members, thank you for the opportunity to speak this evening.
My name is Josh Amaral. I’m a life-long New Bedford resident and a product of the New Bedford Public Schools. I graduated New Bedford High in 2011 at the top of my class. I’m now at Umass Dartmouth studying political science. I consider myself one of the “lifelong learners” New Bedford tries to create.
You see me here at every school committee meeting, and at education and community events throughout the city. I’m here tonight to testify against the two proposed innovation schools.
I’ve been thinking about how to approach speaking tonight – and I think I finally got my thoughts together to make a well-reasoned argument in just three minutes and… maybe just a few gracious extra seconds Mr. Shea.
Many community members, particularly the people in my corner, will express their displeasure with the proposals. I thought I would echo some of their sentiments, charging the designers with segregation, inequality. I thought about mentioning the very real possibility that these proposals could result in good teachers losing their jobs, whether we’d like to admit that or not. I considered likening the innovation schools to Global Learning Charter or the recently approved City on a Hill – both of which have an established track record of failure. But none of these fit what I’m feeling. Some of it bothers me greatly, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not the road I want to take.
Heck, some of the items in the proposals are sorely needed attempts at solutions to problems that have long plagued the district – poor family engagement and community outreach, a lack of English language learner support, art, music, additional before and after school programs – the partners are great – NorthStar, the Symphony Orchestra, the CEDC, BCC, UMD, …other… acronyms… all could be helpful to a district that really needs help.
But when you look at the proposals, objectively, I don’t think they can be approved. There are too many unanswered questions – just some of which were uncovered last week – an over-reliance on grants, less than market value salaries, retrofitting and transportation concerns, unnecessary autonomies. I have trepidation telling the people who put their time and effort into the proposals – good people with the best of intentions – that the proposals are kind of.. unrefined, but they are. I’m sorry. I’m a progressive and I don’t like the idea that I’m blocking an attempt at progress, but I don’t think this is the right move for New Bedford.
Look at the divide these schools have caused. Factions of parents, teachers, officials, all fighting with eachother. Marlene Pollock, Jack Livramento, Sandra Cunya, and Jen Clune – these people aren’t supervillains out to ruin the schools. Dr. Fletcher, Lou St. John, Eddie Johnson, myself, all of the exceptional educators who are here this evening, who I support and thank dearly – we’re not bad people either. We’re all here trying to make change that benefits everybody.
Look at some of the people testifying – many of whom couldn’t tell you one really good reason why we should approve or deny these schools. They’re just here because they’re concerned about their children, their jobs, their community. They’re concerned about the schools, and someone told them to show up to voice their concerns and they did.
Let that serve as a referendum on the state of our school district. The job of the public schools is to meet kids where they’re at, and develop them forward. Frankly, we’ve sucked at doing that and this is the result.
So we can take to podiums blaming the union, the teachers, blaming proposals, elected officials, media, eachother, but stop for a second and look around at all the people who are here. See the energy in this room for our schools? We need to channel that and harness our ideas into one, collective vision – no divides with innovation, charter, public. How successful can innovation schools be when there’s this much resistance? We all need to come together – parents, educators, officials, businesspeople, nonprofits, clergy, students, alumni – and do this thing together. The innovation schools are a step in the wrong direction.
Tenemos que hacer esto juntos. We have to do this together.