Josh Amaral for School Committee

The issues

Education is key.

 

The Issues

If you cast your vote for me to continue on the School Committee, here are some of the priorities you can expect me to work on.

Have some other concerns? Get in touch!


Video of Josh speaking at No on 2 Rally

If you've attended a School Committee meeting or heard me speak, you know I have not been shy about expressing my opinions on what matters most. I have ardently advocated for equal opportunities for all our students including increased access to arts, music, and phys ed. I have argued against a system of education that relies too heavily on standardized testing. I have opposed the growth of charter schools that hinder our progress and drain funds from our schools. I have worked to organize unprecedented unity on important issues with other School Committees in Massachusetts  I have been a staunch supporter of fixing the formula that the state uses to determine school funding -- a formula that underfunds New Bedford by at least $20 million.  

I will continue working with my colleagues, other Massachusetts School Committee members, and other officials throughout the state and country to improve our schools and fight for the issues that matter most.


Josh on the school budget. (Credit: NB Cable Access)

I have been on the School Committee for four years, and in that time, the finances of the New Bedford School Department have been managed well, avoiding crisis and making key investments in the classroom to update curriculum, technology, an experiences in arts, music, STEM, and other specialty areas. When I was a UMass Dartmouth student I wrote my thesis on New Bedford Public Schools management and discovered that there were 11 budget shortfalls, miscalculations, misappropriations, or crises in the 22 year period from 1991 to 2012. From 2014 to now? None. Each year during the budget process I review every single line-item of the $130+ million budget to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and in the best interest of our students.

The school department has increased its capacity to track spending and manage the personnel issues that led to prior shortfalls. We have developed strategies to better plan for future needs and have transitioned on and off of grants with ease. Most importantly, the School Committee has greatly increased transparency. Thanks to the efforts of our Finance Subcommittee, the School Committee has improved policies and now approves district warrants on a weekly basis and meets with City Council members quarterly to provide updates and discuss the budget. Additionally, we have been able to leverage millions to build a new Taylor School, the Irwin Jacobs Elementary School, and dramatically overhaul the technology at New Bedford High School.


Josh at the announcement of Full Day Fridays (Credit: New Bedford Guide)

I will work to create and expand district programs that we know work, and help us meet our students needs and our families' and community members' expectations. For example, an idea was hatched during the FY18 budget process to create an in-district therapeutic day program for elementary age students (similar to Trinity Day Academy). This would allow us to better meet our students needs, keep students in-district, closer to home, and it would likely be cheaper than paying other providers as we do now. Those resources could be used more efficiently. Likewise, we will explore the addition of certified vocational programs so that New Bedford High students who want to learn a trade can take advantage of those opportunities at New Bedford High School rather than a regional vocational school. We should also expand our Student Success Centers and alternative programs to ensure that students who act up and disrupt others in class have a place to go where they can learn without disrupting other students. 

We have already seen positive results from the expansion of art, music and phys ed in 2016, when we eliminated early-release on Fridays, adding more time for the specialty subjects our students love. For the first time in 41 years, New Bedford elementary students have full days of school on Friday. We know these programs work and we should implement more.


Josh with the New Bedford High School Whalers Marching Band before a parade.

Josh with the New Bedford High School Whalers Marching Band before a parade.

In 1984, New Bedford High School was recognized by the National Commission on Excellence in Education "for putting good educational practices into effect." In the last decade, the school has come under increased scrutiny and its once positive reputation has suffered. As a proud alumnus of New Bedford High (2011) I find this to be unacceptable. New Bedford High provided me with a top-notch education -- one that allowed me to earn a full year of college credits before I even graduated high school, placed me in valuable internships, and gave me the opportunity to learn from some of the best teachers around. 

In response to some of this scrutiny, the school has reinvented itself and has as much to offer as any high school in the region. The graduation rate, which has historically hovered around 50%, is up over 70% now. Yet, the school's reputation hasn't caught up. If re-elected, I will work with our administration to ensure New Bedford High School offers our kids all the best opportunities that come with receiving a high-quality education in a safe and diverse school environment. I'll engage our community to make sure that everyone knows what New Bedford High School has to offer, and we'll make sure that a strong plan is in place to not only restore New Bedford High's excellence but that it is sustainable and will not waver again. Once a Whaler, Always a Whaler!


Josh and colleagues breaking ground on the new Taylor School at Sea Lab building.

Josh and colleagues breaking ground on the new Taylor School at Sea Lab building.

One of the most powerful factors in my decision to seek another term is that I want to put the knowledge and experience I have gained to good use. When I first got involved over five years ago, I studied our schools as a UMass Dartmouth student writing a thesis, "Improving New Bedford Schools". When I launched my first campaign, I promised to bring the unique perspective of a recent student (I had graduated from NBHS two years prior) to the board. I learned so much from the many educators, parents, and students that I talked to on the campaign trail. And once elected, I realized that even with all this background knowledge, the learning curve for a new School Committee member is steep. I got involved with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, soaked up any available training offered, and built a network of contacts across not just the city, but also the state, where I serve as the Vice-Chair of the Urban Division of MA School Committee members. I have learned our budgets, policies, and issues inside and out.

I want to use all that I have learned to ensure that the next four years go well for our schools and our students. There have been lots of changes from 2013-2017, and I anticipate many more from 2017-2021. I want to make sure those decisions are made thoughtfully and in the best interests of our students. Four School Committee seats are open in this 2017 election (three SC, plus mayor who serves as ex officio chair). The average tenure of a superintendent in Massachusetts is five years. Massachusetts will choose a new Commissioner of Education in 2017. I will bring stability, institutional knowledge, and a steady approach to make sure the people are represented, and that we are getting things done. I promise to bring that to the table.


Josh on staff retention. (Video credit New Bedford Cable Access.)

I have been very concerned about our educators' job satisfaction and morale. The scrutiny our district is under by the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has created immense pressure to raise test scores -- pressure that is felt from the top of the organization down. School turnaround practices and the increased stress that comes with some of them make the already difficult job of our teaching corps even harder. The comments made by members of our staff are meetings and when I see them in the community are cause for alarm. While our DESE-calculated turnover rate is commensurate with other similar urban districts, it is clear that some teachers that we'd prefer to keep have instead chosen to find work elsewhere or retire. If we want the best for our kids, we have to do all that we can to attract and retain the best teaching talent there is. 

America is facing a major teaching shortage, no doubt related to all of the increased mandates and burdens put upon educators in the classroom, including the mass expansion and overanalysis of standardized test data, which should not be considered the "end all be all." The job is getting more and more difficult, and New Bedford should be a place where teachers want to work, have a myriad of opportunities to develop professionally, and can put down roots and contribute to the community. This has to be a priority for sustainable success in our schools and I will do my part in making sure we head in that direction.