A Chat With Somerville Progressive Charter School Supporter Selena Fitanides
A member of the founding group for the proposed charter school talks about why she believes the city needs it.
Editor's note: In previous articles about the Somerville Progressive Charter School, Somerville Patch has touched upon a few reasons some people are opposed to the school. We felt it was important to speak with those who have proposed the charter school and present their point of view. Amanda Kersey, who wrote this article, is also speaking to members of a parents group that opposes the charter school, and we plan to post that article on Friday, Dec. 9. -- C.O.
A conversation with Selena Fitanides
Selena Fitanides is one of 30 parents who put together the application to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the establishment of the Somerville Progressive Charter School this fall. The publicly funded independent Commonwealth charter school, governed by a board of trustees, would teach kindergarten through eighth grade and enroll up to 425 students.
The DESE answers common questions about charter schools, including those about how they are funded, on its website.
Two of Fitanides’ children are homeschooled after having attended Somerville’s public schools. Another will enter the Capuano Early Childhood Center this fall, and her nephew, who lives with her, is a student at Somerville High School. Fitanides invited Somerville Patch into her kitchen to talk about why she believes the city needs a new charter school, the teaching approach the school would adopt and how she would like to spread its successes to all the public schools.
Somerville Patch: To start, would you define what “progressive” means to you?
Fitanides: Progressive is a big, broad general term. Within that category, there are many types of schools. In general, progressive schools have the kinds of features that we talk about in great length in our application. Progressive educators believe that it’s important to educate the whole child, not just academic, not just intellectual, but also social-emotional, creative—the whole person. All of those human needs should be addressed and nurtured.
Somerville Patch: Is it true that you’re aiming for 25 percent of incoming students to be English language learners?
Fitanides: We would love to reach that target, and you know who could help us reach that target: our friends in the school district. Unfortunately what they’re doing instead ... [is] handing out frightening fliers in Spanish to families, trying to scare away exactly the population that we need to attract, and that’s not helping the effort.
Somerville Patch: Why does the school prioritize educating those students in particular?
Fitanides: Because that’s where the job is not being done.
Somerville Patch: The superintendent has said the rising numbers of students whose first language was not English (52 percent), who had limited proficiency in the language (18 percent) and who were from needy families (68.3 percent) make for a “complicated student population” to prepare for the MCAS. Do you think that the Somerville Progressive Charter School will be able to raise those students’ scores?
Fitanides: We’re very optimistic that in a short period of time, those MCAS scores will move. If not, we won’t get the charter renewed. We have a lot of pressure on us to get this right that is not present, sadly, in the district schools.
Somerville Patch: When you’ve presented new ideas for the district schools to the School Committee or principals, how were they received?
Fitanides: The answer has always been: “Well, we’ll think about that. We’ll talk about that. We’ll get to that a few years down the road, maybe. There’s a complete inability to be nimble, flexible, adaptive. A theme that’s come up again and again when trying to bring about change is that there has to be uniformity [across the schools].
Somerville Patch: Now that the opening of a new charter school is a possibility, do you think the administration would consider your ideas more worthy of attention?
Fitanides: Most of the parents in the opposition are newcomers to trying to reform the schools in Somerville. They have a sense of optimism that we could withdraw our proposal and sit down with School Committee and talk about features in the proposal that they should implement. It’s definitely not going to happen. We definitely would get nowhere by pursuing that. We’ve tried it before. The entire institution is so resistant to change.
Somerville Patch: What sort of relationship would you like the charter school to have with the Somerville Public Schools?
Fitanides: What we would like to do is form sort of a partnership between our charter school and a district school where we would become a lab school for innovation, testing out new methods and proving that they work and then transition those methods into district schools.
Somerville Patch: What do you make of the opposition to the proposal?
Fitanides: How could you argue that options for education is bad for families? Why would you not say, give these people a chance to solve these problems that have been so insurmountable for decades?
Somerville Patch: Some on the Somerville-4-Schools message board have criticized the founding group for not telling the community about the school earlier.
Fitanides: Let me tell you how bizarre we find that particular criticism. We have been working on this for about a year and a quarter. In that time, we have reached out to everyone we know personally, talked to School Committee members, invited them to founders meetings and badgered parents at playgrounds. For every person we asked, maybe one out of five joined us, if that. This has not been a secretive plan.
Somerville Patch: What if the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education decides not to grant the charter?
Fitanides: We’ll apply again next year. We will apply and apply and apply until we get this school because we’re committed to Somerville.
Selena Fitanides will speak at the public hearing organized by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Dec. 14, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Somerville High School.