UPDATED: Large Turnout for Hearing on Somerville Progressive Charter School
State Sen. Pat Jehlen and Mayor Joseph Curtatone spoke against the proposed charter school. In all, about 40 people voiced their opinion.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education held the hearing, in part to guage public support for the proposed school, which would teach kindergarten through eighth grade and enroll up to 425 students. As an independent Commonwealth charter school, the school would be publicly funded and governed by a board of trustees.
Education Secretary Paul Reville oversaw the event, which lasted approximately two hours. Speakers were allowed three minutes to state their opinion.
“It was a well-informed discussion,” Reville said after the hearing ended. “People had done their homework and read the application.”
“There were a lot of interpretations, a lot of speculation,” he added. “People differ widely about what this application means to the community.”
Department board members, who hadn’t yet read the founding group’s application, listened and took notes. But they didn’t engage in conversation with speakers, except to tell them that their time was up.
Early on in the hearing, several public officials and members of the founding group spoke.
Somerville State Sen. Pat Jehlen asked the board to deny the charter because she believed it would reduce educational options for students who didn’t win the lottery and increase the separation of families from different economic statuses. She also argued the charter school wouldn’t offer services better than the Somerville Public Schools and that the school couldn’t accommodate the students still learning English that it hopes to enroll.
Somerville Mayor Joeph Curtatone also spoke against the school. (See below.)
Lola Hamilton, a teacher in Boston’s public schools and a member of the Somerville Progressive Charter School’s founding group, who's the mother of a child who attended Somerville Public Schools and another who attended Prospect Hill Academy Charter School, said her support for the charter school was based on her belief that “the student must fit the school and the school must fit the student.”
“It is about choice,” she said.
A sample of views from supporters of the charter school
Jamila Xible, a founding member of the charter school, said that the Somerville Public Schools “are setting and enforcing low expectations for immigrant children.”
“As an immigrant parent, I would like to see immigrant children going to schools that set high expectations and hope for these kids, and that they can go to college and that they have opportunities and choices in life.”
A Somerville resident who grew up in the Soviet Union and favorably described charter schools as “private schools without tuition,” said that she had transferred her child from a public school to a private one because of the options available there.
“Coming from a background with no options,” said the member of the founding group, “I cherish having different options.”
Macky Buck, a Cambridge resident who runs a childcare program that serves Somerville kids, said that she spoke on behalf of “children for whom the schools have not worked.”
“We are in a time of incredible innovation,” she said. “We’re really trying hard to narrow down what kids are supposed to learn and how they’re supposed to learn it. Charter schools are trying to open up ideas, to put in time and effort to come at it from the outside. I speak for all of those children who struggle to learn the way they’re expected to learn in programs that are incredibly narrow. It breaks my heart to think of children who go through the school system without this possibility”
A sample of views from opponents
Curtatone noted that students’ scores on the MCAS have risen in the past decade, that Somerville was named one of the best communities for young people and that the high school’s science department received an award for innovation by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, among other accomplishments.
“If a central theme in the proposal before you is an alleged failure to embrace innovative partnerships, I would respectfully suggest that you take a harder look at our track record.”
School Committee member Adam Sweeting said he was concerned about the charter school not offering enough support to students learning English and questioned whether the would-be board of trustees included a legitimate “proven provider.” He said he also worried that the school would duplicate progressive teaching methods like those at the Healey School and partnerships with local universities like Tufts and businesses like Biogen Idec.
“And finally, I want to say that I am no mere defender of the status quo. I would not have supported the merger of the Healey if I were,” he said before asking the board to reject the proposal. “We have our work cut out for us, and whatever wounds incurred in this debate must be healed.”
Meghan Bouchard, who formed Progress Together for Somerville to oppose the opening of the charter school, announced to the board that the group had collected almost 1,000 signatures. Read more about Bouchard’s views in Somerville Patch’s interview with her.
Betsey Reardon, who founded the Somerville Public Schools’ Unidos bilingual education program, said she didn’t want her taxes to go toward the Somerville Progressive Charter School. She said that her adopted son “was well served by daily ELL (English Language Learner) support services provided him as a preteen.”
Ben Echevarria, the board president of immigrant rights advocacy organization The Welcome Project, listed a number of concerns that immigrant parents had presented to him and asked the board to delay the opening of the school until they had been assuaged.