, Gloucester, MA

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December 12, 2008

State hears 'No charter' at school hearing

The extended Gloucester public schools community mobilized yesterday in support of a system widely viewed as under assault from a group of parents and educators proposing a new arts-focused charter school.

Offering testimony at times emotional and almost always forceful, Gloucester teachers, administrators, parents and one student outnumbered those supporting the proposal in a hearing before state education officials at Fuller School.

"The charter school proposes separate but equal education," said Jeanine Harris of Concord Street, invoking the civil rights movement to condemn the charter. "It will be a privileged education for a few."

"I can't say I know what it is like to be frustrated with my school, because I haven't been," Gloucester High School senior Sarah Johnson said. "I demand that any financial allocation go to schools already struggling with funding."

Although fewer in number, charter school supporters offered a vision of innovation sparked by competition.

"I have seen that there is a lot of innovation in the Gloucester schools system, but I would like to give my support to the charter school because I want it to be better," parent Tim Sauder said. "I argue that the charter will force both to be better. On a national scale, charter schools have been innovators."

Founding group member Kate Ruff was more critical.

"Gloucester public schools have had growing budgets, declining enrollment and declining MCAS," Ruff said. "The district has the money to do everything we propose."

Gloucester Community Arts Charter School would be a public school for 240 kindergartners through middle-schoolers when fully enrolled. The district would not controlled it and teachers would not be in the local union.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will decide whether to award a charter in February. It is unclear exactly how much weight the state places on local perspective in making its decision.

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