, Gloucester, MA

January 5, 2013

Mayor's Desk: Lessons taken from charter school

The Mayor's Desk
Carolyn Kirk

---- — The Gloucester charter school saga began as a fight over values and money, and ended abruptly as a collapse of expectations, finances and a dream. Many lessons will be taken from the story, but the community should not forget the miraculous experiences that many children encountered during their time at the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School.

Many accounts have been and will be written, but the experience of the students is how we as a community should choose to remember this school. When parents try to explain what happened, I hope they tell a story of advocacy, of taking risks, of principles.

At its core, the story of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School is the story of fighting for something you believe in — especially through those early days when a group of committed parents labored to open the school.

Families took a chance on a school alternative because they trusted that it was the right decision for their child. Almost at every turn, the families who made this choice had to stand up for their beliefs and weather a constant barrage of negative information from neighbors, from elected officials, and in the media. They did so without knowing that the school would have a positive impact on their child, though in the end it did. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the school’s beginnings, management, and demise, good things happened. One day, the children who attended the school will be able to look back and say, “Wow, I was part of something important.”

The life lessons go beyond the children and their families. For many in the community, the cause was a stand based on convictions, on new ideas, and the boldness it takes to pursue a different path.

When the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School was just a concept, I opposed the idea. I could look at the spreadsheet and see the financial impact on the city. Once families began choosing the charter school for their children and enrolling them, I gave the school my full support. The families who made this choice did so for the best reason of all — the fit they saw for their children.

With the closing of the charter school this coming Friday, the families face a much different reality. As they grapple with the impact caused by abrupt closure, the entire community owes them nothing less than our full support. Our teachers in the Gloucester public schools will welcome each child into their classrooms. Superintendent Richard Safier and the principals stand ready to ensure that the proper services are delivered to the students.

The closing of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School is an ending, but the community should use it as an opportunity for a new beginning. Great things are happening in our public schools. From the O’Maley Innovation School to exciting programs sponsored by the Gloucester Education Foundation to the supportive learning environments found in our five elementary schools, public education in Gloucester is getting better every year.

In fact, the children already are embracing the new beginnings. My daughter recently came home from O’Maley where she is a seventh-grader and said, “Mom, I made a new friend today.”

“Really? Who is that?” I said.

“It’s someone from the charter school. I got picked to be her ambassador and show her around our school!” she replied.

I understand the turmoil the charter school families are going through. To you and your children, I say, “It’s going to be OK.”

Carolyn Kirk is the mayor of Gloucester.