The steering of Gloucester's O'Maley Middle School toward becoming one of the state's recognized new "innovation" schools looms as an exciting step for the Gloucester School District.
And that's not just because the move, pending an almost guaranteed School Committee approval after a June 13 public hearing, promises what should be a stronger multi-disciplinary curriculum, with greater student and thus parental accountability.
The converting of Gloucester's only middle school into the state's 18th recognized innovation school under Superintendent Richard Safier, O'Maley Principal Debra Lucey and the current School Committee may, at last, be just the type of step that can help stop the outflow of middle schools to other school districts under the state's school-choice program. It may also generate interest in neighboring communities, where parents may well want to consider choicing into Gloucester for what should be a truly innovative curriculum, with other changes as well.
The innovation school concept should build on O'Maley's already-growing reputation as a school with a strong science program — drawn in part from its wind-energy program supported in part by the nonprofit Gloucester Education Fund, from its track toward the award-winning robotics program anchored at Gloucester High, and through last year's opening of the Birdseye Hammond Science and Engineering Lab. And more multi-disciplinary studies should make lerning more relevant than ever for students.
There are a few red flags here. While O'Maley's teachers gave this plan the two-thirds vote of approval it needed under state guidelines, it's a little disconcerting that they — by extension, the teachers' union — had the clout to shut down this proposal before it even got off the ground. So there should be no delusions as to who's calling the shots when it comes to teachers' work conditions. That remains a difference between even this school and Gloucester's Community Arts Charter School, which also continues to draw students as a public, independent alternative.
It's also a bit uncertain how attendance accountability will be enforced — or even enforceable.
But this is indeed a giant step forward for a school district and middle school program that are showing growing, glowing signs of taking bold new steps to better educate local students. It's an innovation that deserves sweeping, citywide support.