, Gloucester, MA

December 10, 2012

Editorial: 'Horace Mann' plan is no alternative to current charter

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The idea of creating a Horace Mann Charter School may be a good fit within the Gloucester Public School District — someday.

And Dave Buchanan, a founding of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School who also works for the state’s Department of Education, is right to try to preserve “alternative educational opportunities” for families and students in Gloucester with the current charter school facing a day of reckoning before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education next week.

But any venture into a Horace Mann project must come from the city’s school district and officials, not from the charter trustees. And any such program cannot essentially be proposed as an immediate alternative to Gloucester Community Arts if Education Commissioner on Mitchell D. Chester moves to revoke GCACS’ charter during or at the end of his, its third year, as Chester strongly hinted last month.

Buchanan raised the proposal last week during a meeting of the charter school’s Board of Trustees, who didn’t formally endorse the idea, but certainly expressed interest in it.

But Department of Education spokesman J.C. Considine noted that any effort to open a Horace Mann School in Gloucester has already missed the application cycle for seeking approval for the 2013-14 school year. Let’s not forget that, when Gloucester Comunity Arts founders were granted theiur charter in February 2009, it was not until late September 2010 that the school opened its doors. And there’s nothing in Buchanan’s proposal indicating who would be part of any new Horace Mann School board; if anyone thinks the state board will even think about allowing the current GCACS trustees to launch a new charter school of any kind, he or she should have his head examined. With few exceptions — like Buchanan and current Board Chairman James Caviston — the clueless conduct and lack of oversight by current board members, dedicated as they may be, is a primary cause of why the current GCACS charter is at risk in the first place.

Could a Horace Mann Charter School work in Gloucester? Yes, and it’s something that, down the line, city officials and alternative education boosters should pursue.

Set up as a charter school that operates under a city or regional school budget, Horace Mann schools are also run with independent boards, receive additional federal and private funding through grants, and can have a curriculum focus, such as on the arts, like GCACS has created, or perhaps on math and science. Indeed, creating that type of school — which, almost laughably, must also receive approval from the local teachers’ union and be staffed with union teachers – could be an ideal route for Gloucester, given that it could help prepare students inclined toward those subjects for the “innovation school” and advanced science and technology programs already available at O’Maley Middle School.

It could also ease the strain on the rest of the elementary population, even opening the doors to the kind of elementary consolidation the city and its taxpayers need. And it could also make the best use of the current GCACS building, which is a very well-designed school and should become part of the city system if the GCAS loses its charter and the state and property owner Mike Lafata can work out a lease settlement.

For now, however, city school officials – and the state Department of Education — cannot even entertain a Horace Mann proposal until the state decides the status of the current charter school, which it should do on Dec. 18. And, when that ay comes, it’s up to charter officials to make their own case for continuance based on the current school’s programs, perhaps by submitting a viable documented curriculum and showing that students scores are continuing to improve.

A Horace Mann alternative, right now, is not viable and will merely cloud the city’s current education picture.

The state board next week needs to clarify that picture instead.