TOM WARD - Charter schools' successes bolstered by caring parents

TOM WARD - Charter schools' successes bolstered by caring parents

By the time you read this, the Cumberland Town Council will likely have approved a move strongly backed by Mayor Dan McKee to site a new Blackstone Valley Prep charter school in Valley Falls, across from Town Hall. It will displace the Currier Playground there, recreational space which the town will be forced to replace.

I have been, and remain, a proponent of public charter schools, and appreciate Mayor McKee's championing of them in our area. Teachers there are well trained and the school day is long. Lessons are filled with rigor, and expectations of its "scholars" are high. Parents are partners in the educational effort, and there is no teachers' labor union interfering with the work. So far, testing results have been very good.

Still, this Valley Falls school proposal smacks of a rush job, the proverbial cramming of a "square peg in the round hole." There has been concern from the outset. From the Planning Board to Town Council, members have been asking tough - but obvious - questions regarding traffic and parking. In the school's original form, Currier Playground's 1.3-acre skateboard, basketball and tennis facility, the only park like it in the southern end of town, would be removed for a 40,000 square foot, three-story elementary school serving children from the "sending communities" of Pawtucket, Central Falls, Lincoln, and Cumberland. The school would be a sister school to a second elementary Mayoral Academy, at 291 Broad St. near St. Patrick's Church.

Ultimately, I expect the school will be built, and traffic will be exactly as feared. The neighbors be damned.

Getting past the wisdom of siting this school, however, there are two bigger concerns I have for the long-term health of both charter and public schools. So far, with charters as smaller facilities, it has not yet been too painful for the "dollars to follow the student" to either school. (Administrators disagree.) With growing charters, however, public schools will become under utilized. Yes, a few classrooms might close, and teachers lose their positions. In most cases, however, teachers will simply teach smaller classes, and towns will be left with all the fixed costs, but fewer state dollars which have "followed the children" to the charter schools.

My second concern is more worrisome, and might anger some as I present the question candidly. From the standpoint of education only, where will the better parents be?

Charter school students are chosen by lottery. Parents don't put their child in the lottery unless they care enough to do so. Charters by design attract parents who are actively engaged in the schooling of their children. The long-term plan for Blackstone Valley Prep has 2,000 children going to their two elementary and two middle schools, as well as a new high school proposed for next year.

That's a lot of caring, engaged parents who will no longer be an important part of public schools, parents not in the PTOs, parents who don't volunteer.

I recall attending the many parents' nights at Cumberland High School for two of my daughters. Each time, teachers were polite and helpful, but there was always an overriding concern. "Your daughter is wonderful," my wife and I would be told. "But we never see the parents we really need to see." No, the parents of the most troubled, underachieving children were always missing on parents' night, according to these teachers. And so I wonder: With charters over time draining the public schools of their more engaged parents, how will the public schools - and their teachers - keep up?

When the Mayoral Academy received a glowing report from the R.I. Dept. of Education, and had its charter renewed for five more years, Mayor McKee challenged the public schools to add more time to the school day and said "It's really now time to throw away the old playbook and embrace what's happening" (in charter schools).

He's right, of course. But how will we achieve excellence in a school with children where a growing percentage of parents don't give a damn?

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze newspapers


Precisely what I have been explaining to the Mayor for five years now! I love charter schools and I love the Mayoral Academy model. But, like Catholic schools, it pulls those who have strong family support out of the regular public schools and leaves a higher percentage of students who struggle for lack of parental caring or behavioral issues that would have them removed from private or charter schools. Charter school success leads to a higher percentage of students left behind in the regular public schools who are not achieving. Then state education leadership decrees that it is just an attitude adjustment and a little training is all that is needed by our teachers left to deal with these populations for their students to succeed. Bull!

Sometimes it just takes more personalization to provide what parents won't and the funding scheme cooked up by the state prevents urban school districts from being able to afford the additional support for that essential work.

Now get the right ratio of money to follow the child and the playing field may level off.

The answer is simple that most don't want to hear. get read of the Union , maybe than you will be able to change the status quo. Till than what you see is what you get.

There are no disputing what John Ward states...more so the observation of Viana66.

I am not at all a fan of BVP for a number of reasons....going all the way back to its beginnings, and what I personally saw as a very biased, borderline racist, criteria to be considered for consideration.

However...let's give credit where credit is due- and a lot of credit is due!

The students (and let us remember they are still students, not yet scholars as the elitists and better then thou'ism types like to refer to them) at Blackstone Valley Prep are being taught exactly as "ALL STUDENTS" should be being taught, (and once were). That, along with their achieving the kinds of results all public school students should also be allowed to accomplish....end of discussion.

On an early 1992 November evening I was sworn-in as a member of the Cumberland School Committee wherein the first item on the agenda was a discussion, and then a vote, to implement "The New Inclusion Program"....a program that I still feel, today, along with many other similar kinds of Educational Concepts, is hurting the overall educational process more then it is helping?

Now, I am not a mean, cruel person....outspoken = YES...and I will do whatever I can to help anyone less fortunate then am I....however.

Due to the many, crippling terms, conditions and language that have crept into union contracts, wherein we allowed a 'Tail Wagging the Dog' situation, management's hand became tied.

Add to that the many Do-Gooder, Feel-Good Practices, Policies and Procedures that, more and more have become de Rigueur - such as the 'Inclusion Program'....all of this done so that all students could feel 'Warm and Fuzzy' (and that also included a very militant group of parents that could not, and would not, accept what their child was) regardless of their capacity to learn) and it should be clear to one and all why today's Charter Schools, and their students, have a very, very unfair learning advantage over their peers attending today's Public Schools.

More-so, all of this also finally brought about "The 'Dumbing-Down' of the educational process in America....and that is when the Public School System began its slow downward spiral that continues to today.

Until all of these ludicrous policies, and ways of teaching (not teaching), are revoked, and we stop trying to make a "Silk Purse Out of a Sow's Ear", and all public school children taught, as students today are being taught in Charter Schools, such as "BVP", along with implementing the discipline, and 'Dress Code' policies that are also in place, will America return to being the World's Leader in Public School Education!

Until that time comes....we are only fooling ourselves, and our children, along with watching millions upon millions of dollars, unnecessarily so, being pissed-down the drain!

For every caring, engaged parent at BVP there is also a financially strained working parent who needs all day child care. BVP's extremely long school day removes the need for childcare in many families, a decision that is made not necessarily by the perfect parents Mr. Ward seems to think BVP attracts. Thanks you for further driving the wedge between charter and public school families in this town...just what this town needs- need is more drama and competition. Well done. Thanks for drawing the line so clearly and stirring the pot.

I'm a life long resident of Cumberlan and I've come to accept that this "isn't the town I grew up in". I, along with many people are not happy with the direction and increased cost of living in this town. It's time to move on - hopefully, the real estate market will improve, allowing me to sell my home for a profit.

Some of you are so uniformed regarding the charter school it's almost comical. You think you all know everything about it when you've never stepped foot inside the buildings. There is no criteria for consideration. Where on earth did you come up with that idea? It is a lottery plain and simple. If you wish to attend you take your chances and put your name in. There are rich kids, poor kids and everyone in between. There are involved parents and there are some who are not involved at all. It could be because they don't want to be or it could be because they simply can't be. It is like that at all schools. Public or private. How can someone really make a sweeping generalization that only one type of parent exists at either a private, public charter or a traditional public school. Its seriously ridiculous. Perhaps many of you should have attended the various meetings held regarding the new building of the school. You might have actually learned something.

No one is claiming to be elitist by calling the students scholars. You can call you children scholars, students, clippers, kids, punks, sweeties. Whatever you want. Whatever you choose. That is the joy of living in America.

The thing that the non supports of charters don't understand is that charter schools want what is best for all children in its community.

Take a look around you. When is the last time you saw our community so passionate about education? Maybe you were passionate about your kids(students, scholars, ankle biters) but the town wasn't a buzz. It is happening because of the charters. BVP is encouraging the system to look at themselves. How can you make it better? How can we ensure that all children are on the path to college. How can all the schools become commended like BVP ES1? Gee lets take a look at what they are doing. Lets get some ideas. What BVP is doing is OBVIOUSLY working. Hmmmm maybe a longer school day and year isn't a bad idea. Maybe homework every night and reading for a half hour won't actually hurt mine or my childs brain.

WAKE UP people! Get with the times! Education is changing. No more teachers sitting behind their desks balancing their check book while their class mindlessly works on a workbook. (Happened to me in HIGH SCHOOL in CUMBERLAND.) Oh and lets remember NOTHING CHANGES IF NOTHING EVER CHANGES!!! BVP is here to stay!

I think the point is ... To even be aware of the charter and the lottery takes somewhat involved parents.

Are we afraid of the charter schools? Lets face it they are doing a better job than the Cumberland Public Schools.

Maybe the public schools should stop crying and start adopting some the techniques that the charter school has adopted. The test score prove it works.

Instead of forcing down our throats the Standard Based Grading and now this Engage New York curriculum maybe we should just appoint BVP to run the public school system.

That would certainly raise our property values.

I want to say I don't have a child in the charter school and I admire what they are doing to raise the bar in Cumberland.

So I ask again, what are we afraid of?

I agree with most of the comments made. None more than the fact that this is not the town it used to be. My family ran a business in Cumberland when I was young and the town always seemed so nice. When I got married I decided to move here and have regretted it so badly. The school system has declined so much it is horrifying. I do think it falls more on the parents than the teachers. Parents in this town let thier kids and teeneagers run rampent and they have no respect for anything. I am sure they have extra disregard for respecting thier teachers. The problem is there is no help. The taxes are incredibly high here. The cops do nothing about gangs of hoodlums hanging out destroying businesses all over town and the parents think if their kid fails it is because of the teachers. I moved here too late and now more people know what this town is about so I am stuck for a good while.