December 5, 2018
Dear CoaH New Bedford Families:
As you read in the December 5 edition of the New Bedford Standard-Times, New Bedford Mayor John Mitchell has written a letter to the State Commissioner of Education opposing our charter renewal.
I am writing to provide additional context on what this means for our school and address the issues that he raised.
What is a charter renewal and why does it matter?
Charter Public Schools like City on a Hill New Bedford are authorized by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for five-year terms. At the end of the five years, DESE evaluates the school’s performance on myriad factors. The Commissioner of Education, Jeff Riley, makes a recommendation to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Where are we in the renewal process?
City on a Hill New Bedford opened in the fall of 2014, meaning we are in the fifth-year of our charter. We submitted our renewal application on August 1, 2018 as required by charter statute. On Monday-Tuesday, October 15-16, 2018, a team of reviewers on behalf of DESE visited our campus to observe our classes in action, meet with select members our Board of Trustees, staff, including members of the administration and Network team that works on behalf of all three City on a Hill Schools, and a cohort of students. The data from that visit, coupled with the information contained in our renewal application, will factor into the Commissioner’s recommendation to the State Board of Education. A final decision will be made in February 2019.
Why does the New Bedford Mayor oppose our renewal? Does his lack of support mean our school won’t be renewed?
As noted in the article, Mayor Mitchell is concerned about our Accountability score, suspension rates and student retention. He, like other community leaders, may submit letters of support or concern with any renewal, expansion or new charter application for the Commissioner’s consideration. (The article noted, for example, that the Mayor opposed our original charter application, too.) Ultimately the Commissioner will weigh all available information, including the results of the site visit, renewal application commitments, changes that we have implemented and letters of support or concern in making his recommendation to the State Board of Education. Said differently, Mayor Mitchell’s opposition is not the sole factor that will be considered in our renewal process.
What steps are being taken to address Mayor Mitchell’s concerns?
None of the issues Mayor Mitchell raised were new to us and none of the steps we have taken are in direct response to his concerns. In fact, they are steps we began earlier this year and were specifically cited in the September 27 letter I sent to all City on a Hill parents about our 2017-18 MCAS scores and Accountability results.
The actions we are taking, among many others, include:
- Curriculum Changes, including piloting a new 9th grade curriculum at CoaH NB
- Data Driven Instruction/Academic Progress Monitoring, wherein we have reviewed the Q1 interim assessment and passing rates for each student, teacher and course and are working on re-teaching strategies to ensure all students master the material
- Renewed focus of Learning Network/English Language Learners in partnership with Landmark School, which has already visited CoaH NB twice and has provided targeted coaching to some of our Learning Network teachers
- Instructional Content Specialists in ELA, Math, Science and History, each of whom have deep content knowledge visit Coah NB teachers in their subject area at least once per week
- A new Chief Academic Officer, Amber Donell, who joined the organization in late October and has already implemented “Learning Walks” at all three campuses, including NB to help us re-imagine our academic program and transform our academic practices for the next generation of COAH students.
We believe byproducts of these steps will be increased student retention and performance and lower suspension rates.
Further, I have met in-person with both Mayor Mitchell (October) and New Bedford Superintendent Thomas Anderson (November) to learn how we can partner together and be supportive of each other’s priorities.
Does my student (or recent graduate) need to worry that our school is being shut down?
No. We believe we put our best foot forward in our renewal application and October site visit. We also believe the steps we are taking will, over time, yield the type of results we expect. In the interim, we are counting on you and your student to continue to partner with our staff and school leaders.
While we do not know what the Commissioner will recommend, the article quoted me correctly in saying we appreciate the families who have put their trust in us by choosing our program and are working diligently to earn your continued trust each day.
What can I do to support City on a Hill New Bedford’s renewal application?
Family and student voices are imperative to continuing to improve City on a Hill New Bedford, regardless of whether our charter is up for renewal. Whenever you have feedback, whether adjusting or affirming, we always hope you share that with us and community members to keep us accountable. If you would like to further advocate on behalf of our school, you can write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or contact the Charter School Office at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
That is why, for example, it is so important for me to be on campus each week; why I was so transparent in the letter home about MCAS and Accountability Scores in September; why I’m convening parents at all three campuses twice per year to address their concerns (the first in New Bedford was October 16; the next is March 5); and why I have written this letter to you today.
Should you have additional questions or concerns, you may reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kevin T. Taylor
Chief Executive Officer