At Alma, We Aim High [SOUTHCOAST VOICES]
THIS GUEST OPINION PIECE BY: Brittney Sousa, Middle School Academic Dean and Seventh Grade Humanities Teacher, and Jessica Summers, Third Grade Lead Teacher, at Alma del Mar.
In his February 6, 2019 piece “Numbers Don't Lie on Charter Schools,” Mr. Jack I. Bartholet cherry-picked information from the Commonwealth’s new (and complex) accountability system to misrepresent the learning and growth taking place in the Alma del Mar community.
As the Middle School Academic Dean and Third Grade Math Teacher at Alma del Mar, respectively, we are here to set the record straight.
As fellow urban public school educators, we should be celebrating each other’s hard work, not dragging each other through the mud with a set of alternative facts. This work is difficult, and as educators, we all share a common goal.
Alma del Mar teachers are some of the most hard-working, dedicated, professional, capable, kind, and inspirational people we have ever had the privilege of knowing. Teachers at Alma work from the second week of August and until the end of June.
They spend 10 days in August, before students arrive, going through every single piece of curriculum and plotting out every lesson for the first quarter. They then visit the home of every single student in their class to learn about their hopes, dreams, and fears and devise plans to ensure that the school year is a great one for every child. All of this planning and attention to the needs of every child delivers incredible results.
Last year, 70 percent of our English Language Learners either gained full proficiency in English or grew by at least one level based on an English language proficiency assessment. Our third graders showcased the same math abilities and knowledge as students in Wellesley and Newton. Alma’s middle schoolers were the highest-performing students in the city in both math and English.
These results on behalf of kids speak to the qualification of Alma’s teachers. Full stop.
Second, our teachers’ passion and our ability to grow effective leaders from within has led to promotion for many educators at Alma del Mar. Our teachers have the autonomy to do what’s right for kids in their classroom, as well as the flexibility to further their careers within these school walls.
In the last year, 12 Alma teachers have changed roles. The teacher attrition data reported by DESE (and cited by Mr. Bartholet) does not account for these internal role changes, which are a hallmark of Alma’s commitment to supporting teacher development and leadership. Every teacher in our school has a manager who is invested in their practice and growth as an educator. Teachers are observed weekly and receive frequent feedback to improve their practice.
Third, children come to Alma del Mar through a random lottery from across New Bedford. Despite what Mr. Bartholet wants everyone to think, our scholars do represent the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the city, and our team is doing more every year to ensure we continue to reflect New Bedford’s demographics.
As a result, each year we’ve seen an increase in the number of children walking through our doorways with a lower exposure to the English language. This year alone, 43 percent of the students Alma serves come from non-English speaking homes. That’s an increase of nearly 20 percent compared to last year.
We are also teaching more and more children who are identified as Students with Disabilities (18.8 percent compared to the district’s 20.9 percent), High Needs students (78.9 percent compared to the district’s 80.3 percent) and Economically Disadvantaged students (61.9 percent compared to the district's 66.1 percent).
These students are thriving at Alma as well. Students with disabilities at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly twice the rate of their statewide peers in math and at an eight percent higher rate in English. In addition, scholars who are identified as economically disadvantaged by the state scored in the 87th percentile on the Math MCAS compared to their peers statewide. Students of color, a group historically underserved by public schools nationwide, fare better at Alma as well. Both African American and Latino scholars at Alma passed the MCAS at nearly double the rate of their statewide peers.
Fourth, we are proud to have set such high goals for ourselves as a school and for our scholars as the future leaders of New Bedford. As the author notes, we did not meet the very high bar we set for ourselves last year, and we make no excuses. At Alma, we believe that it is essential to set ambitious targets for ourselves, and when we fall short of our goals, we treat it as an opportunity to learn and improve.
We also don’t believe in setting low goals just so we can meet them. That is not what we teach in our classrooms, and it is not what we want of each other as educators. We know we can and must do better, and our community is ever-focused on improvement, growth, and not being afraid to try something new when the old way just isn’t working. Our kids and families deserve nothing less.
We welcome an ongoing conversation about what can be done to continue to move the needle on behalf of the students of New Bedford. And we will be the first to admit the ways we need to do better. But we will not stand by and let our community (and the work of our teachers and students) be smeared by a false recounting of the facts.
Editor's Note: 'SouthCoast Voices' is a series of guest opinions from newsmakers across the region, on relevant issues that directly impact the people of Greater New Bedford and the surrounding communities. The opinions are solely those of the author. If you are interested in contributing, please contact email@example.com for more information.