New Bedford maintains favorable bond rating

15 years of design by mediumstudio has rebranded New Bedford

If you’re thinking it had something to do with cobblestones or lamp lights, whaling or fishing, industry or the arts, you’re wrong. Well, not entirely wrong — but partially wrong.

Fifteen years ago, mediumstudio formed just a few blocks away from their current location at 38 Bethel Street, on historic Centre Street where BeJeweled is found now.

Over the course of the past 15 years, the graphic design firm has taken everything New Bedford has to offer as enumerated above and re-branded, re-packaged, and re-presented it to the world for the 21st century. Simply put, mediumstudio took design to a new professional level in New Bedford, just as the city was ready for that happen.

You can’t help but notice a certain freshness and graphic audacity in all of their work. It’s defined them from the beginning to this day. And, through countless logos, display ads, flyers, posters, website and social media images of all sorts produced on behalf of their clients, helped rebrand the city they call home.

It’s unquestionable that they burst upon the scene as the hip new kids on the block within the graphic design world in New Bedford and on SouthCoast — in their own unique way. From the beginning, the lowercase ‘m’ and ‘s’, all-one-word agency was much more than just a graphic design studio.

Founding member Keri Cox explains that out back of their first location on Centre Street was a rather famous space she simply refers to as “The Garage.”

As mediumstudio formed by day, on nights and weekends The Garage was a spot to hang out at to socialize, listen to bands, hold an art show — all manner of creative pursuits.

“Generations remember that place,” said Cox.

In those halcyon days and nights, mediumstudio was born in and of the community it would come to rebrand in the future. From Day One, community wasn’t just a place where they had set up shop — it was part of their natural business plan, and remains so to this day.

Cox has long been an important part of the 3rd EyE Unlimited leadership team. She’s also one of only two paid AHA! New Bedford staff persons, assistant to director Lee Heald.

Today at 38 Bethel Street, in a voluminous open space above the Fishing Heritage Center, 3rd EyE members still meet each and every week. The artist Nicole Winning conducts Saturday morning Colorful Yoga classes for children in the space. It’s not uncommon to attend a meeting or event at mediumstudio that has nothing to do with the work being done — but everything to do with the bigger picture that is New Bedford now.

Keri is one of four partners at mediumstudio. She mostly functions as project manager, or as she terms it, “I’m just bossy!”

The other partners are her husband, John Cox; Hannah Haines; and Frank Goncalves.

Each works on their own individual wavelength and reacts to the needs of their clients in their own way. There never has really been a business plan at mediumstudio; it’s evolved over the years and become successful in an organic way.

But it is a successful — and very busy — creative Business, with a capital ‘B’. Back in The Garage days, Kerri says a lot of work was done just for the fun of it, or to fulfill a community need. Over time the dictates of “adulting” caused them all to focus on the bottom line — just not at the expense of creative freedom.

Each of the partners has a distinct identity and client roster, yet collectively become mediumstudio. That brand is distinctive and rests on fundamental design principles that are allowed to breathe and most often built from the ground up via typography. (See a full portfolio of their work at mediumstudio.com.)

Keri Cox is the public face of the firm. As this column once wrote of her, “Very often, when you look behind an event, you find Keri Cox there. She is the glue that holds the various elements of some important happenings together. She almost effortlessly brings diverse people in the city together.”

Hannah Haines is voluble and expansive in an interview. She says that the most memorable praise she recalls a client saying was that “you could always tell mediumstudio designed something because it looked ‘thoughtful’.”

Hannah is responsible for the graphic “look” of the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, designing its upcoming season offerings each year, for example. She says, “I’m proud to have worked closely with The Z to conceptualize their seasons for the last 14 years.”

John Cox is reticent to downright shy. He likes the work to speak for itself. It does; his graphic design is widely acknowledged as setting a new standard in the city. The dude is viewed as innately talented by anyone you speak to about him.

On the day an interview for this profile was conducted, Frank Goncalves was unavailable. It’s obvious he is a valued member of the team, however. All the others boasted that he had been with mediumstudio since he was 19, soon after he finished high school. He’s now been at the firm for about nine years.

“Where was he?” that day, Hannah, John and Keri asked one another. It didn’t matter; he and all of them have the space to create on their own time.

Maybe that’s another way mediumstudio launched as and has stayed a design firm for the times. A time in New Bedford’s history that’s also seen it gain national recognition for the creative artistic impulse that is in its DNA.

The graphic design of mediumstudio reflects that even as it is helping to brand it for the wider world.

Their client roster is a mix of non-profits and commercial clients. From AHA! and the New Bedford Folk Festival to Brick Pizzeria, Travessia Winery and Rose Alley Ale House. Plus, developers — some far beyond the city limits — and large organizations like Brigham and Woman’s Hospital.

They “bring a curiosity” to each project, Hannah says, and the reward is “we get to do what we like to do,” she concludes.

Finally, it comes down to quality of life for all the partners. Here, too, they may have helped set the tone 15 years ago for the New Bedford we have now.

A place that supports a creative quality of life and that as a community recognizes the value of artistic fulfillment and achievement.

That’s a place that looks so much better has seen through the eyes of mediumstudio.

Steven Froias blogs for the coworking facility, Groundwork! at NewBedfordCoworking.com. Email: StevenFroias@gmail.com.

Original story here.

50 photographs, three windows, one Obama

 

NEW BEDFORD — The first thing to say about “Obama: An Intimate Portrait. A South Coast Look into the White House — Photographs by Pete Souza” is that it’s the clear front-runner for longest exhibition title of 2019. With 50 images on display, that works out to just over two photographs per syllable.

The show runs through June 16 at the New Bedford Art Museum. The “South Coast” part of the title comes from the fact that Souza, who served as chief White House photographer throughout the Obama administration, is a South Dartmouth native.

The second thing to say about the show is that it might be thought of most usefully as three windows.

Window number one is narrowly photographic. Metaphorically, all photographs are windows, showing us what lay before the lens when the photographer clicked the shutter. So these photographs are a window on a particular person: his character, his family, his job, his travels.

Even in the extremely unlikely event that a viewer didn’t know that this slender, intense-looking middle-aged man was once the president of the United States, he’d still be visually compelling. The camera recognizes neither name, rank, nor serial number in the favorites it plays; and the camera clearly favors Obama (even with his prominent ears and that odd upper lip).

It doesn’t hurt that Souza is an expert craftsman with an excellent eye. Before becoming chief White House photographer under Obama, he’d worked on the photography staff of the Reagan White House and as a photojournalist for the Chicago Tribune.

In the extensive and usefully informative wall text accompanying the show, Souza notes that he worked days of 10-12 hours, often six or seven a week. He accompanied Obama to all 50 states, more than 60 countries, and took nearly 2 million photographs. It sounds like both the best job in the world and the worst. It sounds not unlike the presidency that way.

There are only a few missteps in the show. A view of Obama at Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue is a window, yes, only this one has stained glass. A 2011 photograph of him standing in silhouetted profile in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., is more than a mite stagy. Conversely, one of him sitting in the bus Rosa Parks momentously rode in feels, and looks, just right.

The reason Obama was at the King Memorial and sitting on that bus — why his doing those things mattered in ways it would not have with any other president — was, of course, his race. Obama’s being the first African-American president meant that he could have done nothing for eight years and still been a historically consequential figure.

This is the second window: on history. Hung chronologically, the show gives a sense of the evolution of a presidency and offers moments of high historical drama. To see Obama letting himself be zapped by a trick-or-treating Spider-Man or making snow angels with his daughters on the South Lawn is great fun (also a real window — that word again — on character). But we also get a view out over the crowd at Obama’s first inaugural, of the crowded conference room where the president and his senior aides watched in real time the 2011 mission against Osama bin Laden, and Obama placing a note for the president-elect in the Oval Office desk on Inauguration Day 2017.

This is the third window: on today. It’s difficult not to sound partisan here, but try to set aside ideology. The human differences between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, or between Obama and Bush, while considerable, are matters of degree not kind. Here they seem almost taxonomic. The sense of discrepancy between the man in the White House from 2009 to 2017 and the incumbent is so vast as — well, simply consider the hair photo. You know the one. Obvious comb-over jokes aside, try — come on, try — to imagine Obama’s successor letting a 5-year-old touch his hair. And that’s leaving out the whole aspect of using hair as a statement on race and possibility and aspiration.

People would often comment on Obama’s formality, how professorial he could seem. They tended to do so as an implicit criticism. There was truth to such comments, but what they missed is how Obama’s sense of correctness in personal conduct, something so notably lacking in Clinton, for example, also served to liberate him. Dignity, when innate, isn’t aloofness. It’s a version of grace, one that can be spiritual as well as physical. What one consistently sees in these photographs is someone with an overriding sense of duty: to his family, to his office, to his nation. It’s a kind of vocational decency, that vocation being moral even more than it is political.

Knowing who he was, Obama could allow himself to display a human dimension as someone whose insecurities restrict him to playing a role never can. That human dimension is evident in every single one of these photographs: the formal, eye-of-history ones no less than when he’s getting swamped by a big kahuna of a wave, in Hawaii, or dancing with his wife to Earth, Wind & Fire. True, he’s wearing a tuxedo. The look on his face sure isn’t.

Just as every bully is a coward trying to mask his cowardice, so any person uncertain of his own humanity won’t — or can’t — display humanity toward others. The man seen consoling a grievously wounded soldier and his family at Walter Reed Army Medical Center or the family of one of the children murdered at Sandy Hook is the president of the United States. He’s also a man.

There are many criticisms to be made of Obama’s politics. Some of the harshest (and dumbest) come from the left. What Souza’s photographs remind us is how little that criticism can in any justifiable way extend beyond the political to the personal. Let exhibitions by other White House photographers show how well that might be said of other presidents.

A nearby alcove has a smaller exhibit with a title nearly as long that of the Souza show, “Artifacts of Recent History: Local Objects from a Historical Presidency Collected by the New Bedford Historical Society.” There are posters, books, flags, invitations, photographs. Many come courtesy of a man named Carl J. Cruz. The standout item is a truly nifty commemorative jacket. Quilted with fabric flags and stars and photos and even a few sequins, it’s the size and cut of a varsity jacket. Instead of being from your high school, though, it’s from your country — our country. How much you want to bet it would look great on Obama, even better than that tux does?

OBAMA: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT. A South Coast Look into the White House – Photographs by Pete Souza

At New Bedford Art Museum, 508 Pleasant St., New Bedford, through June 16.

508-961-3072, www.newbedfordart.org

Original story here.

SUPERFLAT NB and MassDevelopment team up to bolster community

The public mural art group SUPERFLAT NB launched last year to excitement and enthusiasm — and with grand ambitions.

As spring 2019 begins, and its first anniversary approaches in May, the group is beginning its game plan for Year Two. Far from hibernating over the winter, SUPERFLAT has been recruiting new members, enlisting more artists and laying the organizational groundwork to ensure it is a permanent feature of the New Bedford landscape.

Last weekend, the group held an open artist call for a special series of photos which will form the basis of a new project and kick off their new year.

This week, they are launching a Patronicity fundraising campaign. It’s impressive goal is $50,000 — and its impressive partner is no less than MassDevelopment.

That’s the state’s economic development and finance agency, which works with businesses, nonprofits, financial institutions, and communities to stimulate economic growth across the Commonwealth.

They will match that sum of $50,000 if SUPERFLAT can reach it within 60 days.

“In recent years, we’ve seen cities and towns across Massachusetts use public art as a tool to draw people in, activate neighborhoods, and enrich local arts and cultural communities,” MassDevelopment President and CEO Lauren Liss stated in a press release launching the campaign. “MassDevelopment looks forward to helping Superflat New Bedford achieve these goals through Commonwealth Places.”

Commonwealth Places is a collaborative initiative from MassDevelopment and Patronicity that leverages public support for placemaking projects through crowdfunding and a matching grant from MassDevelopment, the agency writes.

The program engages residents in the development of strategic projects in their towns and cities.

The Patronicity campaign can be found at Patronicity.com/superflat.

To amp up the energy over the next two months of the campaign, SUPERFLAT artists will be holding special events on the April and May AHA! nights.

During the second Thursday of the month, downtown cultural celebrations, artists will first be wheat-pasting on walls and then ‘writing’ — the street art term for creating designs — over the photos shot last weekend.

This will happen on the public art fence across from Custom House Square Park.

As they have since forming in late 2017, the SUPERFLAT team continues to meet weekly to organize, plot, promote, nurture and create the infrastructure for a robust arts organization that will stand the test of time.

Their mission statement is worth repeating:

“SUPERFLAT NB aims to eliminate barriers to the arts through public art that tells and shares personal stories; that draws upon, preserves, and reimagines our shared heritage and histories in New Bedford; and, through the renewal of the environment and our connections to each other, create new pathways for our future social and economic growth.”

SUPERFLAT went about doing that in 2018 in a strategic way. They launched on May 4, 2018 with five artists creating work outside the Co-Creative Center that was later auctioned off.

Proceeds and local funding from the New Bedford Economic Development Council allowed them to bring Cey Adams and Janette Beckman, artists with an international reputation, to the city during its first mural festival in August.

Taking place during the 3rd EyE Open, New Bedford artists were paired with over-sized prints of Beckman’s work from the dawn of hip hop and let loose to offer their own colorful spin atop her black and white memories of musical icons.

Meanwhile, Adams was charged with creating a permanent mural in Wings Court. Today, the “Love” mural has joined his other destination work in cities like New York and Philadelphia. Like that other work, “Love” is the backdrop for countless selfies — but from the Whaling City — featuring residents and visitors alike.

Other artists, like Brian Tillett, created their own new community focal points during the festival. In all, 18 local artists were enlisted to take part in the first SUPERFLAT mural contest last year. And — importantly — were paid for their efforts.

That last part isn’t only a point of pride for the team, but necessary in order for the creative impulse to economically mature in New Bedford. As Mayor Jon Mitchell said when introducing the city’s Arts & Culture Plan, “Great stuff doesn’t come free.”

One of SUPERFLAT’s goals this year is to create an artist referral network under the group’s banner. This will pair local artists with businesses or organizations seeking murals or other sorts of artwork.

“Some businesses may want to support artists by buying their work or employing their talent, but don’t know how to reach them,” says team member Kim Goddard, who handles publicity for SUPERFLAT NB. “This will give interested parties a way to connect with local artists and learn about their work,” she says.

The group is also seeking to enlarge its footprint throughout the city. In fact, with exception of the photo project and the mural festival during 3rd EyE Open, almost all other SUPERFLAT mural projects will happen on walls in places other than the downtown during 2019.

While a list of highly-visible spots were discussed at a recent meeting, it was requested that they remain under wraps until final approvals have been received. Suffice to say, they all live up to the SUPERFLAT ideal and will indeed renew the environment of neighborhoods throughout New Bedford.

Proceeds from the Patronicity.com/superflat campaign, matched by MassDevelopment if it reaches its $50,000 target by midnight on May 30, will directly fund the following:

An Artist-In-Residency Program. This will embed a recognized or emerging artist within the community to create a series of original and responsive public artworks in three distinct areas of the city — the North End, Downtown and the South End.

Ten New Murals reflecting the culture and community of New Bedford painted by local, national, and international artists in key locations throughout the North End, Downtown and South End.

And, the Artist Referral Platform connecting local artists, designers, and sign painters to gigs and employment opportunities throughout the region.

Underlying much of this is also a desire to engage youth in the city whenever possible — such as during the mural festival while 3rd EyE Open is happening.

SUPERFLAT writes on Patronicity.com/superflat, “The youth of this community is an important participant and recipient of our efforts. We endeavor to inspire them and expand their cultural point of view by connecting them to resources and opportunities.

“In 2019 we want to expand programming throughout the city, directly engaging youth and residents in the inspiration, ideation, and creation of transformative public art.”

Sounds super. Make that SUPERFLAT NB.

Steven Froias blogs for the coworking facility, Groundwork! at NewBedfordCoworking.com. Email: StevenFroias@gmail.com.

Southcoast Hospitals Group named to Newsweek top hospitals list

FALL RIVER – Southcoast Hospitals Group Inc., a subsidiary of Southcoast Health System, was named No. 162 among United States hospitals in Newsweek’s World’s Best Hospitals 2019 rankings.

The report included 2,743 hospitals in the nation and honored 226.

The rankings were based on professional recommendations (55 percent), patent experience scores (15 percent) and publicly sourced quality scores (30 percent). 1,000 hospitals made the list worldwide.

The study only included individual hospitals, not groups, according to its methodology, but the Southcoast Hospitals Group hospitals, including Charlton Memorial, St. Luke’s and Tobey hospitals, share a license, making the group eligible for the list, according to Statista, which collaborated with Newsweek to create the rankings.

The Southcoast group was the only inclusion on the list in Rhode Island and Bristol County, Mass.

“Our care is world class and this national and international recognition is a testament to the incredible work our physicians, providers, nurses and staff do every day,” stated Keith Hovan, president and CEO of Southcoast Health. “I am tremendously proud. This is a recognition they have earned many times over.”

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., ranked No. 1 in the world in 2019, followed by the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. The highest-ranked hospital in Massachusetts was Mass General Hospital at No. 6 in the world.

Hospitals were ranked by country but were not ranked worldwide beyond an alphabetized top 100 list.

Original story here.

New Bedford High School graduation rate climbs to new high

NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford High School’s 2018 four-year cohort graduation rate has increased to 76 percent, the highest in 12 years, based on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s recent reporting on statewide graduation rates.

The 2017 four-year cohort graduation rate was 72 percent; the low was 61.4 percent in 2010, according to a news release.

“The entire staff is focused on preparing every one of our students for graduation, ready for college and other opportunities,” said Headmaster Bernadette Coelho in a statement. “I’m proud of our hardworking students and staff; it is because of their determination and diligence that we continue to see larger and larger graduating classes. It can only happen if every student matters, and as I’ve said before, we know that with a plan, every student can and will succeed.”

The state tracks an “individual cohort,” or group of students from the initial entrance into ninth grade through to graduation. For New Bedford High, the cohort consisted of 217 students, according to DESE.

The 2018 four-year cohort graduation rate for Massachusetts public high schools was 87.8 percent, a slight decrease from 88.3 percent for the 2017 cohort, according to DESE.

NBHS English Language Learners had the highest increase from 30.6 percent in 2017 to 53.5 percent in 2018, according to the release.

“This remarkable progress is a direct correlation to the recent budget investments made in our students’ future,” Superintendent Thomas Anderson said in a statement. “This reflects the dedication to the overall teaching and learning process that is supported long before students enter high school. This progress is something that all staff can and should be proud of, from the Pre-K teachers to every staff member in the high school.”

Anderson also expressed his appreciation to the willingness of all staff to work with students to provide opportunities for them to be successful.

State awards New Bedford Port Authority, UMass Dartmouth combined $390K

BOSTON — The state awarded $6.4 million in grants Wednesday, including $390,000 for projects in SouthCoast for revitalization and business development.

Seaport Economic Council grants awarded include $150,000 for the creation of a regional marine science and technology collaborative to encourage growth in relevant industries at UMass Dartmouth and the SouthCoast Development Partnership and $240,000 for planning of the redevelopment of a waterfront property in New Bedford.

“This region’s historic connection to the ocean is a powerful unifying asset,” said Hugh Dunn, Executive Director of Economic Development at UMD, in a statement. “This project is designed to identify and marshal our marine economy assets to expand economic opportunity. To date, nothing of this scale has been executed on the Atlantic Coast.”

The funding will create an environment where relevant regional institutions, businesses, and universities can collaboratively develop the Southeastern Massachusetts Marine Science and Technology Corridor, according to a news release.

“I want to thank the Baker-Polito Administration for supporting UMass Dartmouth and our region as we develop our blue economy corridor from Rhode Island to Cape Cod,” said UMD Chancellor Robert E. Johnson in a statement. “In awarding this grant, the Seaport Economic Council is demonstrating the Commonwealth’s commitment to an industry sector that can transform our economy.”

Lawmakers pitch 5-point bill to lift struggling Gateway cities

BOSTON — You’ve likely heard about the housing crisis in eastern Massachusetts, with too few units available and prices always on the rise.

But a second housing crisis, one with effectively opposite circumstances, lurks across much of the rest of the state. In former industrial cities hit by economic challenges such as New Bedford and Worcester, vacant and blighted properties remain, home prices are depressed and federal development grant dollars are shrinking.

New legislation filed by members of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus, based on research by MassINC and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, aims to address those problems. The bill proposes a combination of state funding and initiatives that supporters say will help towns and cities stabilize distressed areas.

“Everyone here who’s been to a gateway city or lives in a gateway city knows that there’s much more to us than just our downtowns or our Main Streets,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton, who sponsored the legislation last week alongside Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford. “There’s really an opportunity to change these neighborhoods.”

The bill has five key components designed to reverse damaging economic trends.

The proposal would double the annual cap of the Housing Development Incentive Program to $20 million and create a “spot blight rehabilitation program” to help cities address residential properties that have been left vacant by landlords or developers. It also suggests establishing a housing commission specifically to study weak markets, ensuring the Massachusetts School Building Authority considers neighborhood vitality when weighing proposals, and requiring the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development to create a capacity building initiative.

“These neighborhoods are key to our success,” Cabral said. “We think by targeting these five levels, we can accomplishment a lot in our cities and towns.”

Speakers also suggested that vacant, blighted properties could in some cases be taken by eminent domain and converted to housing units or businesses. They pointed to Baker administration efforts to find modern functions for underutilized properties as a positive first step, but said further effort is needed.

The proposal is built on a report by MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank, and the MACDC completed earlier this year. Representatives from the groups joined lawmakers Wednesday to promote the bill, where copies of the 24-page report were handed out.

“It really comes back to neighborhood policy that we’ve been lacking in some way since the federal government walked off the job,” said Ben Forman, executive director of MassINC’s Gateway Cities Innovation Institute. “These neighborhoods are the greatest assets to our cities.”

Authors of the report found several indicators that lower-income neighborhoods across the state face key structural challenges. Since 2000, for example, the number of residents in areas with 40 percent or higher poverty rates has doubled. So-called “gateway cities” have seen a decrease in federal and state funding for public works and community development in recent decades as well.

Another key area affected is real estate. In Boston, home values have increased 46 percent since 2006, the report found, while values in Fall River, Fitchburg and Worcester all decreased 15 percent over the same timespan.

″(The report) brings out in stark detail a phenomenon all of us are feeling: an economy that is increasingly vacuuming our outlying regions, our outlying cities, of opportunity and job growth and is concentrating job creation in the Boston corridor alone,” said Sen. Eric Lesser, who spoke at Wednesday’s event. “Ultimately, that’s not sustainable.”

Gov. Baker offers 7-year, $1 billion education plan

Posted Jan 23, 2019 at 3:11 PM

BOSTON — A seven-year education funding reform plan Gov. Charlie Baker is filing Wednesday would increase K-12 school funding by more than $1 billion, phasing in new money to address special education, employee health care, and the costs of educating low-income students and English language learners.

The bulk of Baker’s proposal, which he is filing with his fiscal 2020 budget, addresses what’s known as the foundation budget, the minimum amount of state and municipal money a community must spend on its schools. The foundation budget is determined by a formula and varies based on district demographics.

The plan comes more than three years after a state Foundation Budget Review Commission, in September 2015, reported that the current formula underestimates the cost of education by $1 billion to $2 billion a year by inadequately accounting for four major cost drivers.

Baker is proposing increases in spending for each of those four areas — health care, special education, low-income students and English language learners.

His fiscal 2020 budget will include more than $200 million in new Chapter 70 state education aid. Education Secretary James Peyser said money will be targeted to communities that need it most, with 85 percent of the increase next year going to high-need districts.

‘Collaboration is the answer’: Alma’s expansion plans approved

Posted Jan 22, 2019 at 8:37 AM

MALDEN — Alma del Mar leader Will Gardner and New Bedford Superintendent Thomas Anderson sat side by side before the Board of the Elementary and Secondary Education Tuesday morning, awaiting a vote on their new collaboration revealed last week.

“Seeing the two school leaders sitting next to each other with this sort of tone and this sort of uniting mindset is going to be one of the finest visual memories I’m going to have in my time serving on this board,” said member Michael Moriarty of Holyoke.

The board approved two motions for Alma del Mar Charter School. First, the board granted Alma 450 additional seats for K-8, under a few conditions including a memorandum of understanding and necessary legislation, allowing the collaboration with the city to move forward.

Last Monday, Commissioner Jeffrey Riley recommended that Alma del Mar expand to a second site that the city owns but isn’t using; officials have said the site will be the former Kempton School, serving 450 students. Under this plan, the city is set to redistrict, including Alma’s second campus, where some students will be assigned instead of going through the typical lottery.

If that plan doesn’t work under the collaboration, then Alma would be granted 594 seats, half of its original request.

Member Mary Ann Stewart of Lexington voted no on both motions, while member Ed Doherty of Boston abstained from the first motion and voted no on the second.

Stewart said that the board heard from the Massachusetts Teachers Association at the meeting and received a letter from State Rep. Chris Hendricks in opposition. She also noted challenges with funding in K-12 education and the 2016 vote against expanding charter schools.

“We should not have any new approvals of charter schools,” she said.

Doherty, who served as president of the Boston Teachers Union for 20 years, according to the state education department website, told The Standard-Times that in general, he’s philosophically opposed to the expansion of charter schools. He noted his vote isn’t reflective positively or negatively on what the school does.

He said the amount of money that’s taken away from public schools for charter schools is a major educational problem, especially for students in low income communities.

After the votes passed, Gardner told The Standard-Times that Alma is “laser focused” on opening the new school, hopefully at the former Kempton School, in August to serve 200 new students in kindergarten, first, second and sixth grades.

“We’re hopeful about the agreement between Alma and the city and the commissioner,” Gardner said. “We have some serious work to do in the weeks ahead.”

Anderson told the board he believes that Alma del Mar leaders share a similar focus and the partnership opportunity clarifies that understanding. “My focus is to forge ahead as collaborative partners to serve the best interest of students,” he said.

The MOU needs to be taken care of within 45 days of the letter of intent being signed and it needs to be approved by Riley. Alma del Mar needs to submit a draft enrollment policy as soon as possible that reflects the negotiated integrated enrollment process with the city district and the proposed growth plan. That, too, will need Riley’s approval.

Under the conditions, Alma should promptly and effectively communicate with the education department regarding significant matters relevant to the suitability and readiness of the new campus.

“By agreeing to the establishment of a 450 student, neighborhood-based charter school, the city will have avoided the significantly higher costs of the alternate proposal of nearly 600 students in a choice-based school,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said in a statement. “It is a much fairer way to do charter schools – fairer to the city, fairer to taxpayers and fairer to students in our district schools. Until state law is fixed to account for the enormous expense of charter school expansion on local taxpayers, the New Bedford approach will lead to a better result for cities facing new charter applications.”

After two parents of Alma del Mar students spoke in favor of the school’s plans, a couple of education attorneys from the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, said they provide direct representation to low income families in education matters and work closely with family and community members in New Bedford.

They said they were at the meeting to raise ongoing concerns about Alma’s current ability to serve high-needs students, which should be considered in discussions on expansions. They also acknowledged apparent high in-school and out-of-school suspension rates, particularly for students with disabilities.

Elizabeth Levitan, an attorney with the Youth Advocacy Foundation and Law Project, spoke on behalf of a group of attorneys and advocates from across the Commonwealth working to advocate for school discipline reform. Charter schools remain among the highest suspending schools in the state, she said. She encouraged the commissioner and the board to consider suspension rates on charter renewals and expansions, such as with Alma. She asked for a condition on the expansion of Alma on improvement of disciplinary practices to better serve students.

Parent Kristin Raffa has a 6-year-old daughter at Alma and a 9-year-old son at Pulaski Elementary, the same school she attended as a child.

“My daughter is that student that opponents would have you believe gets counseled out of the charter school programs,” she told the board. Her daughter has an extensive IEP, she said, has been embraced by Alma’s high-support model and is “thriving in her own unique little way.”

Gardner said the school is building a culture team around student support including a social emotional specialist, adding professional development around trauma-informed instruction, partnering with outside groups along with hiring a social worker to provide additional counseling.

Members of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools were in the packed audience, including co-chair Ricardo Rosa. After the meeting, he noted that this type of partnership could be used as a model for other cities and towns. “That tells us where we’re going,” he said. He said most of the board comes from communities that are drastically different from New Bedford, which is “problematic” and they should visit the city.

Member Margaret McKenna, president emeritus of Lesley University, said, “Collaboration is the answer for kids, not fighting each other.”

Follow Aimee Chiavaroli on Twitter @AimeeC_SCT.

Original story here.