Jennifer Smith named leader of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

PHILADELPHIA — Jennifer Smith is returning to her roots: She’s been named the superintendent of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.

“Jennifer’s long history with the park and her personal connection to the New Bedford community make her a great fit for this position,” said National Park Service Northeast Region Director Gay Vietzke in a statement. “A New Bedford native, Jennifer was also one of the first park employees. During her 21 years at the park, Jennifer has demonstrated a deep passion for the park’s story and a wide range of critical skills that will serve her well in her new role.”

Smith’s first day with the National Park Service was the day of the park’s dedication on May 17, 1998, said Smith.

“I have watched the park grow into an important and vibrant part of the community. I am eager to continue to collaborate with park and community partners, including the City of New Bedford, to provide increased opportunities to access and explore the park and surrounding historic district.

“The buildings in the park are vital links to the fascinating history of New Bedford. One of my priorities will the ongoing maintenance and preservation of these structures which provide tangible and meaningful connections to the city’s multilayered past.”

Smith, who has been acting superintendent of New Bedford Whaling NHP since April 2018, started with the National Park Service in January 1998 and later became the park’s first seasonal park ranger. She has also served as the park’s chief of Visitor Services, Interpretation and Education, the site manager at Roger Williams National Memorial, and the deputy superintendent of a three-park group that included Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, and Roger Williams National Memorial, according to a news release.

Smith has a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and a master’s degree in community planning with a concentration in urban design and historic preservation from the University of Rhode Island.

Smith is an avid birder and lives in New Bedford with her husband, Christian, and their four dogs. They have three grown children and a grandchild who also live in New Bedford.

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.

Opinion – Your View: Excellence in all schools requires reforms to funding and approach

Posted Jan 22, 2019 at 7:27 PM

In the not too distant future, nearly every kind of work that we do will be affected, in some cases dramatically, by technology and automation. While we will need new ways to think about higher education and workforce training as critical tools to meet this challenge, it actually all begins with the elementary and secondary public education system.

Across the country, those individuals with higher education and skill levels are doing better than ever, and those without are being left further behind. As automation begins to have a greater influence on nearly all of the workplaces of America, it will be far too easy for cities such as New Bedford to fall off the pace. This global change in the world of work can offer great opportunity for our citizens and we must be unflinching in taking full, and perhaps unexpected, advantage.

The recent partnership agreement between the city of New Bedford and the Alma Del Mar Public Charter School is just the kind of bold thinking needed to meet the challenges ahead.

But while such collaborations should be celebrated, alone they will not get us where we need to be. The fact is that the funding of public schools in the commonwealth does not meet the needs of ever-increasing disadvantaged populations, and these populations are notably concentrated in the cities and urban centers.

The Chapter 70 foundation formula was certainly groundbreaking 25 years ago, but the Foundation Budget Review Committee stated in their 2015 report that there have been gradual but ever increasing shortcomings in meeting the true costs of funding English language learners, those with special needs, transportation, health care and professional development for teachers, and the everyday classroom and facility needs of the school buildings where they spend their days. It is now at a point of true crisis, resulting in different schooling types (public, vocational, and charter) fighting each other for scarce dollars while cities struggle with tax increases just to meet the minimum state mandated investment thresholds.

All the while students, their families, and all taxpayers suffer.

The stresses are now too great on too many municipalities. Now is the time to fix the 1993 foundation formula, and there appears to be a tangible willingness of our elected leaders to do just that.

There is sponsored legislation (the Education PROMISE Act) in the State Senate and Governor Baker stated in his second inaugural address just weeks ago that such reforms would be included in his new budget. This is a generational opportunity and will not be easily accomplished.

Let us altogether support our own delegation, the governor, and all of the many stakeholders who will advocate on Beacon Hill in what will be serious debate on how best to achieve reform, while balancing all of the other needs of the commonwealth. And with increased resources, let us support measures that keep accountability at all levels, for all school types, at the highest national standards. Our representatives must have our support in fighting for the full funding of all local and regional district needs for cities such as New Bedford, as well as the full reimbursement of charter school relocations within the current cap set by the commonwealth.

However, our efforts cannot end with the reform of Chapter 70, since additional funding alone will not get us to where we need to be, and recent successes in our public schools remain desperately fragile. We must be champions of excellence and strive for a complete and comprehensive system of schools that can meet the needs of all students, their families, and the employers of the region.

Such a system will provide New Bedford with competitive advantage when parents, employers and developers are looking for communities to invest or locate. All school types (public, vocational, charter, parochial, and private) must be part of this system and all should work in a collaborative and purposeful construct with excellence as the mission for all. Achievements cannot come at the expense of any one of the different school types and we must come together to eliminate the feeling that one is taking from the other in achieving high results in performance.

We are writing with enthusiasm on this topic on behalf of The Regeneration Project of the New Bedford Economic Development Council — a collaborative platform that represents 37 community, institutional, and business leaders who are committed to shaping, advocating for, and tangibly advancing strategies for sustainable and shared growth for the City of New Bedford and the region.

We understand the interrelationship of a successful system of public schools with economic growth and in 2017 published a white paper on this issue, Raising the Bar: Better New Bedford Public Schools Will Lead to a Stronger Economy.

This issue has been at the forefront of our thinking again this past year as a foundational element expressed in our full report, Realizing the Potential, released at the MassINC annual gateway cities gathering held in New Bedford. We are fully committed to the need for significant improvement of all the schools in New Bedford and to the success of the more than 13,000 schoolchildren being educated in our city.

We all want the same successes. We must all be in this together.

Gerry Kavanaugh and Anthony Sapienza are the co-chairs of the Regeneration Project of the New Bedford Economic Development Council. Kavanaugh is president of LStar Investments and LStar Ventures. Sapienza is president of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.


Rick Kidder
President & CEO
SouthCoast Chamber of Commerce

Nicholas Christ
President and CEO
BayCoast Bank

Keith Hovan
President and CEO
SouthCoast Health System

Dr. Laura Douglas
President
Bristol Community College

Maureen Sylvia Armstrong
President, CEO and owner
Sylvia Group Insurance

Patrick Murray
President and CEO
Bristol County Savings Bank

David Slutz
Managing Director
Potentia Holdings

Elizabeth Isherwood
Chairman
Greater New Bedford Industrial Foundation

Helena DaSilva Hughes
Executive Director
Immigrants’ Assistance Center

Christopher Rezendes
Founder and President
INEX Advisors

David Martin
President
Heat Transfer Products

Anne Broholm
CEO
AHEAD, LLC

Quentin Ricciardi
CEO
Acorn Management

Jeff Glassman
President
Darnit! Inc.

David Wechsler
President and CEO
Maritime International

Jennifer Downing
Executive Director
Leadership SouthCoast

Joseph Nauman
Executive Vice President, Corporate and Legal (retired)
Acushnet Company

John Vasconcellos
President
Community Foundation of Southeastern Mass.

Bob Unger
Past Chairman, Leadership SouthCoast
Principal, Unger LeBlanc Strategic Communications

Rosemary Gill
Executive Director
Zeiterion Performing Arts Center

Adam Cove
CEO
Edson International

Scott Dubois
Co-Founder
Pidalia

James O’Brien
Superintendent
GNB Regional Vocational Technical High School

Sarah Athanas
Co-Founder
Groundwork!

Amanda McMullen
President and CEO
New Bedford Whaling Museum

Jim McKeag
Senior Fellow

SouthCoast Business Persons of the Year: New Bedford artists are serious about the business of art

Posted Jan 5, 2019 at 9:39 PM

On Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell announced the release of the city’s first comprehensive Arts and Culture Plan.

“This is a big deal,” he said in opening remarks in City Hall’s Ashley Room during a press conference. He noted that the plan builds upon an historic association with the arts in the city, but helps prepare it for even greater achievements.

“It creates a sense of shared purpose,” he went on. “This creates the opportunity for a more vibrant community.” He specifically touched upon the plan’s recommendations to create new cultural districts in the North and South ends — and the chance to lure even more investment into the creative economy of the city.

The collaborative effort to write the plan, he said, sent a signal that the arts “are worthy of your investment” to funders and private businesses alike. “Great stuff doesn’t come free,” he added.

Almost a year in the drafting, the release of the plan to the public during the City Hall ceremony — attended by dozens of the artists who helped shape it — was the capstone of a milestone year for the arts in New Bedford.

Plumbers’ Supply is building one of the largest facilities in the New Bedford Business Park

NEW BEDFORD — Plumbers’ Supply’s footprint in the city is growing.

Motorists entering New Bedford from the north at night undoubtedly spot the neon glare of water spouting out of the faucet on the front of the Plumbers’ Supply store.

Further south on Water Street, the 19th Century version of Plumbers’ Supply is now apartments. In the North End, its warehouse is located on Church Street.

By the end of next summer a new 175,000 square foot building will be completed in the Far North End Business Park.

Mayor Jon Mitchell toured the construction site on Wednesday.

“For us, we have a lot of great employees and we didn’t want to stray too far,” co-owner Brian Jones said. “So when this opportunity came along, it’s a five minute commute. We don’t expect to lose an employee, that certainly appealed to us.”

In fact, the move and expansion should lead to the creation of at least seven jobs, Jones said.

“Our hope is we blow past that,” Jones said.

Plumbers’ Supply’s current warehouse measures 85,000 square feet with ceilings 16 feet high. The new warehouse will encompass about 155,000 square feet with about 30-foot ceilings. The remaining 20,000 square feet will be used for its corporate headquarters, which is already located in New Bedford.

“We want make use of every square inch of this park,” Mitchell said. ”… All this effort is about keeping and growing jobs but also fully utilizing what we have. New Bedford is fairly land constrained.”

Every parcel in the business park is either built on, under construction or under agreement, Mitchell said. The Plumbers’ Supply plot is the largest in the industrial park at 45 acres. Currently, the $18 million project is the third largest facility in the park. However, the company could potentially expand the warehouse to 300,000 square feet, which would be by far the largest, Derek Santos, executive director of the Economic Development Council, said.

“This gives us more than enough than we need in the near term,” Jones said.

Jones’ uncle, Jay, took ownership of the company in April 1977. More than 40 years later, Jay’s brother, his son, and three nephews are a part of Plumbers’ Supply. Development for the move to the far North End began in September of 2017. Ground broke earlier this summer.

“The city has been great to us,” Brian Jones said. “It’s three generations strong.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT

New Bedford plan to ‘make the city a more vibrant place to live’

NEW BEDFORD — Laughter and head nods followed each descriptive noun used to describe those assembled within the walls of the Ashley Room at City Hall on Tuesday.

The group nearly spilled out into the hallways as dozens listened to Mayor Jon Mitchell announce the city’s new Arts and Culture Plan as well as 12 “Wicked Cool Places” grants awarded to community art programs.

“I mean this in the most affectionate way, this is a motley crew,” Mitchell said. “This is great. I can just feel the creative dynamism just in your presence.”

Tony Sapienza, president of the Economic Development Council, reminisced about 13 years ago when the idea to unite the arts and culture community emerged at an EDC meeting. The term used to describe the feat of collaboration was “herding cats.”

“So I can only say that to now be a motley crew, it is a big step up from herding cats,” Sapienza said.

The 200-page plan consisted of contributions by more than 10,000 individuals, according to Margo Saulnier, the city’s cultural coordinator.

The plan includes upward of 80 goals, which Saulnier is tasked with accomplishing. Not every goal coincides with the achievement of another, which drew the monikers at the press conference by Mitchell and Sapienza.

“We’re all in the same room, and there’s no way everybody’s going to agree with everything and that’s just as well,” Mitchell said. “Because that’s where the idea exchanges come from and the creativity comes from.”

Highlights of the plan include a sense of shared purpose for everyone to create cultural districts, more fundraising and more public art. Steps in accomplishing those goals included the $50,000 in grants announced on Tuesday.

The recipients included the 3rd Eye Youth Empowerment, SuperflatNB, Reggae on West Beach Series and Kite Festivals Workshops.

“In New Bedford, the creative community is an engaged and powerful partner inspiring social , economic and cultural growth,” Saulnier said. “In this authentic seaport city, each and every person enjoys an opportunity to experience a diversity of cultures. Art is everywhere. Encouraging fun, provoking thought and nurturing the soul.”

The Arts, Culture and Tourism fun, proposed by Mitchell in 2016, approved by the City Council last year and led at the state level by state Sen. Mark Montigny, provided the finances for the completion of the plan by Webb Management Services.

“This is really top notch stuff. This was not fly by night organization,” Mitchell said. “This is something that took a lot of work and a lot of planning.”

The timeline for the goals, which include creation of creative districts, collaboration with UMass Dartmouth and Bristol County Community College, range from a year to a decade.

Certainly new goals and ideas will be added with the city acting as a the beneficiary.

“This will make the city a more vibrant place to live,” Mitchell said.

Original story here.

MassDevelopment issues $132M bond for UMD project

MassDevelopment has issued a $132,185,000 tax-exempt bond to help build, furnish and equip a five-story, 306,900-square-foot residence hall at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

The new facility, which will house approximately 1,210, mostly first-year students, will include a dining hall and space for student activities and academic support. The residence hall will replace an existing dormitory, built in the 1970s, which the university will demolish once the new facility is opened.

The bond was issued on behalf of Provident Commonwealth Education Resources II Inc., a public-private partnership, according to a news release.

PCER is a nonprofit corporation created by Provident Resources Group Inc., the University of Massachusetts Building Authority, and Greystar GEDR Development LLC. PCER will enter into a long-term ground lease with UMBA for the land on which the building will be located, and will finance, construct, own, and operate the dormitory. The university will participate in the management and operation of the dormitory through its participation on the Project Operations Committee and through its residential life programs. Once PCER’s ground lease expires, ownership will revert to UMBA for the benefit of UMD.

“Our students will benefit from these investments in quality living and learning facilities that will prepare them to succeed in a rapidly changing, highly competitive global economy,” said UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Robert E. Johnson in a statement. “When combined with our first-rate faculty, these facilities will guarantee our students the private college educational experience and public university value they so deserve.”