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Plunkett sixth-graders put Gov. Deval Patrick in the hot seat.

Patrick Picks BArT, Plunkett to Push Education Reform

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Patrick's got the beat in a BArT English class that makes connections between literature, history and West African musical traditions.
ADAMS, Mass. — Adams didn't get its promised town hall meeting this year, but Gov. Deval Patrick tried make up for that by visiting local schools and letting local leaders bend his ear over lunch on Thursday.

But breaking bread with selectmen, town managers, Rep. Daniel E. Bosley and North Adams' newly elected mayor, Richard Alcombright, was only one aspect of a trip meant to call attention to an education reform plan that could loosen up some $250 million federal monies for K-12 schools.

Massachusetts students have excelled nationally and internationally in achievement scores but a gap still exists for too many of the state's children, particularly those living in poverty, those of color, with special needs or who speak English as a second language, said the governor, after visiting classrooms at Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School.

"That's a problem not just from an educational point of view and or an economic point of view but it's also a moral blemish," he said, standing in the cafeteria as dozens of students in the Grade 6-through-12 school peeked over the second-story railing. The reform plan would offer a strategy to "close [the gap] once and for all with some innovative strategies, and the kind of strategies being used here at BArT can be used to close that achievement gap."

Patrick's been visiting schools across the state to urge support for the bill now in the Legislature. Race to the Top grants representing millions in stimulus funding are waiting to pour into states enacting reform tied to raising standards, measuring student performance, focusing on effective teachers and turning around underperforming schools. That's if a bill can get to the governor's desk before the Jan. 19 deadline.


The governor gets the scoop from BArT junior and Student Council President Allie Perkins. Below, Plunkett pupils line up to shake hands.
Patrick's also asking for a limited lifting of the cap on charter schools and targeting them for chronically underperforming districts.

Charter schools aren't popular with the Legislature — or the teachers' union — and in Berkshire County, it's like waving a red flag. BArT's successes have been overshadowed by funding fights with local school districts; a proposed charter school in South County is stirring up angry opposition.

Any talk of reform here inevitably runs into the issue of funding as school districts watch desperately needed money follow students into the charter schools. Even a couple sixth-graders across the street at Plunkett Elementary School raised the issue during a question-and-answer session a few minutes later.

"Why does public money go to charter schools?" asked young Cameron from Adams, leading a somewhat exasperated Patrick to ask "is that your own question or did one of these adults ask you to ask that?" prompting laughter from teachers and others in the school's library.

"Charter schools are public schools," he responded. "We have a funding formula that in my view is not good enough and it needs to be fixed so we're not taking money away from district schools ... so the money will support education in whatever setting."

Patrick said charter schools are one alternative; the other is partnering with entities such businesses, colleges, museums, and provide "the latitude to try new things in a more traditional public school setting."


Adams Selectmen Chairman Donald Sommer and Patrick in a private confab at the Daily Grind.
During his visit, Patrick toured BArT and tried his hand at drumming in an English class before being greeted by children lining the hallways at Plunkett across the street. He spent about a half-hour answering questions from the sixth-graders ranging from what it's like to be governor to why the middle school closed before meeting privately with a group of teachers.

He later walked part of Park Street, stopping in several shops along the way before meeting informally with Bosley, Alcombright, Adams Selectmen Michael Ouellette, Arthur "Skip" Harrington, Joseph R. Dean Jr. and Chairman Donald Sommer, McCann Superintendent James Brosnan and town managers and administrators Jonathan Butler of Adams, Peter Fohlin of Williamstown, Christine Dobbert of Florida, Tom Webb of Cheshire and Michael Canales of Clarksburg.

Adams Selectmen were ready to ask him about releasing grant funding for the Greylock Glen.

"You called Mount Greylock the jewel of the state park system," said Ouellette as the governor picked through a pile sandwich wraps at the Daily Grind. "Now we need the money to fix up the bottom."

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