Conte Community School is an open school so classrooms are divided by only small bookcases or shelves.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pushing the need for investment in education, Gov. Deval Patrick toured on Thursday morning one of the elementary schools serving the city's poorest population.
Patrick met with pupils and faculty at Silvio O. Conte Community School during the hourlong tour of the facility.
The governor said he visits classrooms across the state weekly to understand the challenges educational professionals face.
"It's about understanding the different challenges and different solutions educators are bringing to our kids. One of our biggest challenges in this commonwealth, in fact this country, when it comes to quality education is poverty," Patrick said after the tour.
"It is important to have a really terrific teacher to be supportive in the classroom and to have the right materials, curriculum and so forth. But you also have to deal with the reality of poverty and that's an issue here at the Conte Community School."
Patrick has proposed a fiscal 2014 budget that calls for a $550 million increase in education spending ($1 billion over four years, including $131 million to focus on early education. The city has 671 children on waiting lists for early education programs and Conte Principal Anna-Stina Wardlaw said increased funding will allow the school to expand its preschool program.
The governor said the investment in early education will help in tackling issues ranging from nutrition to longer school days to the basic safety and curriculum issues educators are struggling with.
"Poverty may take different forms but it has a very similar impact from one community to the next. We have English as a second language issues, we have issues around nutrition, we have issues around basic safety and a sense of security kids have," he said. "There are gang and related issues even — if they do not come into the classroom they affect a child's concentration and readiness to learn."
Patrick's budget also calls for an increase in the state income tax, which is facing fierce opposition. The governor thinks investment in education is often opposed because of "nostalgia."
"People keep thinking they want their class to be like it was when they were in school and school should be the way they remember it to be. In fact, today we need schools to do a whole range of things that whole communities used to do and wrap around these children [the] time and services that meets their needs," Patrick said. "That is as true in Pittsfield as it is in downtown Boston."
The state is doing better than most of the country when it comes to standardized test scores but Patrick said that isn't good enough. His proposal invests more money in schools in so-called "Gateway Cities," like Pittsfield, to target the investments at students in poorer communities.
"We know, as well as we are doing in the commonwealth being No. 1 in the nation in student achievement, there is still some kids that we are leaving behind. And my budget on the education side in about investing in strategies that we know work," he said.
During the tour, Patrick acted in a play some pupils were putting on, sat down and did math problems in another classroom and showed children reading a book about Washington, D.C., in the library where he once worked. Conte is an "open school" in which multiple classes share large rooms. It was intended to increase collaboration among teachers but has since become more of a distraction.
"We're just so thankful that he took time out of his busy schedule to visit us," Wardlaw said, adding that Patrick is a role model to students and his visit reinforces the idea that those students are important.
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