December 19, 2012

Brockton residents, officials show up to support or oppose charter school

Jenn Pham, a SABIS graduate and freshman at Stonehill College, speaks in support of SABIS

By Alex Bloom
Enterprise Staff Writer

BROCKTON — Many local residents passionately defended the city’s schools as state officials considered both sides of a debate to open a charter school in Brockton.

More than 100 supporters and detractors of a plan to open a 1,200-student charter school turned out for a public hearing to comment on the proposal, which needs the approval of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Brockton High School Senior Lidia DeBarros, 18, was moved to tears defending the high school’s English Language Learner curriculum, which helped her learn English in less than a year-and-a-half after she arrived from Cape Verde.

DeBarros left the program and achieved top scores on MCAS tests, and is now looking at colleges.

“It taught me so much in so little time and these teachers still help me everyday,” DeBarros said.

Mayor Linda Balzotti, chairwoman of the School Committee, spoke passionately against the proposal, saying that it would pull top students out of city schools. She said Brockton is a place where education is a priority and leaders are focused on improving learning at all levels.

“In Brockton, we get it,” Balzotti said. “We know we have challenges to overcome, but we work together to meet those challenges head-on.”

Two board members and the state’s deputy education commissioner listened for two hours to dozens of speakers discussing the charter, which would be managed by the private, for-profit SABIS Educational Systems Inc. Local legislators joined many city councilors and School Committee members at the hearing.

Former Mayor John T. Yunits, who is part of the nine-member board of directors seeking to bring the charter school to Brockton, saw firsthand the achievements of SABIS in its Springfield school. He said the school, which will have students between kindergarten and eighth grade, would serve a population that mirrors the population in city schools.

“They agreed with me that if they came to Brockton it would be a complete lottery,” Yunits said. “There would be no differentiation.”

He had the support of at-large City Councilor Jass Stewart, a two-time mayoral candidate, who talked about his childhood experience in Dallas with mandatory busing that allowed him to get into a talented-and-gifted program.

“Frankly, anytime there is credible choice on the table, I will always be pro-choice,” Stewart said.

In 2008, the state board voted to reject a similar proposal, which also would have been contracted with SABIS.

Jose Afonso, director of U.S. Business Development for SABIS, said that the meeting’s speakers did not accurately describe his company’s record. He said SABIS does good work at schools in Holyoke and Springfield, where at-risk students are learning.

“Closing the achievement gap is an area that we’re very proud of,” Afonso said.

But the majority of speakers spoke out against the charter proposal, including John Condon, the city’s chief financial officer. Condon described how the charter school would impact funding. Condon responded to Afonso, who pointed out that Brockton is the state’s only Gateway City without a traditional charter school.

“I would submit that that is a a credit to the city – not a problem,” Condon said. “The reason it is a credit to the city is I don’t believe a charter school is necessary in Brockton.”

Parent Tammy DeAndrade talked about how the new charter could hurt Cape Verdean students. The city’s schools have recruited staff to specifically help the city’s large Cape Verdean population, she said.

“The services provided by these programs for the Cape Verdean community will not be provided in the SABIS schools,” DeAndrade said.

The board will vote in February on the charter proposal.


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