March 12, 2009

Mayoral Academies Going Forward

Marc Comtois

Amidst all of the bad news, there are some encouraging things happening in our state. As reported in the ProJo, Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee recently announced that he is going ahead with his Mayoral Academy.

McKee said if his proposal wins approval by the Rhode Island Department of Education and secures $700,000 in state financing, he wants to open an elementary school this September in his town’s Valley Falls section, in a former parochial school building.

The school would serve 80 kindergarten and first-grade students from Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln and Pawtucket. A middle school would open, starting with a sixth-grade class, in fall 2010. Eventually, the schools would cover K-12.

If there is a delay with state funding or approval, McKee said he plans for both schools to open in 2010. He hopes more regional mayoral academies will open, mixing urban and suburban students.

A 12-member board, a mix of mayors, community leaders and education figures chaired by McKee, would oversee the schools. But national charter school operators would run and staff the schools. Democracy Prep, which runs a middle school in Harlem, has already applied to the Department of Education to run the first mayoral academy.

In addition, McKee said his group has received financial support from nonprofit organizations and private donors to help pay start-up costs, including a $2-million commitment from the Raza Development Fund of Arizona to purchase a building.

Several other mayor's were with McKee. For his part, Warwick's Mayor Scott Avedisian told the Warwick Beacon that he thinks a Mayoral Academy may be feasible in his city:
Mayor Scott Avedisian said he supports a proposal to use the former Potowomut School for a Mayoral Academy at a press conference to announce the formation of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA) board yesterday.

“As a mayor, I have a responsibility to ensure our children receive a quality education which will allow them to compete in the global marketplace,” Avedisian said in a press release. “Mayoral Academies represent our firm commitment to providing the best education possible for the students of our cities and towns.”

Mayoral Academies are a form of charter schools created last year. The brainchild of Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, the schools won legislative approval last year despite steep opposition from powerful teacher unions.

Yesterday Avedisian saluted McKee for his hard work and effort to make the schools a reality.

“We’ve talked about governance reforms for years and years and they’ve never gone anywhere. This is a real opportunity to see that governance reform takes place,” said Avedisian.

Avedisian talked about how Warwick spends 70 cents of every tax dollar on schools, which the City Council has no control over. A Mayoral Academy, he pointed out, would be controlled completely by the city side of government.

The teachers in the schools wouldn’t be subject to the same mandate as the regular public school system, and wouldn’t be teachers’ union members.

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"and wouldn’t be teachers’ union members"

That all well and good for now, but what prevents the teachers from unionizing in the future? I could see NEARI taking a reverse "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" and put on a full recruiting drive of the Charter School teachers. McKee and Democracy Prep can't prevent the teachers from organizing, it's a worker's right.

Posted by: Patrick at March 12, 2009 3:29 PM

Marc Comtois believes the Mayoral Academy is encouraging?! Stop drinking the cool-aid! As a resident of Cumberland, and by the way in case the anti-union rhetoric starts, I am not, nor are members of my family, union members and I am as outraged about union benefits as anyone. However, Mayor McKee has turned his back on public education in Cumberland Schools which my children attend, in favor of his power grab Mayoral Academy. While seeking $700,000 of taxpayers money to fund a basically private institute that will serve only a small percentage of children, he purposes cutting $600,000 in the town funding for the legitimate Cumberland public school system. So, before everyone jumps on the liberal express, get your facts straight!

Posted by: Jack at March 20, 2009 2:55 PM
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