The Twilight Zone Hits the New Bedford School Committee: EduMom Reports

Picture this …

On one side, the founder of Massachusetts Parents United, a grassroots non-profit advocacy group intent on fighting for high quality education for our undervalued students . . . her words professional and an acknowledgement of the needs of children throughout her message.

On the other, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, a $48 million political machine handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in union dues to prop up faux community organizations and scream conspiracy theories from the podium during public comment at school committee meetings.

Nope, it’s not quite.

It’s a New Bedford School Committee Meeting!

(FYI: This blog post is dedicated to Lou St. John, the head of the New Bedford Teachers Association who literally stood red-faced and screaming from the podium about what I might potentially write on EduMom about the ridiculous events at the Monday night New Bedford School Committee meeting. Oh … my pleasure, Lou. Thanks for reading!)

Massachusetts Parents United is an organization that was founded by me after I got tired of hearing the voices of parents lost in the noise in rooms and situations similar to what we saw last night. Instead of talking about the painful truths that are the failures in our Massachusetts education system, the MTA yells about “dark money” (which is so dark that you can find it on our website) or that I’m a hedge fund manager. (when in reality I’m not even sure what a hedge fund manager does exactly.)

In actuality, I’m just a mom and an education justice activist.

And the unions have more than $48 million that they can use to bully folks all over the state. 

Me? I’m going to stick to speaking up for children and families.

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Now for our recap!

It was a few days ago when we noticed that the New Bedford School Committee was going to be discussing the proposed agreement between the New Bedford Public Schools and Alma del Mar Public Charter School, which will add more than 450 seats and give them access to a closed school building that is falling down. Discussing is about all they can do because, frankly, it’s out of their hands.

But the New Bedford Teachers Association and their parent organization, the Massachusetts Teachers Association just can’t allow the district and the charter to compromise or collaborate. They prefer to have us picking sides and at each other’s throats. According to the MTA, working together for kids is bad – and keeping us in a perpetual state of political war is “justice”.

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Much like when the Massachusetts State Police has to be dispatched to help local police when a case gets too hard and local citizens and law enforcement folks need additional help, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has dispatched some emergency educational intervention in the form of additional charter schools seats to help families struggling under the generational failings of the district schools in New Bedford.

I came down to the city was to support the parents of Alma del Mar who have been bullied by Big Labor, dispatched to run their local version of a national campaign in New Bedford. You see, without us, parents don’t stand a chance against the Big Labor machine.

Across the country right now, it’s the same campaign, same color shirts, same conspiracy theories and rhetoric. They avoid having tough conversations about the need for our district schools to evolve from their 19th century restraints and bureaucracy by attacking charter schools for being one of first step in the revolution to bring 21st century thinking into education and disrupting the comfortable status quo.

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It was clear “New Bedford Save Our Schools” was running the same national red-shirt playbook because their talking points all center around who controls the money — namely, the teachers unions via the district schools. NOTABLY lacking from the talking points? Anything about how the schools are able to drastically improve outcomes for students.

Because that’s not what this is about for them. It’s all about political power.

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The big deal last night was that the charter and the district were working together to find a compromise that would give students a shot at a high quality education through a neighborhood assignment to a local Alma del Mar branch and the district the chance to redistrict and better serve kids.

The deal is a no-brainer for the struggling district. I was one of the first to deliver public comment.

Here’s what I said:

My name is Keri Rodrigues, and I am the founder of Massachusetts Parents United and an education justice activist. This is also the city where my family first came into this country just a generation ago, so it is very close to my heart.

I’m here tonight at the request of hundreds of New Bedford parents who joined Massachusetts Parents United because they are tired of the political games and media posturing happening in this city as the state teachers union has decided to stage some kind of war by proxy over a ballot question from three years ago while the lives of New Bedford children hang in the balance.

I am not here to engage in a war of words with a special interest group, a $48 million political machine intent on forcing its will upon this city only to prove a point to others in Massachusetts.

I am here on behalf of the parents and the children.

I am here tonight to remind you of something you already know –  that children of New Bedford are being underserved by the public school system, and that these families have had enough bickering.

The building where we are sitting here tonight — Keith Middle school — is one of the lowest performing schools in the state — with higher suspension rates than Alma del Mar. In 2012, when Alma opened, Keith was in the 5th percentile of performance according to DESE. Now it’s in the 2nd percentile.

I can rattle through the performance rankings of a dozen other schools in New Bedford with similar stories — including New Bedford High School. But these are things you already know.

Every minute spent over is in charge because of political ego, additional children fall through the cracks.

And what’s waiting for them?

Poverty, incarceration, addiction and death.

In New Bedford, you have come to an unprecedented compromise between the district and the high performing charter school.

And frankly, we’re not happy about it.

These parents wanted 1200 seats for Alma because we believe children in New Bedford deserve a shot at the quality education being offered there and the waiting list is long.

You can choose to play political games and become pawns of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, or you can stand up for these children and families – again, your constituents, and show some leadership through supporting the compromise.

There is no reason why this body shouldn’t be celebrating the fact that these two groups have come together in the collaborative spirit solely focused on what’s best for the children of this city.

This should be the goal of every education system.

Afterwards additional parents testified in support of Alma and one parent testified against it.

Then the red brigade began their tirade of conspiracy theories and personal attacks.

Not one of them mentioned students and children. There were the attempts at local spin based on the national anti-charter talking points that were assembled by the Big Labor messaging machine, but literally nothing taking responsibility for their part in running one of the most underperforming districts in the Commonwealth.

Although teaching is a profession dominated by females, both male co-chairs of the “New Bedford Save Our Schools” coalition proudly railed on about democracy and their god-given right to prevent children from reading.

Or something like that.

I’m not sure.

But definitely something about how we needed to be saved from giving the community access to a school that is capable of teaching children who they had deemed unteachable.

I mean, when a school shows up and completely undermines your argument around “what do you want us to do with THESE KIND OF KIDS” it makes you look pretty bad. I get it.

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Then it was time for the elected officials to get completely ridiculous …

The Mayor of New Bedford told his tale of woe that included a strange interlude blasting the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for allowing charter schools to expand when there were seats available under the cap “just because they outperform the district schools and the state averages.”

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Like, holy crap — why the hell WOULDN’T you allow them to expand, Jon?

The second most entertaining moment of the night was courtesy of School Committee Member John “Ordered to Stay Off School Property” Oliveria proceeded to lose his shit.


I’m sorry, but there’s no other way to put it. He lost his shit.

In front of a crowded room filled with children as young as kindergarten, young women petitioning the committee for access to women’s menstrual products at New Bedford High School and dozens of parents, Oliveria proceeded to scream at the Mayor for not having “THE BALLS to stand up the DESE.”

And then kept saying the word “BALLS” OVER and OVER and OVER again until he flounced out of the room in an epic melodramatic meltdown that would have made Scarlett O’Hara blush.

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And in the end? It doesn’t matter. Because parents are able to petition the state to open charter schools that free us from the mockery made of our local education systems and those who clearly have their own self interests ahead of our children.

The Massachusetts state constitution states:

“Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties … it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns …”

I don’t know what the hell they were doing in New Bedford last night, but it sure didn’t look like “cherishing” to me.

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