Silver Hill Charter Renewal Debate Issues Narrow Before Vote

The future of Silver Hill as a Horace Mann charter school is set for a teacher’s union vote next Thursday, June 15. Debate over renewing the school’s charter has come down to a few sticking points between supporters and opponents.

Devan Ferreira, a parent of two children at the school and a member of its charitable foundation, said the school completed its application for state renewal Tuesday night. She urges union members across the city to support it when they vote. Ferreira said she hopes to overcome what, she suspects, are members of the Haverhill Education Association carrying their opposition to charter schools to the Silver Hill vote.

“It seems to be more focusing on a referendum of charters in general,” she said. She noted the union and the Massachusetts Teachers Association affiliate successfully fought lifting the cap on new charter schools last fall. She said union members may be confusing privately-operated charter schools with those owned by public school systems.

Union President Lisa R. Begley counters the union has tried to be fair, recognizing its own members are teachers at Silver Hill. In fact, she said, she has suggested changes that would make renewal of the charter much more acceptable to other union members.

“Segregation”

Haverhill Education Association (HEA) President Lisa R. Begley, Haverhill High School health and physical education instructor.

Haverhill Education Association (HEA) President Lisa R. Begley, Haverhill High School health and physical education instructor.

In summary, Begley argues, Silver Hill had been a top-rated school because it excludes certain students that are more representative of Haverhill’s population. These include the lack of the lowest level English language learners and students from poor families.

“It’s one of our concerns. We need all of our schools to be able to accept all students so when they do not take certain students then it doesn’t make the demographics the same as other schools.”

The term “segregation,” she has heard, is offensive to Ferreira.

“That’s outrageous to me as a parent, and it’s an attack on Haverhill Public Schools as a whole, not just Silver Hill.”

Begley said her position is backed by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which wrote during a 2016 site visit: “Enrollment of English Language Learners (ELLs) and economically disadvantaged students are below rates of the comparison schools.” State officials did acknowledge though the school had not yet had a chance to put in place new “recruitment and retention strategies.”

In a June 2 letter to the Silver Hill Board of Trustees, Begley admitted improvement since reaching out to the Latino community. “However, this has had either a negligible or no impact on those areas such as economically disadvantaged, high needs and English language learners.”

Ferreira said the school has been prevented from reaching the lowest level English speakers because the city has not paid for it. “Those students, even if they win a spot in the lottery, have not been allowed at Silver Hill.”

The union recommended consideration of a weighted system that would give two slots in the lottery for each student from a poor household. Silver Hill supporters contend such a system would be illegal under state law as “discriminatory.” Begley said she was simply trying to brainstorm ideas.

Siblings

silverhilllogoThose skeptical of Silver Hill also said the school’s policy of giving preference to siblings of existing students takes seats away from other students that may be more representative of the city as a whole.

Ending the preference would be illegal, Ferreira charged. “Siblings do have preference and that is specific to charter school lotteries. It is written directly into the law.”

Begley disagreed. “The state allows it, but we do not believe that it’s necessarily has to be done that way. That they could opt not to do it, but the law does give them the right to do it.”

Both sides also disagree about what happens after the vote.

Ferreira said that while she hopes the union will support renewal, supporters would still seek renewal either way from the School Committee the following week.

“A worst case scenario is that the HEA vote is no and the school committee is yes, that knowing that the Department of Ed—as I said before—is fully aware of our (union) challenges here with those relationships that they would investigate further.”

Begley said any union vote against renewal should be the end of the process. “They have to have our approval as the HEA and ever teacher has the right to be able to vote. If it does not pass with us, it should never go the school board.”

There was consternation between the parties at the beginning of the process when the Haverhill Education Association changed its position on who was allowed to vote on the renewal—just teachers at Silver Hill, as had been done previously, or teachers citywide, as is the current union position. Begley has said she cannot speak for past union presidents, but everyone now seems to agree the law requires the entire “collective bargaining unit.”

School supporters point to Silver Hill’s turnaround from the state’s lowest ranking when it was a standard public school to its top Level One position today. Officials said the school artificially kept the top, Level One, status because it had been “held to no harm” by the state during its transition years. Noting recent declines in test scores, the school will become a Level Two without improvement.

Should both the union and School Committee agree to the Silver Hill’s renewal, the application must be forwarded to the state by Aug. 1.

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2 Comments

  1. Donald said:

    I have a few questions?

    1. What is the public charter at Silverhill doing that is causing any issues for other members of the union? As educators why wouldn’t you want success from one school to continue?

    2. How can you say Silverhill is causing segregation? This is the only school in Haverhill that is not causing segregation. All other schools have student populations from the neighborhood. Isn’t that what is really causing segregation? I agree just because you live in an economically disadvantage area, you should have the right to the same education as everyone else. But the economically struggling areas of Haverhill have the worst conditions in the schools. Hell if anything we should do a lottery for all schools then you would have the same ability for all students. Just because the economical disadvantage parents aren’t applying for Silverhill doesn’t dictate segregating.

    As a real union memebr and president you should be putting forth your members dues to help educated all community families about the ability to have a choice instead of fighting against the successes. I find it appalling that the union is fighting against there own members. Be careful memebr, it might be you next!

    3.How would allowing two children from each poor household not be segregation?

    Come on Mrs. Begley your fighting for the wrong cause. You should be using your union to support better schools, better pay and better conditions, not fighting against your own members and the success of a school to even the playing field for all schools. Remember, a schools success is not about the students that attend, its about the staff that is teaching the students. A good staff and the right resources will always be successful.

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