What Massachusetts community started a charter school in the 1970s? It was part of the public schools. It did not need state approval. For local historians, you are absolutely right if you said the Town of Andover Public Schools. It started with an idea and became a school. It eventually was known as the Traditional School. Here is my side of the story.
In every community there are people who have a point of view and the strength of their convictions. It is very refreshing to know such people. While superintendent of schools I used to have community visiting hours, Thursdays from 2 to 5. You could come in and discuss, complain, raise questions and more importantly make suggestions on how to do things better. You could make an appointment if you needed time or you could just drop in and share your thoughts. I should have kept a log. I found it quite useful to me and hope it was for those who took the time to give feedback and suggestions. If there were no visitors I had things to do. To be honest, the time was divided 50/50.
One afternoon Dick Graber, who was a gifted photographer and possessed a very creative mind, visited my office and told me he had a group of people who were interested in starting a program that stressed creativity and a few other things they thought were important. Within a month I found myself meeting with a group of about 20 parents and we discussed the feasibility of their vision. I was impressed with their knowledge, sensitivity and dedication in making a difference in their children's lives.
We discussed what was needed for my approval and support. I told them if those concerns, regulations etc. were met I would recommend the plan to the School Committee. They also had concerns that had to be met. Their concerns were reasonable to me and it was not an issue. There were lively discussions about what we felt but there were never any demands. If a member of the group got hot under the collar, I would talk to the leader of the group, off the record, and suggested peace in the valley. It was a two way street and I was informed on how my participation could be more productive. By the end of the process we were like family. Political correctness was considered an impediment to real communication.
Here were a few of the concerns. I needed to approve the curriculum. That was the law. Equal resources must be guaranteed. Personnel would come from existing staff. Student achievement would be measured using system yardsticks. If you enrolled your children, they had to stay for the entire school year. The process of resolving differences was put in writing.
Once the outline of the project was in a from that could be communicated, interested staff members gave of their time to fill in the specifics. It was not necessary for me to be deeply involved. The teachers association was supportive. They had questions that any responsible organization should ask regarding impact on their membership. Assurances were given.
After about a year of planning, the detailed proposal was presented to the School Committee. During that year the committee received updates on our progress. After some public discussion on program and costs it was approved. We advertised for level of interest and specific student volunteers. The next September the school bell rang. There were the usual comparisons of which program was better, etc. I would say the process worked reasonably well. Considering the community had never attempted such a strategy, the staff and community deserved high marks. Were there things I would have done differently? Absolutely, that is always the case. There are things that I took from the experience.
You can have a charter school within a public school system. There are many parents who are well informed and see a specific role in guiding their children through the school years. As long as you have a common core of knowledge, every school has its uniqueness. There is a great deal of talent and creativity in the staff and they should provide those ideas and not wait for the invitation. When the home and the school are in sync on what the school offers, it reduces the difficulty for the student who lives in both places. Jim Redmond, a retired teacher of more than 30 years, was actively involved in this project. He is also a member of the Andover Historical Society. I think his perspective as well as others who experienced such a unique school could fill in the real story as they saw it. This chapter in our town's history should not be lost.
Ken Seifert is a 40-year resident of Andover and a former superintendent of schools.