Haverhill school officials will allow all current Silver Hill students to remain there until they finish the school’s fifth and final grade.
Assistant Superintendent Jared Fulgoni said no changes will be made at Silver Hill next year as the administration puts together a transition plan to turn the Horace Mann charter school back into a regular neighborhood school under the district’s control.
But many parents who attended Thursday’s School Committee meeting said the promise is an empty victory because the loss of the school’s charter eliminates the funding and independence that made Silver Hill special and allowed it to adopt an innovative curriculum and expand teacher training.
School Committee President Gail Sullivan agreed with parents who complained that the school district budget commits far too little to teacher training to reach the same results as Silver Hill.
“We have a district that’s been getting by with too little for too long,” Sullivan said. “The saddest thing is that there are some parts of the city that nobody wants to go to school in.”
Silver Hill had begun the process of applying to the state for renewal of its charter, but was stopped in its tracks by a vote by the Haverhill Education Association, which rejected the school’s application by a 2-to-1 margin.
Teachers union president Lisa Begley said the HEA membership was concerned about a lack of diversity at the charter school.
Begley pointed to the Tilton and Consentino schools, which served significantly larger numbers of ethnic minority and economically disadvantaged students than Silver Hill, even though the three schools are in the same section of the city.
In fact, Begley said, Bradford Elementary School’s demographics showed it to be more diverse than Silver Hill.
Unlike Haverhill’s other, public schools, Silver Hill chose its students by lottery from applications submitted by parents from every section of the city. Neighborhood schools are populated by students who live within the quadrants where the schools are located.
School Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti said student achievement, not demographics, should have directed HEA members’ votes.
“There’s only one question that would have tipped my hand. Did the model improve student achievement and does it maintain a high level of student achievement, and that answer is undeniably yes,” Magliocchetti said. “That being said, I respect the vote of the teachers.”
Committee member Shaun P. Toohey’s criticism of the teachers union vote was more pointed.
“I don’t understand why we are going backwards. In my opinion, the HEA got it wrong.”
Toohey questioned how many of the roughly 360 teachers who voted on the charter renewal live in Haverhill.
No matter their position on the charter renewal, committee members praised the Silver Hill parents for their passion and involvement in their children’s education.
“Don’t ever let anyone silence you when it comes to your children’s education,” Magliocchetti told the group.
Member Scott W. Wood spread the praise in a wider circle.
“I support all parents of all schools who take a passionate interest in their child’s education.”
But Wood was less complimentary when it came to his colleagues’ criticism of members of the teachers union who opposed the charter renewal.
Following the School Committee meeting, he said, “I don’t think that attacking the HEA and the teachers of the city of Haverhill really helps anybody, quite frankly. There certainly was a better way to deal with it … the idea behind the state requiring union approval is to take politics out of it and taking playing to a crowd away. I have to have faith the teachers of the district voted what they felt was in the best educational interest of students in the district. We have to trust that teachers did that.”