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Campaigner: Charter status could save threatened schools

Becky Ausenda, the executive director of the Bermuda Education Network (File photograph)

School closures could be avoided if they were allowed to apply for charter school status and get the right to government grants, an education campaigner has said.

Becky Ausenda, the executive director of the Bermuda Education Network, an organisation set up to provide a range of programmes for public school educators and their students, said proposals to close nine primary schools was a shock.

Ms Ausenda said: “We were expecting to have to comment on signature schools at the senior level and I must admit that the announcement of closure of eight primary schools has come as an unwelcome surprise.

“It's indisputable that the current provision of primary education is inadequate to meet the needs of many students so either more resources or reallocation of resources is urgently needed. We had expected a few small, underperforming schools to be closed which is regrettable but necessary.

“The solution may be to offer schools facing closure with an alternative – to apply for charter school status.

“The framework in the UK and the US sets out a system for schools to collect donations, fees and a partial government grant to cover their costs.

“They have autonomy over enrolment, hiring and firing of staff and they have full responsibility for their payroll and premises.

“If a school demonstrates they have the funding and community support to execute their charter, then they qualify for the government grant.”

Charter schools are similar to aided schools as they have power to hire their own staff and can receive government grants.

The Ministry of Education outlined plans in a consultation document for the creation of ten parish primary schools – eight down from the 18 in operation at present, with one new school to be built.

Ms Ausenda said that she welcomed the consultation as an opportunity for non-profits and community partners to contribute to the redesign process.

Ben established a special group in November in anticipation of discussions about signature schools.

The organisation has raised more than $1 million for public primary schools in the past ten years.

Ms Ausenda said that with an appropriate legislative framework, there could be strong support for charter schools.

She added: “I believe that closing schools with strong community ties and scattering successful teams of teachers should be resisted because it's harder to build a school community than it is to construct a building.”

Ben carried out research into the United States community school model five years ago, which Ms Ausenda said appeared to be similar to the proposed parish school plan.

Ms Ausenda said: “I was inspired by the community school model that Barack Obama and Arne Duncan had championed in Illinois and we worked hard to recruit parents and supporters to create two committees at Prospect and Northlands.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and I eventually learnt that our mistake was to try to bring together assorted members of non-profits with parents and teachers hoping that they would become a cohesive group.

“I was later able to do further research into community schools and discovered that they were generally born out of an existing community group – for example agricultural workers, a religious community or an ethnic group.”

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Published December 28, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 27, 2020 at 8:40 pm)

Campaigner: Charter status could save threatened schools

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