Barnstable School Board, Superintendent, respond to de facto segregation charge

Editor's note: We asked the Superintendent of Barnstable School District and the Principal of West Hyannis Elementary School to comment on our stories bemoaning the "De Facto Segregation" at the latter school. Below is the school board and superintendent's  response.

By Margeaux Weber, Chair, Stephanie Ellis, Vice Chair, Chris Joyce Fran McDonald, Patrick Murphy, Barnstable School Committee, and  Dr. Mary Czajkowski, Superintendent.

Dear Mr. Brooks:

We are writing in response to “Barnstable: A Sad Tale of MCAS Scores” and “The Saddest Elementary School in Barnstable”, published last week. Although we hope the spirit of these articles on the Barnstable Public Schools and the Hyannis West Elementary School may suggest a genuine concern about equity of resource allocation and commitment to diversity in our public schools, the analysis that was presented to the public was short-sighted and ill-informed. The more important question is whether policy and funding decisions by current and past school committees have been equitable to these schools and our district’s most challenged population. We strongly believe that Barnstable and Hyannis West have demonstrated a decades long commitment to equity. We thank you for the opportunity to tell our story.

The village of Hyannis has for many decades been home to the Cape’s most affordable housing stock, the greatest number of apartments, and is close to many of the region’s largest employers – in retail, hospitality and healthcare. It is also home to the region’s largest social service agencies. Historically, our elementary schools in Hyannis have served a disproportionate number of lower income children simply because they live in this village. These are their neighborhood schools. The children attending Hyannis West come from the surrounding communities, as is true with all of our village elementary schools. Your characterization of Hyannis West as a “slum school” does its children, their families and the community a great disservice.

The challenges facing these school communities are not new, nor are the efforts of Barnstable Public Schools to support them. Twenty years ago, then-Superintendent Dr. Tynan publicly recognized that the two Hyannis elementary schools (Hyannis East and Hyannis West) had a student population facing more challenges than most. Dr. Tynan designated these schools as local opportunity schools and sought to direct to them grants and local funds in order to reduce class sizes, and provide additional social, emotional and healthcare services and other educational programs as available. With School Committee support, every superintendent since then has maintained this commitment.

From about 2000-2006, Hyannis West Elementary, under Principal Fred Scully, was recognized at both the State and Federal level as a Blue Ribbon school. At the time, Hyannis West had 40-50% rate of low income children. Given the performance of its low income and English language learner student population on MCAS tests, this school was recognized as one of the top elementary schools in the nation. It should be noted that many of the staff members crucial to this success remain at Hy West today.

The global economic meltdown of 2008-2009 had a severe impact on the country and every school district in the nation. Tough decisions had to be made. In Barnstable, the school district needed to cut $6 million dollars from our operating budget. We used the crisis as a chance to reorganize our entire school district. Every school in the district was impacted. Of many challenging decisions, the most difficult one was which elementary schools had to be closed. Through the many public hearings during this process, attended by overflow crowds of parents and community members, the importance of preserving our village schools was stressed over and over. The most important decision the School Committee made during this reorganization was to move our Horace Mann Charter school from the west side of the town to the east side of town. So, the former Hyannis East elementary school (the building next to the Hyannis Youth and Community Center) is now a Horace Mann K-3 Charter school, the Barnstable Community Horace Mann Charter Public School. Parents fill out an application and this school conducts a random lottery every year to fill its slots. This school now has children attending it from practically every neighborhood in Barnstable.

To be perfectly clear, the Hyannis village community and Barnstable Town Council vocally supported and embraced this change. We have plenty of televised, long, public meetings to prove it.

Over the ensuing years, what this has meant for student demographics is that the new location for our Horace Mann elementary (the old Hyannis East school) and the Hyannis West elementary have effectively swapped low income demographic profiles. Currently, the Barnstable Community Horace Mann Charter Public School now has 41% low income children as opposed to the 90% plus low income rate of the former Hyannis East at the same location. Hyannis West now has a 90% low income rate as opposed to the 50% rate prior to the reorganization.

From an equity perspective, the outcome of the changes over the past years across the Barnstable Public Schools has resulted in all children in town being brought together in one elementary school, (soon to be renamed Barnstable United), starting in 4th grade. In the 1980’s, Barnstable students attended neighborhood schools until high school. The Barnstable Public Schools are now bringing nine year olds together with their classmates from all sections of town, who they will get to know, respect, and become friends with over the next nine years of their education together. This is unique on the Cape and has been enthusiastically embraced by teachers and well informed parents as being the right thing to do for our children’s education and for the entire community.

At the elementary school level, a greater share of low income, English language learner and special education students are now being served by Barnstable’s BWB, West Villages, and Centerville elementary schools. The nationally recognized Hyannis West staff is indeed able to serve more low income students. Real school choice in their own village is being provided to Hyannis residents through our Horace Mann charter school. Finally, the Cape Cod Collaborative the regional entity to provide programs for the Cape’s special education population is now located in Barnstable.

Ultimately the vast majority of parents from the village of Hyannis are choosing to send their children to Hyannis West `because they love the school and it is producing results. If anyone can find a school district and town in Massachusetts with a stronger record of educational equity for low income children please point us to them; we would love to do even more.

Our educators teach our children that facts and knowledge are different animals, thus we invite you or any other member of the community to come visit the Barnstable Public Schools and spend time with the Hyannis West School community to become better educated citizens.

Sincerely,

Barnstable School Committee
Margeaux Weber, Chair
Stephanie Ellis, Vice Chair
Chris Joyce
Fran McDonald
Patrick Murphy

Dr. Mary Czajkowski
Superintendent, Barnstable Public Schools

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