EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 24, 2008

Parents, teachers: Give 580-student school independence; State's decision on charter plan expected this month

HAVERHILL - The way Pamela Conte sees it, teachers are like second parents to children in their classrooms.

"Children spend most of their day with their teacher. Who knows the child better?" Conte said last night, as she argued in favor of a proposal to turn Silver Hill Elementary School into a charter school.

That would give Silver Hill teachers and administrators the power to draw up a curriculum they think would work best for their students. It also would remove the school from the control of the School Committee, instead establishing a board of trustees at Silver Hill.

Conte was among more than 50 parents, teachers and school administrators from across the district who packed the school's library to give their opinions on converting Silver Hill to a Horace Mann charter school. State education officials listened to the comments. Haverhill will get a decision Feb. 26 and hopes to have the charter school running in September.

Conte and other parents of children at the school said they trust the Silver Hill staff knows what's best for students. The staff is making the proposal for the charter school.

"Giving teachers the power to express their voice can make a powerful difference at this school," said parent Liz Sullivan, a member of Silver Hill's parent-teacher organization.

The state would give the school between $500,000 and $750,000 over the first three years of a five-year charter. Of that money, $180,000 is for teachers to attend on-site professional development through the University of Connecticut, said Silver Hill Principal Euthemia Gilman.

Silver Hill previously received approval from the state to apply for a Horace Mann charter because it was criticized by the state last summer for poor student performance on the 2006 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test. For the previous two years, Silver Hill was on the state's "needs improvement" list for MCAS.

There are 62 public charter schools in Massachusetts, including Hill View Montessori School in Haverhill. Hill View is considered a Commonwealth charter school, run with public money and cash from other sources, and with staff members who are not public school employees. A Horace Mann charter goes to an existing public school, and its staff members are public school employees.

If Silver Hill's charter request is approved, it would open in September for up to 580 children in kindergarten through grade five, Gilman said. The school currently serves 611 students.

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