Nancy Walser is on a mission. She is a school committee member in Cambridge, one of four towns chosen by the Department of Education to build or open a new charter school. Walser though doesn’t like charter schools and wants lawmakers to ban them. “I think public schools need more support, they don't need competition,” she says.
Walser is talking about competition like the New Community Charter School of Cambridge, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2005. Walser says the new school will take millions of dollars from a public school system that’s already strapped for cash. “We have people coming to us at every meeting begging us to provide them some stability in our schools. What this means is a period of instability, of more budget cutting,” Walser says.
State representative Alice Wolf also supports a moratorium on charter schools. “Right now our high school needs a lot of work done on it and the school committee is really working hard to make a difference in this high school. That energy, that funding, all of that gets dissipated when you start developing something new outside.”
Jon Drescher is headmaster of Prospect Hill Academy, a Cambridge charter school. He believes that a moratorium is a bad idea and that new charter schools should open because parents want them. “Go speak to the 19,000 parents in this state that have already made that choice and the countless of thousands of other parents who are on waiting lists to get their children into charter schools. They want to have their children there.”
Cambridge parent Wendy Blum says she chose Prospect Hill because the kids there want to learn. “It feels a little self selected because the kids that are there are wanting to learn, their families want them to learn, they are willing to abide by a dress code, but it feels like public school, it doesn’t feel elite.”
And headmaster Jon Drescher says his school isn’t a private school. He takes whoever is selected from a lottery. “The fact is students come in here through a lottery and we do not know the names of the students we are picking out of the box. Until we pick them out, we don’t know who they are.”
And he says it’s what happens once kids are inside charter schools that makes the difference.
“We’re interested in mastery, we’re interested in proficiency. We’re interested in students exceeding everything that is put out at state minimum requirements.”But, says Nancy Walser, that’s what should be happening in all schools, not just charters.