MLK would be proud of BART's success
To the editor:
For me, the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a time to reflect on opportunity and diversity, both themes important to the civil rights leader who viewed poverty, including illiteracy, and racism as evils. I can't help but think that Dr. King would be proud, as I am, of the educational achievements of the diverse student body of the BART Charter Public School in Adams.
I was privileged as a BART trustee to be present when Gov. Charlie Baker visited BART recently to congratulate students for their achievements, including that, for the second time in the school's history, all of our 10th-grade students scored proficient or advanced on the math and English sections of last year's MCAS exams. That was true in 2015 at only four schools in Massachusetts.
In addition, BART students achieved the highest growth rate on the English and math standardized tests of any of its three major sending school districts: Adams-Cheshire Regional and the North Adams and Pittsfield Public Schools.
It's well documented that, even in Massachusetts, with its best-in-the-nation public schools (http://wbur.fm/1ZbRvCZ), low income and minority students are generally not as successful.
The "high needs" designation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) takes in lower income and many minority students. DESE identifies a student as "high needs" if he or she is designated as either low income (prior to school year 2015), economically disadvantaged (starting in school year 2015), or ELL (English language learner), or former ELL, or a student with disabilities. A former ELL student is a student not currently an ELL, but had been at some point in the two previous academic years.
DESE defines more than half of students at BART and in all three major sending districts as "high needs." This makes the academic success of BART's students all the more gratifying in comparison to that of their peers in the district public schools.
It's heartening, as well, that many students of color and their parents have chosen BART. Non-white students comprise nearly 26 percent of BART's student body, compared with 9 percent in Adams-Cheshire and 16 percent in North Adams. While Pittsfield's student body is more diverse than BART's (31 percent non-white), a higher percentage of African-American students choose BART (15 percent, compared to 10.6 percent).
The full story of how BART has achieved its academic distinctions, including the US News & World Reports' No. 7 ranked high school in Massachusetts, is one for another day. The most important factors, however, are 1) BART's leaders, faculty, and staff believe that every student can succeed, and 2) the character of BART students, who are working hard to grow academically.
BART exemplifies these words of Martin Luther King Jr.: "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education."