On Thursday, November 14, the Josiah Bartlett Center gave their annual Libertas Award to Patty Humphrey, charter school founder and long-time school choice advocate. Mrs. Humphrey founded the N.H. Charter School Resource Center in 1995 and the N.H. Center for School Reform in 2003, which were instrumental in the creation of New Hampshire’s first charter school law and in the growth and expansion of charter schools since 1995.

The following are Mrs. Humphrey’s remarks upon receiving the 2019 Libertas Award.

 

Every state with claims to greatness must have a superior educational system. And in order for an educational system to be superior, there must be school choice. The more, the better.

Among school choice programs, charter schools are the most important. They are able to serve the largest number of students and can provide new educational models. In other words, they don’t just help individual students, but they have the capacity to change and reinvent education.

In New Hampshire, we have 28 charters schools providing a rich array of choices for our students. These schools have all been created against the odds and over long periods of time.

In each of these schools there is at least one visionary who has given years of his or her lives to realizing the dream. And in each of these schools is a heroic director or headmaster who spends 16 hours a day providing curriculum, fun, safety, communications, love and structure to a vibrant world.

Several of these heroic headmasters are here promoting charter schools in our state. One is Beth McClure of Strong Foundations Charter School in Pembroke, which emphasizes literacy through phonics instruction.

Her school has become so popular that it is now expanding for the second time. There is no job too lowly for Beth or too exalted — from inspiring her parents to build her an addition with donations of time, skill and money — to sweeping the lunchroom floor.

Maureen Mooney of The Founders Academy in Manchester came to her school through dedication to its mission, which is to raise students to become the future guardians of our liberty — through developing their knowledge of our history, culture and values — and by encouraging the development of good character and leadership skills.

If you believe in this mission, please take notice that there is such a school in our state and that it serves as a model for other schools — traditional public and charter. It needs your support.

With charm and good cheer, Maureen puts in at least 16 hours per day, encouraging students and teachers, acting as a role model for all that the school stands for and efficiently monitoring the thousands of details that make a school safe and interesting.

Another headmaster who is here is Denis Mailloux — the new kid on the block. He directs Spark Academy, a trade school located within The Manchester Community College.

This is truly a new model of school for New Hampshire, where students take traditional high school courses along with courses and practical experiences in advanced technology. They get training in a specific trade of their choice, graduate with a certificate in that trade and take college courses — all tuition free. It is even possible for a diligent student to graduate high school with two years of college.

While accomplishing many other things, this school solves the student loan problem. Armed with several college courses under their belts, students can work their way through college, paying as they go, using the skills that they have acquired. Or they may choose to go directly into the workforce at an excellent wage, forgoing college altogether.

The charter school law allows for curriculum diversity and innovation. New Hampshire charter schools have taken full advantage of this opportunity.

For instance, we have two excellent STEM schools, one of which, The Academy for Science and Design, is rated top-performing New Hampshire high school and is in the top 250 high schools in the country. Here is Jenn Cava’s brief description of what goes on at the school on any given day:

  • A group of students crowd around a table in one of the school’s common areas, engrossed in reconstructing the skeleton of a snapping turtle collected from the bank of a nearby pond.
  • To complete the Senior Project, a student in the common area works on building a Farnsworth-Hirsch nuclear fusor for later testing of its ability to destroy cancerous tumors.
  • Ten students leave for a day at BAE Systems to participate in engineering activities.
  • Two government officials stop by to honor two all-female teams for winning the top two state awards for student-designed iPhone applications in the Verizon App Challenge.

Another remarkable charter school is VLACS, our on-line academy, which responds creatively and personally to the needs of the state and its students. For example, a student with severe social fears and inhibitions — through specifically designed art courses on VLACS — was able to address these fears in her artwork, winning the Gold Key in the New Hampshire Scholastic Art and Writing Competition in 2018.

We have several charter schools whose mission is to teach academics through the fine and performing arts, such as the Seacoast Charter School and Cocheco Academy. We have several community-based charter schools, such as the Surry Village Charter School and The Microsociety Academy.

We have Montessori charter schools, such as Mills Falls, and charter schools that serve very effectively children with special educational gaps and needs, such as The North Country Charter School. And we have several schools that emphasize a project-based approach to learning, among which is Polaris, an elementary school in Manchester.

Charter schools must be entrepreneurial because they are funded at less than half the tuition rate of traditional public schools. So they typically have multifaceted fundraising programs during the school year.

But to thrive in New Hampshire, charter schools need more enthusiastic support from our state. Our schools of choice are funded at the lowest rate of any in the country. There are several measures that would alleviate our poverty, which restricts our teachers to barely more than a starvation wage.

By guaranteeing our schools 50 percent of the tuition rate of traditional public schools, you would put us on a sustainable path. We would know that if other public schools get a raise, so would we, automatically.

Governor Sununu, please put this near the top of your priorities for the next biennium. Then we will not have to come a-begging, hat in hand, for small raises to keep afloat.

The other life-saving measure that the state could bestow on charter schools involves facility funding. Although we are nonprofit organizations, we pay property taxes if we are housed in privately owned locations. Please make us exempt from real estate taxes, like any other nonprofit organization.

By creating a charter school law in 1994, New Hampshire opened a path to a world of opportunity and creativity for the children of the state and to those who by nature have the vocation to teach them.

It has been my privilege and that of Matt Southerton, who has worked with me, to be part of this world for 25 years in an enterprise that has brought both of us great personal satisfaction.

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