ADAMS, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday congratulated the students of Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School on their accomplishments and challenged them to keep building for their futures.
"If we work it right, if we work hard and work smart and make good decisions, you wake up when you're 59 years old and think you're the luckiest man alive," Baker told an all-school assembly. "But those habits, those skills, those foundations are what you're building now.
"You guys are building a great foundation, the kind of foundation where students get to go to the great places like that list I just saw."
Baker was in the Berkshires on Tuesday to talk about education. Later in the day, he visited South County to award state funds to promote cooperation among school districts.
But first he visited North County to hear about some of the accomplishments at BArT, where 11 of 23 seniors already have been accepted to college — the "great places" Baker alluded to in his remarks.
He also toured the facility with Executive Director Julia Bowen, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, and a couple members of BArT's board of trustees.
The first-term governor, a former member of the board at the Phoenix Charter Academy, asked about specifics of BArT's program, took in a few minutes of Curtis Asch's mathematics class and chatted with students in the hallway.
While the student body gathered in BArT's recently completed gymnasium, Baker spoke with Bowen, Adams Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco and the trustees about the role of charter schools.
He asked specifically about the reception BArT has received since its establishment in 2004.
Bowen admitted there was some initial tension — a point on which Baker asked her to elaborate.
Mazzucco said the school has faced the perception that the charter school model is "taking away" money from the traditional public schools.
"We have had a couple of joint workshops with our Finance Committee and Select Board and found that the amount of misinformation about the funding mechanism was through the roof," Mazzucco said. "When you explain the facts, people understand it."
Bowen said BArT's success has gone a long way toward generating good will in the community.
"Because our students are performing exceptionally well, families are seeing the results," Bowen said.
BArT Principal April West told Baker and the assembly about the school's recent success on the most recent round of state standardized tests.
For the second time in the school's history, all of its 10th-grade students scored proficient or advanced on the math and English sections of last year's MCAS exams. BArT is one of just four schools in the commonwealth to achieve that distinction in 2015, West said.
And locally, BArT has achieved the highest growth rate (66 percent) on the English and math standardized tests of any district in its major sending towns.
"This is not an accident or an anomaly," West said. "We do it because of the hard work of the teachers and the hard work of the students, who do what the teachers ask of you."
Two students, seventh-grader Francisco Alicandri and junior Peter Elliott, had a chance to ask Baker questions in front of the assembly.
Baker talked to the students about the importance of education generally and the role of charter schools in particular. He shared his own experience at the Phoenix School, which serves students who already have left school for one reason or another.
Many of those students are referred to Phoenix by probation departments and leave with high school diplomas and college acceptances, Baker said.
He said he hopes to ensure educational opportunity for all Bay State students.
"There's probably nothing I can think of that was more important to me and my wife than that our three kids get a good education," Baker said. "That is one of the core principles of how you build that foundation. Fortunately, we were in a position to see that our kids did get the kind of education that would prepare them for life. ... It's not that easy for everybody.
"One of the reasons I'm such a big supporter of the charter school movement is because charter schools give a lot of kids who don't necessarily have that opportunity a shot at it.
"Every kid in Massachusetts deserves a chance like that."
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker takes a 'selfie' with the junior class at the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter...
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