Building Relationships Between DCR & Academia

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is steward to over 450,000 acres of forests, parks, greenways, historic sites, seashores, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and watersheds; making it one of the largest state park systems in the country.  Considering the population and relatively small size of the Commonwealth, it’s astonishing just how much open space and recreational opportunities are at our fingertips.

At the heart of DCR’s mission to “protect, promote, and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural and recreational resources,” lies its ability to generate comprehensive, forward-looking management plans for each property it owns.  Planning efforts for the park system commonly identify a lack of information on the aforementioned park resources.  Typically these data gaps are identified by DCR planning staff and recommendations are made to gather information; however, the agency frequently lacks the necessary resources to fill them.

This reoccurring theme has become the seed for an interesting research project investigating the potential for strategic collaboration between DCR and academia to fill these data gaps.  There are over 110 colleges and universities in the Commonwealth, several of which offer courses and degrees in subject areas directly relevant to park planning, operations, and marketing, yet very few institutions have established relationships with DCR over the years.  A formal, system-wide program designed to facilitate ongoing uses of DCR properties by institutions of higher education has the potential to both enhance education in the state, while simultaneously providing important information that will improve the overall management of the Commonwealth’s park system.  

If you know of any colleges or universities that currently use state parks for educational, cultural, or recreational purposes, or simply want to weigh in on the conversation, contact Jason Hill at the Urban Initiative.  

Education news roundup

In Fall River and New Bedford alone, it’s been hard to keep up with everything that’s transpired on the education front over the past few months. Here’s our best effort at rounding up the stories you might have missed, plus some state-level moves that might have implications for our SouthCoast Cities.

Fall River

  • UCLA’s Civil Rights Project teamed with the ACLU to single out Fall River for a Civil Rights Act complaint related to the school district’s suspension practices. Why? Suspension rates are disproportionately high among non-White students and those with disabilities. For example, the suspension rate for White students was 13.4 percent in 2009-10, compared to 23.1 percent for Latino students and 25.9 percent of Black students. Read the full complaint at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project website.
  • On a more positive note, Fall River Public Schools is just one of two MA districts (the other is Lawrence) to participate in a federal initiative to lengthen the school day. Four schools will participate, and the district will receive technical assistance to support this effort. Read the Boston Globe’s coverage here.
  • Henry Lord Middle School, a Level 4 (underperforming) school that was likely to be designated Level 5 and taken over by the state, will be closed at the end of the school year. Read the Herald News story here.

New Bedford

  • Innovation schools are the hottest topic, with two new schools proposed by teams of educators facing lots of pushback from district teachers and the teachers’ union. Much of the debate relates to the idea that these two schools will share space with existing schools. It’s a bit hard to get up to speed if you haven’t been following, but here is a recent Standard Times article that covers the debate at a recent School Committee meeting. Meanwhile, click the links to read the prospectus of the proposed Esperanza School (which would feature bilingual classrooms) and the Renaissance Community School for the Arts (which uses a community school model and an arts-based curriculum).
  • Receiving a bit less coverage but particularly important is the city’s search for a new superintendent. A survey has been created for community stakeholders to weigh in, and 35 applications have been received. According to this article, the names of three finalists will be presented to the School Committee in early February.  The full job description for the position is here.

Statewide

  • MA’s new Secretary of Education is Matt Malone, who previously served as Brockton’s superintendent.
  • Education grants for Gateway Cities were recently announced. New Bedford got $40,000 to develop an engineering academy within the high school, while Fall River received almost $245,000 for efforts to improve outcomes for English language learners and another $45,000 to plan for a career academy within the high school.
  • Governor Patrick’s proposed 2014 budget calls for $11M in education spending specifically for Gateway Cities.