NEW BEDFORD — Wearing blue-and-yellow school shirts in a show of unity, supporters of the Renaissance Community School for the Arts rose to give a standing ovation on Monday after the school won reauthorization with a new focus on STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
The School Committee voted 5-0, with two members absent, to reauthorize the school for another five years. The committee also approved a name change, to Renaissance Community Innovation School.
“I want to cheer your hard work,” School Committee member Colleen Dawicki told Principal Jennifer Mainelli and staff, who presented their proposal for renewal.
Founded in 2013, Renaissance is an “innovation” school under a 2010 state law that allows communities to establish autonomous schools within a public school district. Innovation schools have governing boards and flexibility in certain aspects of their curriculum, budget and more.
Bianca Berrios, a mother of three children at Renaissance, praised the school’s effort to work with families. She said her stepdaughter was “in a poor situation” but was able to “snap back” because of the support from Renaissance.
“They know her situation. They know her by name,” Berrios said.
Mainelli described the school’s plan to move from an arts-focused program to one that emphasizes all the STEAM fields. In a plan developed by teachers, the principal and the administration, she said, Renaissance aims to embed project-based learning and service learning in all academic subjects.
“I think the thing that excites me the most about our reauthorization is that this is truly a team effort,” she said.
Things haven’t always gone as planned. At one point, according to School Committee member Christopher Cotter, the Renaissance governing board essentially disbanded without the School Committee's knowledge.
The school was “running basically blind, for, I would say, two years, minimum,” he said.
Cotter said the School Committee should be kept abreast of what’s happening with Renaissance, but he supported the reauthorization plan.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said.
The local faith-based group United Interfaith Action advocated for the creation of Renaissance five years ago.
Jack Livramento, a member of both the School Committee and United Interfaith Action, said in an interview before the meeting that Renaissance has had some difficulties demonstrating that students perform well, but the school is improving. It was one of the first in the city to open a community room to foster parent involvement.
“I think that’s been successful,” he said.
Renaissance is at 286 South Second St., in the same building as Alfred J. Gomes Elementary School. Livramento said several of the founding teachers at Renaissance were teachers at Gomes who had new ideas they wanted to try.
Another early advocate of the school was Sister Marianna Sylvester, a United Interfaith Action leader who works at Our Lady of the Assumption parish, a few blocks away from the Renaissance school.
Sylvester said in an interview that at the time Renaissance was formed, New Bedford’s dropout rate was “humongous.” UIA’s member congregations wanted to focus their work on the school system. Members traveled as far away as California to study innovation schools.
“They really are innovators, every one of them,” she said of the Renaissance teachers.
Cotter, Dawicki and Livramento voted to reauthorized the school, along with School Committee vice chairman Bruce Oliveira and member Joshua Amaral. Mayor Jon Mitchell, who is chairman by virtue of is office, was absent, as was member John Oliveira.