A North Star to Guide a New Year ✨

Dear Charter Public School Supporters,

It is my honor to introduce you to Will Gardner, Executive Director of Alma del Mar in New Bedford, MA. 

Will graduated from Wesleyan University and began his teaching career as a Teach for America corps member in Greenville, Mississippi. Following five years in Mississippi, Will returned to his home state of Massachusetts to run an out-of-school-time site for Citizen Schools in New Bedford. The desire to see more students doing incredible work and to put more kids in New Bedford on the path to college led Will to complete Harvard’s School Leadership program and, ultimately, to found Alma del Mar.

As charter public schools start a new school year — full of challenges and promise — we asked Will to share his reflections about the principles guiding him and the Alma del Mar community in their efforts to support success for all students.


Throughout the profound challenges of the past eighteen months, I have found myself incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues who live by the mantra of “whatever it takes.” By families who are relentless advocates and supporters. And by students who, day after day, demonstrate joy, strength, and potential beyond measure. Deep partnership with each of these important segments of our Alma community has been invaluable as we have navigated each new challenge since we first opened our doors in 2011. 

As we began planning for the 2021-2022 school year, and after many deep discussions with our families, students, staff, and board members, it became clear that we would need to do some things differently in order to fully provide for the needs of our community. Thankfully, adaptability and innovation are part of our DNA here at Alma and at charter public schools across the state. Ultimately, three key principles emerged from our community dialogues and have become the north star that are guiding Alma forward this year.

First, we are committed to academic acceleration, not remediation. We cannot afford to delay our students’ progress. In all of our classes, we are focused on practice and mastery of grade-level standards, utilizing targeted supports to support additional learning needs. We will continue to maintain high expectations for our scholars, presenting them with experiences that demonstrate our deep belief in what they can achieve. Just last week, I had the pleasure of observing some of our new sixth graders as they received their text for their first novel study of the year. Many students were in awe, delicately turning the crisp new pages of what would be the first novel they would ever read in school. When our scholars are handed a copy of a complex text and told they’re going to be writing real essays and having college-level discussion about it, they’re getting the message: we know you’re capable of greatness.

Second, we are committed to caring for the whole child and the whole adult. Both adult and student learning are accelerated and made more durable when our days allow for reflection, relationship-building, and rejuvenation. When our teachers are at their best, they’re more than capable of meeting the challenges of prioritizing standards, teaching brilliant lessons, and supporting our scholars in making sense of the world. Likewise, we believe that our scholars have everything they need within them to thrive, particularly when we surround them with a caring community that encourages them to take the positive risks that learning requires. Especially amidst the tremendous challenges that the pandemic has wrought on our community, it’s essential that we create the conditions by which our creative, resourceful, and adaptive scholars and adults consistently flourish. At Alma, this has meant rethinking and recalibrating our daily schedule and calendar for the year.

Finally, we are committed to building a more equitable and racially just school. As our nation grapples with the pervasive systems of racism that have created marked inequities for our communities of color, we too at Alma are doing the work to evaluate our own policies, practices, and culture. Through deep reflection, we have identified multiple areas in which we have not fully realized our potential as an organization nor our commitment to racial equity, and we have taken action to begin making changes. This year, during our annual staff institute, we dedicated time to learning about how we can create truly culturally responsive and affirming spaces in which all scholars stand firmly in their unique identities and thrive academically. We are already seeing that learning at work, with teachers introducing more culturally relevant literature and making meaningful shifts in their approaches to classroom management.

As we step into the new year, I am immensely hopeful. All of us hold within us the seeds of resilience. In New Bedford, our scholars’ ancestors crossed dangerous seas on whale ships, endured, escaped, and defeated the scourge of American slavery, and, in the case of the Wampanoag people, preserved and maintained their proud culture in the face of the ravages of colonialism. As educators at Alma, our job is to water the seeds of resilience inherent in each of our scholars, drawing on the best qualities of those ancestors. Faculty at charter public schools all across our state are working equally hard, every day, to nurture the seeds of resilience within their own young people. I invite you all to follow our collective journey this year, as we bear witness to the dazzling beauty of those seeds as they blossom into the dreams our incredible scholars dare to imagine.


I am incredibly grateful to Will for his powerful words and leadership. I genuinely hope you will accept Will’s invitation to continue to follow along as our charter public school community together charts the course ahead, striving each day to nurture the best in our students and in ourselves. 


Tim Nicolette
Executive Director, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association



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