New Bedford mayor makes education top priority


New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell gave his first State of the City address Thursday, and it was not a terribly optimistic one.

He’s only been in office 80 days, but Mitchell knows what his targets are, and his first priority is to improve New Bedford’s failing school system.

Before a room full of Chamber of Commerce members and local elected officials, Mitchell didn’t try to paint a rosy picture for the outlook of the city.

“Across America, cities face many of the same primary challenges that we confront right here,” Mitchell said.

And in his case, the biggest challenge may be the school system that is performing so badly that the state has threatened to take it over.

“We just learned last week that if the school year ended today, more than a third of the freshman class at the high school would not pass on to the tenth grade,” Mitchell said.

He expressed frustration with working with the school administration in his first two-and-a-half months in office, but the superintendent is forging ahead anyway.

“I think there are pockets of excellence already, and I think that there is every reason to expect that the improvement will continue and that we will be shining star, absolutely,” Dr. Mary Louise Francis, the superintendent, said.

When it comes to economic opportunities, Mitchell said the greatest economic opportunity for the region in his lifetime would be to develop the South Terminal to support the offshore wind turbine industry.

If he can get the schools in shape and bring a new industry to the city, perhaps the new mayor will be able to fulfill his goal.

“I look forward to the day when our children and grandchildren say, ‘I live in New Bedford. Why would I want to live anywhere else?'” Mitchell said.

Education reform is really job one in New Bedford. Mitchell demonstrated his awareness of that by sitting two college presidents at his table. Residents can judge his administration by how well the schools do in the next few years.

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