About Alma » History and Mission

History and Mission


Alma del Mar is an inclusive, K-8 Expeditionary Learning school that puts New Bedford children on a college trajectory and challenges them to be service-minded leaders.
By engaging in a rigorous academic program with an emphasis on meaningful work, our students will master essential skills and content, take ownership of their learning and think boldly while addressing complex academic and community issues.

Alma del Mar’s History

Founder Will Gardner conceived of the idea for Alma del Mar while running an afterschool program for middle school students in New Bedford.
“We were making a real impact,” he reflects, “but I kept wondering what our students could do if they were provided with more challenge and more support beginning at an earlier age. Once I began talking with parents about the idea of starting college preparation in kindergarten, we all got really excited.”
 This initial excitement inspired Will and a small group of parents and community leaders to begin the process of designing the school and applying for its charter. Over the course of two years, Will and a dedicated group of volunteers crafted the vision for Alma del Mar by identifying areas of educational need in New Bedford and seeking out like-minded educators who were already addressing similar needs successfully. With an initial proposal in hand, the team went door-to-door throughout New Bedford to pitch the idea to parents and hear from families about their educational needs and aspirations. The tight-knit community among Alma families began with the founding group’s conversations with New Bedford parents in living rooms and kitchens.


Alma del Mar was granted a charter in early 2011, one of the most competitive years for charter applications in Massachusetts’ history. In March, Alma del Mar held its first public lottery to admit 120 founding scholars in grades K-2. After hiring its founding team and reaching an agreement with then-Mayor Scott Lang to lease a former district building, the Sarah D. Ottiwell school, Alma del Mar opened its doors in August.


In its second year of operation, Alma served about 160 scholars in grades K-3. 


Alma served about 200 scholars in grades K-4 in its third year of operation.

Modular classrooms were assembled next to the existing Sarah D. Ottiwell school building as a temporary solution for space issues. 

Alma del Mar’s Instrumental Music Program was launched with the arrival of 20 violins, 8 cellos and 12 violas from Symphony Music Shop.



In its fourth year of operation, Alma served about 240 scholars in grades K-5.

Alma del Mar was cited as an exemplary school in the areas of Access and Equity, and Culture and Family Engagement, by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

Alma third graders outperformed their counterparts in more affluent districts of Wareham, Dartmouth and Fairhaven on the state MCAS tests. Alma fourth graders outperformed their New Bedford peers by 14% in Math and 12% in Literacy.


Alma was the subject of a multimedia case study by the National Charter School Resource Center for our success with English Language Learners.

In a landmark collaboration between a municipality and a charter school, Alma del Mar purchased the school site and its 2.3 acres from the City of New Bedford for only $102,000.
After conducting several feasibility studies on both our current building and our land, we determined that our most viable and cost-effective plan for expansion was to build a new building on the opposite end of our site.
Construction began on a two-story, 43,000 square foot building that would provide a home worthy of our hard-working scholars.


The late Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester approved a renewal of Alma del Mar Charter School’s five year charter. The renewal came without conditions. Alma was also recognized for exceeding the state’s expectations in the area of parent engagement.
Following a community celebration of the Sarah D. Ottiwell school building, the crumbling facility was demolished to provide for a playing field, green space, off street staff parking and a dedicated bus lane.


Alma del Mar was granted an additional 90 seats to up its enrollment capacity to 450 scholars. The additional scholars were added over the next several years by creating new sections of scholars in grades K-1 and by adding additional scholars to existing classrooms of subsequent grades.

In a memo to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the late Commissioner Chester pointed to significant improvements in Alma scholars’ performance on the latest PARCC tests as one indicator of Alma’s successful academic program. These measures were used to help determine Alma del Mar’s status as a “Proven Provider,” which is required by state law for a school to be considered for additional seats.


First 8th grade scholars graduate from Alma del Mar. Many of the 37 scholars came to the school as second graders when Alma opened in 2011. 

Poised to make a broader impact by serving even more New Bedford children, Alma del Mar applies for 1,188 additional charter seats to open two new schools. The application went through an extensive review process and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received hundreds of letters and emails from families who wanted their child to have the opportunity to receive an Alma education.


Alma del Mar was the only charter public school to be awarded a significant expansion of an additional 594 seats for a new K-8 school in New Bedford. 

Ms. Taylor DeLoach is named the Founding Principal for Alma’s new school. 

Alma’s new campus is named in honor of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent abolitionists and civil rights leaders in the struggle for equality in the United States. Douglass lived in New Bedford in the mid-1800s after escaping slavery. His powerful testimony – both spoken and written – is a fixture in Alma’s curriculum, and scholars across grade levels study his work and life each year.
The Frederick Douglass Campus opens to 200 children in K-2 and 6th grade on August 19. The campus is temporarily located in Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception’s former school building. 


Alma’s annual enrollment lottery was held in February 2020. More than 750 applications were submitted for 200 anticipated openings at our two campuses for the 2020-21 school year.

All campuses were closed and classes were moved to fully remote learning in March 2020 at the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers prioritized maintaining supportive relationships with scholars and their families, but were able to conduct read-alouds, math lessons, art projects and movement breaks with their scholars on a daily basis.
Our team distributed thousands of meals to families in need, facilitated virtual calls with service providers, helped people file for unemployment benefits and arranged for Internet access.
Enrollment continued to grow at our new Douglass Campus despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While nearly all Alma scholars participated in full remote learning for the first two quarters of the 2020-21 school year, a small number of our scholars with the highest needs attended school in person daily.


Alma del Mar resumed in-person learning in the spring of 2021 with increased health and safety protocols in place. All 800 scholars in grades K-8 returned to in-person class by May 2021.
Our Frederick Douglass Campus grew again in August 2021 when they welcomed 500 children across three temporary sites.



Volunteers, supporters and construction team members joined Alma del Mar’s scholars and staff for a ceremonial ribbon cutting on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, to mark the opening of the school’s new Frederick Douglass Campus. The new 52,000 square foot building is now home to 594 scholars in grades K-8.

The school’s namesake is honored in various spaces across the building, including a pop-art inspired portrait near the front entrance and a historical mural in the cafeteria which was designed and painted by local artists Fitzcarmel LaMarre and Brian Tillett.
In March of 2022, Founder and Executive Director Will Gardner announced his plans to step away from his role after 11+ years. 

After a months-long internal search process characterized by broad outreach and community engagement, the Alma del Mar Board of Trustees on April 28, 2022, selected Ms. Taylor DeLoach as the next Executive Director of Alma del Mar Charter Schools. Ms. DeLoach is the first person of color and the first female to lead the organization.