Julia Bowen, center, flanked by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Richard Alcombright on Saturday after receiving a certificate of recognition from the senator. Her husband, Brad Svrluga, is at left.
ADAMS, Mass. — It's not every educational leader who gets a bridge, or two, named after them. But that's exactly how Julia Bowen will be remembered.
Bowen shepherded the Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School over the past 14 years, bridging its beginnings as a three-grade school in rented rooms to a middle and high school in its own renovated and expanded building.
Her legacy as executive director at BArT was cemented in the school on Friday when co-founder Charlie Toomajian made a guest appearance to unveil the newly dedicated "Julia Bowen Bridge," a connecting span located on the upper level of the school.
Toomajian, who made the trek from South Dakota for the celebration, said BArT's beginnings were not always the easiest and the school met opposition and even legal action from North Adams.
He said Bowen lead the school valiantly the entire time.
"We went through some tough times and through the whole thing Julia was right there and the bridge is a good idea because she was a bridge from that to what we see now," he said. "She was in charge of everything … and we want to congratulate you on the absolutely wonderful job that you have done."
Pam Johnson, another school founder, presented a similarly named scholarship in Bowen's name, the Julia Bowen Bridge to College Scholarship, that is funded at $50,000.
Bowen announced in October of last year that she would leave the school to explore new career options. She was honored Friday evening by old friends, colleagues and community leaders who noted her accomplishments. However, Bowen thanked the BArT community, which she said was just as integral to the school's success.
"If there is one thing I learned from this job it is that anything is possible if the right team is in place and that team right here in this room tonight," Bowen said. "You are the ones who have been here for BArT and members of our community in in some form or fashion over time and you are who I want to toast."
"We know what we have worked so hard on here for so long but we also know our students continue to struggle," Bowen said. "This is precisely what is needed and I am so grateful everyone shares that vision."
Former executive director of the Massachusetts Charter School Association Marc Kenen spoke and said Bowen created one of the best charter schools in the commonwealth.
"BArT is an amazing example of what a charter school can be and that is all thanks to Julia's leadership, her strength, her commitment, and passion," he said. "… She created this amazing public school option … and the best part of my job is to see schools like this grow."
North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright noted that the relationship between BArT and the city may not always have been the best but the school has become a great educational option for local children.
"As a former member of the McCann School Committee and as the chairman of the North Adams Public School Committee, I am a staunch supporter of educational venues that give children choices," he said. "Our kids need every opportunity they can get to help them succeed."
Alcombright also read citations from state Sen. Adam Hinds' office and from the late state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi's office. He said he believes it was one of her last acts.
"What is so fascinating about this is about two weeks before Gail passed I asked her to do this citation," he said. "The Monday after she passed ... her aide came in and gave this to me, so I have to think this is one of the last official acts Gail did."
Former Gov. Jane Swift also praised Bowen and read a citation from Gov. Charlie Baker's office.
Bowen's husband, Brad Svrluga, also read a message from former Gov. Mitt Romney, who vetoed a bill that would have placed a moratorium on charter schools in 2004 — and ended BArT before it began.
"It is what state government is supposed to do: lay a solid policy foundation and eliminate obstacles to empower community leaders with big ideas to thrive and succeed," he read. "The extraordinary part of the equation is you and your commitment and passion ... which has resulted in a remarkable institution that has touched so many students."
Svrluga also read a letter from former Gov. Deval Patrick.
"You took the BArT community to exemplary heights," Svrluga read. "Well done. Leadership isn't easy but when it is done with ambition, compassion and a spirit of service it makes a lasting difference. I am proud to know you."
Bowen was also surprised on Saturday by a certificate of recognition from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who gave her a hug at her town hall meeting.
Last to speak on Friday was BArT co-founder Bo Peabody who said the fear and challenges the school faced throughout the years only made it stronger.
"All entrepreneurial success ... come down to one thing: it is a delicate dance of between courage and fear and a lot of people celebrate with courage but we forget fear," he said. "The fear plays a huge role. The fear is what creates the opportunity in the first place. It creates the vacuum and the need."
"It also builds the strength and is why BArT is a success and strong enough to lose Julia … otherwise it may not have been as strong. So let's raise a glass to fear its important but of course, the real thanks goes to the courage."