Our Children, Our City is a project of the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet. Our Children, Our City is looking to raise the voices of families, communities, and organizations as they develop an agenda for education based on a common vision for the success of all children in Providence. This summer, local leaders will be holding community conversations to solicit feedback on public education in Providence — and the recommendations will be presented to the current and future leaders of Providence. One of these will be held on the East Side on July 2nd. Here are the details:

Wednesday, July 2

5:00–7:30pm (dinner from 5:00 to 5:30)

■ Everett Company Stage School

■ 9 Duncan Avenue, Providence RI 02906

Childcare and dinner provided. Spanish- and English-speaking facilitators will be present.

For more on the Children and Youth Cabinet, go to: http://www.cycprovidence.org/about

See the attached flyer for more information:


The school is hosting an informational tour on Wed. Jan 15th.

To join a tour, please RSVP to the PTO at vgprospectiveparents@gmail.com.

On the date of your tour, enter through the (455) Wickenden Street doors and sign in at the main office. You will be directed to the Parent Zone.

Tours will begin at 10 AM and last approximately one hour. You will have a chance to visit classrooms, speak with current parents and teachers and ask as many questions as you like!

Please feel free to spread the word. The PTO hopes to see you soon.

Kindergarten Registration for Providence Public Schools starts tomorrow. If you are interested in a Providence Public School, this is probably the best time to enter! Attached is the Registration Schedule with other useful information:

Tomorrow, January 10, the PTO and staff are offering a tour of Providence’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School for prospective families. It will be at 9:30am and last about an hour. Please share this info with friends and family members who are considering kindergarten (or other grades) for next year. Thanks!

Information is available on-line about Providence’s new Kindergarten lottery.

See the following link:


ms open schools 2013

Please click on the link above


Please click on the flyer to enlarge

Kindergarten registration for Providence Public Schools is just around the corner. Thanks to Anisa Raoof for publishing this comprehensive on-line guide:


Providence Schools’ website contains information at the following link:


We would urge all East Side residents who are considering public education for their children to carefully look at both Martin Luther King and Vartan Gregorian. They are both excellent choices.

We’ve been contacted by a parent who had a number of questions about the academic programs at Nathan Bishop.

We’ve heard about the “word on the street”, and this post is intended to clarify, to the best of our ability, the state of academics at Nathan Bishop. Ultimately, we would strongly advocate that parents come to the building, talk to the Principal, Guidance staff, and teachers, and form their own opinions.

Nathan Bishop just graduated its first full three year class of students since reopening. To say this was a pioneering group of students is an understatement. They entered a building that had just been extensively remodeled, with a teaching and support staff that was only 33% hired, and into a program that had not existed several months earlier. Readers of this blog will note that extensive administrative and community involvement went into formulating what the “new” Nathan Bishop would be. Again, if there are questions, talk to the parents of recent graduates… Most everyone left the building on “promotion day” with wide smiles on their faces.

Providence Public Schools at this time continues to only designate Nathanael Greene as having an “Advanced Academic Program”. For years, this was the best public middle school option for parents with motivated, academically talented children. There are 104 seats per year, and your child is either “all in” or “all out” of the advanced core classrooms.  Over the years discussions were held at the School Department about expanding the Advanced Academic programming to other middle schools, but entropy prevailed.

The opportunity to re-open Nathan Bishop allowed the planners of the academic programming to come up with an “a la carte” advanced programming concept. Unlike Nathanael Greene, your child might be advanced in math and average in English, and would participate in classes geared to their academic level.

There never was “tracking” at Nathan Bishop (except for a separate Math track that parallels the Math program at Nathanael Greene (7th grade algebra and 8th grade geometry)). Instead, the school administrators and guidance counselors made an effort to group students by ability, such that the teachers could differentiate instruction between the stronger and weaker students. Core concepts were taught, and enriched material or advanced goals were provided to the kids that could benefit from them. This coming year, another option for an enriched core math program is being discussed, which won’t shortchange kids by jumping ahead too quickly.

Over the past two years more and more high performing kids have been coming into the school. The administrators and faculty at Bishop see this as an opportunity to expand advanced level instruction to a larger group of students. Their goal is to meet the school department standards and mandates, and then to supplement and exceed them for appropriate students.

Nathan Bishop benefits from the involvement of a number of community organizations, including the Gamm Theater, and PASA, the Providence After School Alliance. Dedicated teachers have organized theatrical presentations (including Shakespeare), talent shows, and a Science Olympiad team. In fact, the Nathan Bishop team placed 2nd in the state-wide Science Olympiad 2 years ago, and 4th this past year… not bad for a school new to the competition!

And don’t forget the beauty of having this dedicated faculty in your own neighborhood school. While many of our children attended Nathanael Greene, and had great experiences, there was something wonderful about our kids at Bishop being able to walk or ride their bikes to school, and develop a large cadre of friends in the neighborhood, with whom they could spontaneously get together with after school, rather than having to rely on “play dates” to get back and forth across town. The value is outstanding. You have paid for it. What is private school tuition this year? $26K? More?

Every school has a few “warts”, and Bishop is no exception. The strength of any public school comes from a principal, faculty, parents, and students that are strong supporters  of the academic mission, the student body, and the school culture. Nathan Bishop has this, and will benefit from further investment by East Side parents.

Many of the ESPEC steering committee members have had, have, or will have students in the building. We’re happy to answer any questions we can, but feel that the best information will come from taking a tour of the building and talking to the Principal and other faculty members. You can call the school about a tour, or attend the Open House in the Fall (see links below). You have to take that first step though. Many of your neighbors have, and with few exceptions, were happy they did.

A few pertinent links:





Please see Jill Davidson’s post about the upcoming Hope High School Alumni Association weekend, including links to the Alumni Association and the event itself. This is the 3rd Annual Alumni Weekend at Hope, and proceeds from the weekend benefit the Alumni Association “Reach for the Stars” Alumni Scholarship.

More at:





I’ve read the Projo article, Bob Kerr’s wonderful editorial in the Projo yesterday, and much of the bloviation on the Projo blogs about Sam’s letter to the Witman’s.

Sam has apologized for writing the letter. We all agree that it came off as inappropriate, and was probably not a smart thing to have written.

The lynch-mob mentality that flows out of the Projo blogs has got to stop. Our lovely local Republican party leadership is not helping either with their Facebook site (shame on you Ms. Pinsky – how many years have you and your family known and even worked with Sam?). I was even distressed by the tact taken by this morning’s Political Roundtable speakers on RIPR, and was proud of Mayor Angel Tavares for not getting sucked in by their line of questioning.

Anyone who knows Sam (as I have for 20 years) knows that he is a man of utmost honesty and integrity.

Sam has devoted his entire “extra-curricular” life to public service.

He is a cerebral and academic politician (remind you of any Presidents we know?).  He’s not the type to show up at community pot-luck suppers and bingo games, and frankly doesn’t always say the right thing in a social situation.

But don’t impugn his integrity.

This is how I understand (but again, don’t condone) Sam’s letter. Sam is a man of his word. Truth is more meaningful to him than most everything else. Sam was asked to do something on behalf of his constituents, and was able to do so. They made a commitment to him, and didn’t keep their word. For Sam, that showed a lack of integrity. His letter was basically a way of telling them that he was disappointed that they didn’t keep their word, as he had. There was no quid-pro-quo. The service had already been provided by the city.  Should Sam have let the unkept promise of a campaign contribution go? Of course. But Sam is not a politician’s (politically correct) politician. And so he wrote the letter expressing his disappointment. The closing paragraph indicates that he was going to have to change his expectations about how people interact with one another, not that he was going to change the service he would provide his constituents.

Did the Witman’s have a right to be disturbed by the letter? I think everyone would agree that they did. I’m sure they have a lot to be angry about. But the creation of this tempest-in-a-teapot certainly makes me question their integrity. Also, who asks a City Contractor if they could also pave their driveway, while a city-contracted service is being performed?

Bob Kerr seems to indicate that Sam was doing “something that everyone does”. Bob: where are the legions of other constituents that Sam has shook down? Why aren’t they coming out of the woodwork? Perhaps because they don’t exist.

Please don’t impugn Sam’s honesty.

What about Sam’s role as a Councilman?

In the twenty-two years I have lived in this city, I have never before seen a member of the City Council take such an interest in the day-to-day workings of the Council, or make them transparent to his constituents. Every week or two Sam sends out and posts a letter describing in detail the issues facing the City, and the deliberations taken by the City Council to address them. Sam has held open community meetings to discuss issues of importance to his constituents. Sam helped dissect the Achievement First application, and came up with a middle-of-the-road compromise that showed a real understanding of the issues raised by two diametrically opposed camps. Sam has served as the Chair of the Council’s Revenue Subcommittee, and has helped explore numerous logical, intelligent ways of helping the City find the revenue to deal with its structural deficits. In his role as Education Subcommittee Chair, Sam helped dissect the PTU contract proposals so that we could all understand the many implications, including some of the problems we are now facing with a “no-layoff” clause. We are truly blessed to have someone of his intelligence participating in City Council affairs.

Please don’t impugn Sam’s forthrightness.

Someone on a Projo blog even claimed that the only reason Sam helped reopen Nathan Bishop was that he was too cheap to pay for schools for his children. First, Sam never sent his children to Nathan Bishop. Second, if the writer of that comment had any idea of how many unpaid, voluntary hours Sam (and several of us) put into the Nathan Bishop project, they would eat their words. I, and many other neighbors, have sent our children to Nathan Bishop, and are grateful for his involvement.

Sam, I am sure, has learned many lessons from this public tar and feathering. He has apologized. The letter was wrong. But now this needs to stop. Let him get back to the business of representing Ward 2, honorably, in the City Council.

Note that this piece was not vetted by the entire ESPEC Steering Committee, but I am sure that most members would stand behind many if not all of these comments.

Read an article last week about hiring of teachers this coming year in Providence. The details can be found at the link below:

Existing teachers to get first shot under hiring plan on Page A6 of Thursday, February 02, 2012 issue of The Providence Journal

Because our PTU contract contains a no lay-off clause, interim Supt. Lusi and PTU President Steve Smith devised a plan “to give inside candidates the first shot at job openings”. We had raised some concerns about this last October:


An interview process is in place. “The most senior candidate will be afforded an interview”.

Teachers who haven’t  been hired will be assigned to an existing job using a computer match algorithm. We had heard last year that Principals HAD to rank teachers, even if they did not want them.

The article goes on to state that ONCE interior candidates are hired, any remaining jobs will be opened to applicants from outside the district. That is when the “Criterion-based hiring process” begins. So what happens during the interior candidate interview process? What criteria are used for making hiring decisions involving those teachers??

The CBH process was heavily scripted and regulated.  As originally envisioned, it was to be used for all hiring decisions in Providence schools.  The elements of the revised, and now severely curtailed, CBH process have not yet been released.

This raises some serious concerns about the process used for hiring internal candidates, and more importantly, suggests that it will be nearly impossible for “fresh blood” to come into the system. The article quotes Lusi as saying “Why not look first to our best Providence teachers?”

While there will certainly be some excellent teachers looking for new positions this coming year, why do we suspect that the majority of the teachers who are looking will not be among “the best”?

I was pleased to hear that Lt. Col. Raoul Archambault, one of the teacher-leaders of the JROTC program at Hope High School, received a “Golden Apple” award this week from RIDE, NBC10, and Hasbro.

Information about the award can be found at the following links:




I met Lt. Col. Archambault and some of his students a few weeks ago at the Hope High open house.

I was so impressed with these kids, their achievements, their investment in their school and the JROTC program, as well as the overall school environment. These students took me on a tour of the school, and proudly showed me not only their listings on the school academic honor rolls and the JROTC trophies, but many of the other positive features of Hope High, including the newly renovated (and beautiful) science classrooms. I also met several very engaging teachers.

Overall, I came away very impressed, and hopeful that East Siders could and should consider looking at Hope High School for their high school age children.

There they go again…

For reasons unclear to us, the Projo often seems to find that pitting one neighborhood against another makes for good news.

The Projo editorial staff came out today in favor of the Achievement First Mayoral Academy Charter application.

The article can be found at the following link:


In the editorial they state “Some in the richer neighborhoods worry that their schools could suffer if some of the city’s education resources go to new charter schools”.

Here is the link to ESPEC’s statement, found on this blog:


We certainly don’t make that assertion anywhere.

And FYI: Who were among the first to oppose the AF application? Parents living in poorer neighborhoods of the city:



Parents THROUGHOUT the city are concerned that their schools may suffer if some of the city’s education resources go to new charter schools… get it?

And we agree with the Projo editorialists, the bottom line should be increasing educational opportunities for ALL students, in ALL neighborhoods, via addressing the barriers to meaningful change, posted in our letter/blog.

An article in today’s Providence Journal details how students at Hope High School, organized as Hope United, met with Sodexho to have a fresh salad bar installed in the school cafeteria, the first in the City of Providence.

Details can be found at the following link:

Students lead the charge for healthy eating on Page A1 of Tuesday, January 10, 2012 issue of The Providence Journal

Hopefully, this is just the earliest of many examples of community partners seriously working with students, parents, and other stakeholders to help institute positive changes in our schools.

East Side Public Education Coalition

                                                                                    January 8, 2012

Board of Regents

Rhode Island Department of Education

255 Westminster Street

Providence, RI 02903

To Whom It May Concern:

The application submitted by Achievement First to the Rhode Island Department of Education to open two Mayoral Academy charter schools has provided community members from Providence and beyond with an opportunity to participate in a discussion about the programs and structures that will allow all children in public schools to receive the support and challenge they need to succeed in school and life. Both Achievement First’s proposed program and achievements and successes happening now in Providence’s public schools have informed our understanding of what is required to create and sustain such schools and the system that supports them.

We believe we must find ways to do what we know works to improve the public system. Rhode Island public school students trail the nation in measures of academic achievement and face an appalling racial and socioeconomic achievement gap. As we address these challenges, we must find the political will to face barriers to the institution of meaningful changes, which include:

–       a longer school day and school year

–       accessible high quality early childhood education

–       providing wraparound support services

–       community partnerships that allow for expanded learning opportunities and more time for learning

–       high quality curriculum matched to the needs of the learner

–       school-based decision-making by principal, teachers and parents on budget allocation, hiring and personnel management

–       meaningful professional development which meets both national standards and local needs

–       an assistant principal in every school with 400 or more students

We support strategic planning and investments that leverage these strategies for the benefit of as many children as possible.

Given the district’s dwindling finances and stagnant population, the establishment of Achievement First charter schools at the scale proposed by the charter application could have the effect of closing at least one district school and pulling resources away from Providence Schools at the time they are most needed. Given that the district has a high number of schools that struggle to support their students, including those schools identified as Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) schools for which closure is an option, we understand the urgent need for alternatives and choices. However, Providence has chosen to keep these schools open and invest in their staff members, students, and structures in order to improve student achievement. We need to focus on improvements that can be made in the existing public schools, learning from and keeping what works and changing what does not. We are concerned that if RIDE were to approve this charter application, it would divert scarce resources from our existing public schools and decrease the possibility that all children in Providence public schools would have the opportunity to attend high performing schools.

Mayor Taveras and Superintendent Lusi have stated that they wish to learn from Achievement First’s successes in other states to bring better practices to the Providence Public Schools. It is important to note that while there already are numerous “bright lights” in the Providence Schools, as acknowledged in the Education Opportunity Working Group’s November 2011 “Educate Providence” report, the Providence Public School Department (PPSD) does not have a system in place to identify, acknowledge, celebrate, and disseminate best practices already in existence. We contend that PPSD should use its resources to study and disseminate best practices already in our system before bringing in an outside organization to run our schools. Without the habits of sharing knowledge within the district, there’s no clear way for a newly introduced organization to share its practices.
Though Achievement First would present an option that could appeal to a number of PPSD families, the prospect of opening a new school will cause a level of disruption that our district can’t sustain. Choices about the schools offering educational options to the students in our district should align with the mission and vision of the district. However, the district’s vision isn’t at all clear at this time. We believe that the plans from the Mayor’s office and the Superintendent’s office need to be aligned and clarified, with appropriate and meaningful public input, before we make such potentially impactful decisions about introducing new schools into PPSD.

We are concerned about the unacknowledged cost impact that proposed Achievement First schools may pose. When Providence closed several schools last year, a leading rationale was transportation cost reduction. However, because they are not neighborhood schools, the Achievement First charter schools will increase transportation costs significantly due to the need to bring children from four different communities to the schools.

We are also concerned that the Achievement First schools may exacerbate rather than ameliorate the district’s equity issues. For example, an advantage of charter schools is that they have the potential for more flexibility than in-district public schools. Achievement First uses that flexibility to offer a significantly longer school day that allows educators to create a more effective learning environment. However, the length of the Achievement First school day stands in stark contrast to that of the Providence Public Schools’ standard school day. It seems inequitable that if this application were approved, some Providence children would have an 8.50 hour day and 190 -195 day school year, while others would have only a 6.08 hour day and 180 day school year. We want to know how the district can use its resources to pursue expanded and extended learning for all students.

We support choices and welcome innovation in our school district. We are not opposed to charter schools. However, we are not convinced that this is the right choice, and note that because the deadline for prospective charter schools to apply to RIDE is March 1, 2012, it is likely that additional charter applications, such as that of the Meeting Street School, will be submitted that offer both options to Providence students as well as potential threats to the district’s finances. We therefore suggest that the Board of Regents at the very least delay making a decision about the Achievement First application until we have a fuller picture of the charter options for the 2013 school year.

While the individual members of ESPEC hold diverse views, we agree that it is not clear that bringing these particular Achievement First charter schools to Providence at the currently proposed scale is the best decision. We therefore oppose the charter application as it currently stands. We agree with the concerns raised by other community groups about the financial costs, the failure to serve the whole student population, and the loss of public accountability inherent in the Achievement First application. We have observed that the public process to date has been divisive and unhelpful to parents who are genuinely seeking information. We believe strongly that concerned parents and community groups should pull together so that energy currently devoted toward and against Achievement First is instead directed toward identifying the assets of the schools we currently have in Providence and working systematically and swiftly toward their improvement.

As Mayor Taveras and Providence Public Schools administrators implement improvements that improve the learning experience and outcomes of all our children in all our schools, we must manage our scarce resources as wisely as possible both to encourage innovation and to preserve and invest in existing schools. We are aware of how challenging this is, and in that light want to question whether establishing Achievement First Schools in Providence via the Mayoral Academy charter school structure is the best move we can make now for long-run success.


Jill Davidson

Michael Kenney

Bill Mott

Harlan Rich

Kim Rohm

Karina Wood

on behalf of the ESPEC Steering Committee

cc:        Governor Lincoln Chaffee

Mayor Angel Taveras

Superintendent Susan Lusi

Julie Tremaine, Executive Editor, East Side Monthly

Linda Borg, Education Reporter, Providence Journal


PPSD has posted the dates for registration for Kindergarten in Providence Public Schools.

This can be found at the following link:

http://www.providenceschools.org/media/159414/registration dates for new kindergarten students.pdf

Note that if you have any interest in sending your child to your neighborhood elementary school, you have the best chance of getting your choice if you enroll your child in Kindergarten at that school. Once the slots are filled by neighborhood students (80%), the remaining slots are given to children from outside the neighborhood (20%)(there may be some exceptions made to this for siblings). If seats reserved for neighborhood children are not filled, they will be given to non-neighborhood students who chose to opt for a non-neighborhood elementary school. After Kindergarten, the only seats available in later grades generally become available through attrition. Hence, it may be much more difficult to enroll your child in your neighborhood elementary school in 1st grade or beyond.

While we are pondering our student-centered, positive, district-supporting response to the AF debate (and it is coming soon), we have run across the following blog posts and articles in the media. A theme emerges, which we will let speak for itself:

The first is a blog post from Keith Catone, a senior research associate at Brown’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, written as a response to the presentations made at one of RIDE’s open meetings to discuss the AF application:


The second is an article from Time.com:


The third is an Op-Ed piece from the NY Times:


There is also an older Op-Ed from the Times that echo’s some of our previous comments about the need for all stakeholders, including teachers unions, to come together to support positive, student-centered reform:


About a woman of valor

Margarita Arentsen, a single mother of four and fairly recent transplant from Texas to RI, has, for all intents and purposes, held the Hope High School PTO together by herself since the beginning of this school year.

She has set up a Face book page:


and attends PAC and SIT meetings, in addition to meetings with school administrators, Sodexo, Hope United (the activist student group at Hope), and others.

Several years ago the school department had a “Facilitator of School Support and Community/Family Engagement” at Hope that helped communicate with and motivate parents to participate in the PTO. Since that position was discontinued, the Hope PTO has been run (and essentially consisted of) a very small number of dedicated parents.

This is written to express great appreciation for all the Margarita has done, to ask both parents and students to chip in to support the Hope PTO (before it vanishes), and to ask the school department to really support parent engagement through the active assistance of a facilitator, rather than the passive placement of “parent zones” which, if there is no PTO, are little more than wasted space.

Aaron Regunberg writes in GoLocalProv today about a letter sent to Governor Chafee, in opposition to Achievement First’s application to manage Mayoral Academies in Providence.


We were asked to sign on to the letter. Many members of our steering committee wanted to sign. A few did not. Ultimately, we missed our chance to be signatories to this letter.

I’m okay with that.

The letter spells out a number of very solid reasons why a network of Achievement First schools in Providence might have a negative effect on our schools and school children. We agree with most if not all of them.

We’ve asked why the Superintendent of Schools and School Board supported the AF application. We were told that students needed as many good opportunities as they could get, and that perhaps Providence could glean some “best practices” from being able to observe AF managing schools up close.

It makes you wonder though… If the school department sees many of the practices of Achievement First as desirable, or perhaps even something to emulate, why not introduce those practices to the Providence Public schools? And if you do bring in AF, don’t you establish two “classes” of education, where the AF kids get additional resources, longer school days, more flexible educational practices, and so on, relative to the kids in Providence Public Schools?

Aaron goes on to state that the letter is summed up by the last paragraph, which states:

“Our repudiation of Achievement First is not an affirmation of the status quo nor is it a condemnation of all charter schools. The persistent achievement gaps that exist in our schools must be addressed, but no organization or methodology should claim to close those gaps while posting mixed academic results and undermining democratic processes. We implore your help in creating education policies, developed in conjunction with parents, teachers, students, and other local stakeholders, that help all young people enrolled in our public schools.”

ESPEC provided the first sentence to that paragraph. And while we completely agree with the statements in the rest of that paragraph, some of us wanted to push the paragraph in a different direction.

Aaron states that “much of the pro-AF rhetoric I’ve heard lately has attempted to frame all opposition to Achievement First as coming from the teachers union and as being against educational change in general”.  Some of us wanted the last paragraph to state that positive change in our schools was not going to come given the union’s intransigence, or as a result of adherence to current contractual imperatives. Some felt that these statements would detract from the letter, and ultimately the group signing the letter (which includes union representation) did not want those statements included.

Our contribution was an attempt to honestly state the obvious. Unions are important. Unions provide protections to our students and our teachers. Unions though should not guide educational policy. A significant resistance to substantive change in how our schools are run comes from the union. Why do we still have ineffective teachers in some of our students’ classrooms? How many years has it taken to put a teacher evaluation protocol in place? How difficult was it to gain the concession to add 5″ to the school day (less than 1″ per period), still leaving Providence with one of the shortest school days in the State? Why, in order to have parent teacher conferences, do our children need to stay home two days in the middle of a school week? Why did the City sign on to a contract essentially guaranteeing all teachers their jobs for the next three years (in the face of the designation of PLA schools, a shrinking student body [which would shrink more if AF started competing for students], etc.)? How could Providence even begin to emulate some of the positive elements of a Charter school, given contractual constraints?

The most wonderful thing about this group’s letter is also perhaps the most distressing. What a large, diverse group of concerned citizens who signed on to this letter! And yet, this group came together to essentially say “no”. Yes, they make a plea in the last paragraph for the involvement of multiple stakeholders in developing policies to help all young people in our public schools, but who will operationalize this?

Hopefully, this group will continue to work together, and with the City, parents, and students, now and in the future, in an open, honest, and transparent fashion, to promote, support, and develop positive change in our schools, focusing on the needs of our students first and always. That’s something we’d sign onto in a heartbeat.