Archive for June, 2006

Good News on Hope High Theater

The Hope High Theater Program has been spared, or at least given another chance. You can read the story in this Projo article (free registration required). Kudos to those who worked hard to save this valuable experience, and to the officials who realized its value and kept it. Also to RIC, which will be offering an after-school theater class this fall that will enable students to receive college credit.


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Followup on taxes

Despite the poll results below, the legislature last night passed a cap on property tax increases. Property owners may rejoice, but friends of public education will be concerned. There is still no adequate state funding formula. Last year the ProJo reported:

RHODE ISLAND ranks near the bottom — 43rd nationally — for state support of education. The state claims second place in dependence on property tax to pay for schools. Only Hawaii relies more heavily on property taxes than Rhode Island, according to studies cited by the speakers. (3/13/05).

While property tax relief is welcome, the combination of high reliance on property taxes and limits on those taxes could spell trouble for public schools, as in California after Prop. 13. Perhaps the silver lining will be that it will force a rethinking of the state formula- hopefully before too much damage is done.

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Here's another issue that's not on ESPEC's immediate agenda, but which matters to the success of public education in Providence. Results from the recent poll done by my colleague Vic Profughi and the RIC Bureau of Government Research Services were reported in the ProJo. I don't think this item made it into the paper:

60% said that before enacting property tax relief, the state should "come up with a new, more equitable state education aid formula". 30% said property tax relief first, and 9% didn't know. The margin of error was +/- 5%.

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The Providence Schools site has this news release on the Bishop committee. (Link opens a PDF file)

The press release from Superintendent Evans lists the names of the committee members and says,

The Committee was created when it became evident that many residents, parents, teachers and students wished to become active partners in school improvement efforts after the announced closing of Bishop for the 2006-2007 school year.

“The East Side community has been overwhelmingly vocal about preserving Nathan Bishop Middle School and quality public education on the East Side of Providence for future generations,” said Superintendent Donnie Evans. “We welcome members of the Nathan Bishop Planning Committee to help the School Department in making recommendations for the future of Bishop, and we always welcome the involvement of the community to play a part in the improvement of our schools.”

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Although ESPEC has been focused on the elementary and middle schools, and Bishop in particular, we're concerned with good-quality education at all schools on the East Side, including Hope High. Clearly, if we are successful in bringing back good-quality middle school education, the high schools will have to be on our agenda sooner or later.

Recently, it was announced that Hope High was going to lose its theater teacher and program. This is at a school with Arts as one of its core components. It would leave only 2 theater teachers in Providence, one at Greene and one at Classical. The issue was before the School Board last Monday.

Last Monday's school board meeting was shut down by protests. The most vocal group was protesting the removal of a middle school principal but there were also Hope theater supporters there. (The meeting was not scheduled to allow public comment. The Board said they were legally precluded from adding a comment period. The protesters took exception and kept talking until the Board decided to postpone the meeting).

The Board moved the meeting to Monday, June 26 and scheduled public comment for then. The agenda can be viewed here. The Hope theater issue is still on it.

If you want to speak on this subject (or any other agenda item), or just want to hear the discussion (which will without question be highly interesting), the meeting is at 797 Westminster at 7pm Monday. (Usually the public meeting begins at 6:30, but this is special). There is usually 1/2 hour for comment. 3 minutes per person. You must arrive early to sign up.

As of tonight, we are hearing rumors that the program may not be cut after all, but have no confirmation of this. Until there's an official announcement, it's probably best to regard this as a live issue.

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Moe Finigan (She's a King parent and PTO leader) posted this in the comments on the "Public School Success" topic. I'm not sure how many readers follow up comments on older posts and thought this deserved more attention:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School Good News
Mr. Lazzareschi is the principal at MLK and has worked wonders in that school. He’s a person who comes up with solutions to problems instead of getting caught up with complaints. He’s made the year a great one for everyone at the school and will continue to do so.

I was told by our principal that 55 students from MLK School will be attending Nathanael Greene next year. He thought that was how many made it into the Academic Advanced Program there, but I haven’t checked to confirm that.

This year the Solatiti Trio, a world-reknowned classical music trio, came into the school to do a 10-week program with 4th grade students which culminated in a final performance in December. This was funded by a grant from RISCA and was a big success.


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This could go as a comment on the Bishop meeting, but it's important enough for its own post:

Linda Borg's report on the Bishop Committee (link here when available) appears to be generally accurate and fair. One point, however, stood out to ESPEC members. Ms. Borg says,

"Keeping Bishop open does not come without certain costs, however. Under the DeJong proposal, at least one of the three public schools on the East Side would be closed"

(She refers to King, Bishop or Gregorian, but DeJong's plans don't propose closing Gregorian).

The futures of Bishop and King are certainly linked, but it doesn't have to be an either/or choice. Firsst, as Bill DeJong frequently points out, his proposals are recommendations based on current enrollments, and the City of Providence (that's us!) will make the choices. (He is helping us reconcile the fact that PSD's enrollment figures are significantly below the census numbers).

We think demand for public education on the East Side is strong enough to support the schools we have. We think this will be seen soon after Bishop is reopened with an attractive building and good programs including advanced academics. Some people will be ready to jump right in (those already in public schools, those for whom the economic burden of private education is highest, those who really believe in public education for its contributions to democracy and social mobility, etc). Others may need a year or two of successful operation to be convinced. Under the DeJong plan, things don't all happen at once, so there should be time for this to happen.

To a great extent, we have argued that "if you build it, they will come". At the same time, PSD and the city are going to have demonstrate to skeptics that they are serious about providing excellent schools and are working effectively toward that goal. East Siders themselves are going to have to step up to the plate too. An intelligent, creative, cooperative and long-term effort is going to have to be made to avoid the eventual loss of one of the East Side schools. We all need to pitch in.

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