Archive for January, 2007

It was quiet here for a couple of months, but the action on public education is heating up again.  There are more posts, and the stats for the blog show you’ve been reading. (I can’t see who is reading, only how many).

However, people haven’t been sharing comments.

So, here’s an open post. Comment (by clicking the on the comment link below) on anything related to public education, particularly in Providence, and especially on the East Side.


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Maureen Kenner, a teacher at Vartan Gregorian Elementary School, has passed along this following, wonderful, bit of news:

This weekend, in Long Beach, CA, Vartan Gregorian School at Fox Point is being named a “Title 1 Distinguished School”. As mentioned in the award, “Vartan Gregorian Elementary has distinguished itself as a innovative school with visionary leadership and a full contingent of well-trained and committed educators. Vartan Gregorian is one of the only elementary schools in Providence to have met annual yearly progress every year and has been repeatedly honored for exceptional student achievement and community engagement. Vartan Gregorian has made a concerted effort to connect the families of its students, and has a series of carefully planned and well-established parent engagement activities designed to cultivate a welcoming and accessible environment for all family members.”

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ESPEC Community Meeting Feb. 7th

Public Meeting

Martin Luther King Elementary School
35 Camp St. (between Olney & Doyle)
7:00 – 8:30 pm

Planned reopening of Nathan Bishop Middle School

Mayor Cicilline on Providence public education
Bill Bryan of Gilbane Construction on building options

Get Involved!
Help build a model school in our community
Learn how to advance public education city-wide

Please note:  This meeting is not the same as, and not intended to replace, the city-sponsored meetings to discuss the DeJong plan for the City’s schools. While attendees at the four DeJong meetings are likely to come from the areas where the meetings are held, they are not about specific schools.  The ESPEC meeting on the 7th focuses on Nathan Bishop. It is not city-sponsored, though we are grateful that the Mayor will join us to talk about the “bigger picture” of improving Providence schools.

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The Projo article below indicates schools in trouble. Obviously, there is much need for improvement, and ESPEC seeks to be part of that effort. But it’s important to dig deeper into what test scores mean. In some cases, the answer is that they are meaningless with respect to any reasonable approach to education. I’d like to offer Nathanael Greene Middle School as a case in point.

Greene is listed as a non-improving school, and thus subject to “restructuring”. This is based on the fact that Greene “only” hit 35 of 37 targets. That’s 94.6%, by the way, which is not usually considered a failing grade.

The two targets Greene did not hit were math and English scores for children with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans). Most, but not all, of these students are in special education, with moderate to severe learning and physical disabilities. (Other IEP’s might include speech therapy and the like).

Greene has about 65 such students. If it had less than 50 45 of these students, there would not be a separate category for them, their test scores would be subsumed into the test scores for the school and, like magic, Greene would have met all of it’s targets. It’s no surprise that smaller suburban schools with less than 50 such students meet their targets.

The most bizarre element of this is that the special ed kids are being asked to take the same tests as the other kids and to perform at grade level. If they don’t, the school is “non-performing”. This is nonsensical at best and quite unfair, both to the school and the students. I’ve heard parents and teachers talk about what happens when students with severe learning disabilities are presented with materials designed to see if they are performing at grade level. You can imagine that it’s an exercise in anxiety and frustration, quite likely harmful to the students, and definitely not a legitimate measurement of their progress.

This is not to say that Greene and other Providence schools are not in need of improvement, but we need to measure that need in ways that are fair to both student and schools. Greene is a great school. It has a highly professional administration and excellent teachers. There is no basis for wholesale replacement of staff, privitizing or any of the other dramatic consequences called for by the No Child Left Behind Law. It would be better to urge our our Congressional delegation to amend NCLB to remove unfair provisions.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll note that I’m co-president of the Greene PTO. It’s a great school, and I’m very proud to send my child there.)

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I’m excerpting this story from this morning’s ProJo.  The full article can be read here.

01:00 AM EST on Thursday, January 25, 2007
By Linda Borg- Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — The state education commissioner has told Supt. Donnie Evans that he must come up with a detailed plan for improving the city’s lowest-performing schools or face possible state intervention.

The entire school district is listed as a one in need of corrective action under the federal reform law No Child Left Behind. In order for a district to be classified as in need of corrective action, two of the three grade levels (for example, elementary and middle schools) must have large numbers of low-performing schools.

In Providence, three elementary schools — Alfred Lima, George West and Veazie Street — and five middle schools — Esek Hopkins, Gilbert Stuart, Nathan Bishop, Samuel Bridgham and Springfield — are listed as in need of corrective action. Under the law, schools that haven’t made adequate yearly progress toward meeting performance standards for four consecutive years face corrective action, which can range from changing the school’s leadership to hiring more literacy coaches.

Three middle schools — Nathanael Greene, Oliver Hazard Perry and Roger Williams — and two high schools — Mount Pleasant and Feinstein — haven’t improved significantly for at least five years and now face restructuring. Restructuring could include any or all of the following: replacing key staff, including the principal; reopening the school as a charter school; hiring a private firm to run the school or a state takeover.

McWalters hasn’t set a deadline by which the district must respond. And Evans said it is too early to say what restructuring might look like.


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More on West Broadway Elementary

ESPEC is obviously an East Side organization. We began with the announced closing of Nathan Bishop. All of us are interested in the fate of public education city-wide, though, so it’s important to observe the effects of other school-closings. This is from today’s ProJo.

School targeted to close felt more like a home
By Linda Borg

Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — West Broadway Elementary School is a period piece, four stories of stately brick and mortar that fit nicely in a neighborhood of 19th century mansions, many of them restored to their original grandeur.

Step inside the front doors and you see 12-foot ceilings, ornate moldings, even a chipped statue of Jesus, a reminder of the school’s earlier incarnation as a Catholic elementary school. The principal’s office feels like someone’s living room, with an electric fireplace, a well-used couch and a fish tank burbling in the corner.

“It’s a place I love to come to,” said Principal Frank Piccirilli. “In my 25 years in the system, I’ve never see a faculty work as well as this one.”

Piccirilli doesn’t want to harp on the negative. He doesn’t want to add to the hype surrounding the school’s closing. And so he concentrates on what makes this school, in the city’s polyglot West End, so special.

First, there are the parents. When Piccirili arrived two years ago, the school didn’t have an active PTO. Now, as many as 60 parents show up for meetings. The key was figuring out how to get them into the building, then making the school feel like it was theirs.

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West Broadway Elementary parents turned out last night to protest the planned closing of the School.   I wasn’t there, but here’s Linda Borg’s report in the ProJo.

School closing prompts protest
01:00 AM EST on Tuesday, January 23, 2007
By Linda Borg

Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — A standing-room-only crowd told Supt. Donnie Evans last night that they will not allow the West Broadway Elementary School to go gently into that good night.

But no comment was more wrenching that that of fifth grader Yusuf Sissoko, who said: “My teacher is the most wonderful teacher I’ve ever had. That school, people treat you great. I plan on working here when I grow up.”

With that, he hugged his teacher and they both burst into tears.

West Broadway Elementary School will be closed this fall because it does not meet fire code requirements for kindergarten students and first graders, whose classrooms must be on the ground floor. For years, the school received variances from the fire marshal, but last month, he told the School Department that he would no longer allow the violations to continue.

Evans met with a large number of parents on Thursday and promised that he would answer their questions. Last night, Evans emphasized that he did not promise to keep the school open. But the parents had apparently heard something else. They thought Evans had agreed to delay shutting the school until he had explored other possibilities.

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