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Archive for December, 2007

I am passing this along from Karina Wood, who is PTO chair at Vartan:

Vartan Gregorian Elementary School would like to announce the following upcoming events to welcome new parents to our community:

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008, 3:00 – 7:00 pm: Vartan Gregorian Media Center Grand Opening & Tours of the School

Current and prospective families are invited to join Principal DeAngelis, Councilman Yurdin, Mayor Cicilline and the Vartan Gregorian PTO in celebrating the official opening of Vartan Gregorian Elementary School’s new Media Center, situated next to the school at 455 Wickenden Street, Providence RI 02903. The Media Center occupies the renovated former Fox Point public bath house, a protected historic building. In addition to providing a state-of-the-art media center/library for the school, the building also has community rooms on the lower floor that will be shared by the school and the local community. The Grand Opening event will feature an Usborne Book Fair, short presentations, and refreshments. Free and open to all. Attendees are invited to purchase and donate a book to the library.

Plus, for families considering Gregorian enrollment, there will be tours of the school led by members of the PTO which will depart from the media center at 5pm, 5:30pm and 6pm. Principal DeAngelis will also be present to answer questions. No pre-registration is required for these evening tours.

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008, 10:00 – 10:45am: Principal DeAngelis and the VG PTO will be conducting a daytime school tour.

Please call the school to register for this tour: 456-9377.

If you have any questions regarding the Jan. 8th event or tours, please contact VG PTO co-president Karina Wood at 276-0377 or karinawood@cox.net

Thank you and Happy Holidays!

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City Response on Stranded School Buses

By now, everyone has heard about the Providence school children who were stuck on buses, which were themselves stuck in snow or traffic, yesterday. Some children did not get home until very late indeed. Mayor Cicillini has directed Police Chief Dean Esserman and City Chief of Administration John Simmons to conduct an investigation into what lead to this situation. They are to report within one week. The press release is here.

Personal note: There is obviously a lot of controversy here, and a lot of naming and blaming on talk radio. Perhaps the School Department could and should have done something different. I’ll wait for the report to decide. However, some praise is clearly due. The bus drivers were clearly in a no-win situation and, from all accounts I’ve heard, they took good care of the children in their charge under difficult circumstances. Principals and others stayed very late at schools, waiting for all the children left at school to be picked up.

I’ll also point out that problems would be greatly reduced if we had neighborhood schools, like Nathan Bishop, from which children could be more easily picked up by parents, or from which older children could walk home.

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What’s going on at Bishop?

A number of people have noticed a great deal of activity around Nathan Bishop lately, much of it at night. Last night, for instance, there was a tall light-boom shining into the second story windows.

No, this is not the beginning of construction. Rather, an independent film, titled Tanner Hall, is being shot there.

Thanks to steering committee member Bill Mott for stopping by to ask questions.

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The magazine US News and World Report has released its survey of 18,700 public high schools nationwide. No Rhode Island Schools were among the 100 “gold medal” schools, but Providence’s Classical High and two other state schools were among the 400 “silver medal” schools, putting them in the top 3% of schools in the nation, according to the US News methods. The other RI schools were Barrington High School and North Kingstown High School.

The ultimate ranking for each school was based on a “college readiness” index, on which Classical scored a 32.6, while Barrington received a 26.7, and N. Kingstown a 24.8. Thus, according to the US News rankings, Classical is the top public High School in Rhode Island. These three schools scores are very close on the state test performance index (Classical 89.5, N. Kingstown 90.8, Barrington 93.6).

Of course, one of these schools is not like the others. Classical is an examination school that admits students based on ability and achievement. At the same time, it is the only urban school of the group, and many students there come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In fact, 48% of Classical’s students are regarded as disadvantaged, compared to 7% in N. Kingstown and 2% in Barrington. The poverty-adjusted performance index for Classical is 3.5, compared to 1.2 for each of the other schools. This indicates that Classical is doing far better than should be expected, given the percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

You can read more about the report and search for schools at http://www.usnews.com/sections/education/high-schools/

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An email glitch prevented me from getting these up earlier, but here are Sam’s notes from yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Regents:

The Rhode Island Department’s Board of Regents approved State funding for Nathan Bishop in two meetings that took place on Wednesday afternoon.

The Finance Committee held the first meeting. The RIDE staff architect, Joseph DaSilva, discussed changes to the project that came out of the RIDE review process. The cost of the project was reduced by around $9 million due to some design changes and changes in the procurement process. Mr. DaSilva identified savings that were realized in the procurement process and in removing certain “multi-level” features of the building. While the details are not clear, it appears that he is describing changes to the “atrium” effect in the library/media center and the cafeteria. Mr. DaSilva also described greater “efficiencies” that were achieved by increasing the school’s capacity from 600 to 750.

I expressed a concern about this “efficiency”, stating that the current thinking on middle schools is away from larger schools towards smaller ones. I described our own work on the Superintendent’s Committee, and how we had recommended 450 students, but had agreed to 600.

At this point, one Regent, Angus Davis, asked if the State was requiring Providence to fill the school with 750 students, and the staff said no. He mentioned that bigger was not always better, and in fact in Woonsocket may have been a mistake. The Finance Committee then approved the project.

The full Board of Regents had its meeting later Wednesday afternoon. The RIDE architect made basically the same presentation. Angus Davis made a statement emphasizing the importance of the academic program inside the building, noting that Providence’s highest performing schools often were located in the District’s lowest quality buildings. He also encouraged ESPEC to work on addressing the issues of “bumping” and improvements in other parts of the City, such as Olneyville. The Regents approved the project, and now Providence can float the bonds to permit the project to proceed under the current legal regime (which remains in effect only until the end of the month) which permits RIDE approval to complete the process. (After January 1, the entire General Assembly will have to approve school funding projects for Providence.)

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ProJo on Regents’ Meeting

ProJo education reporter Linda Borg was at last night’s Regents’ meeting asking tons of questions and taking copious notes. Oddly, it seems this first step in the City’s $700M master plan for renovating Providence schools didn’t merit any space in the morning paper. I did find Linda’s report in the ProJo blog last night, but (for reasons I can’t imagine) it’s no longer there. Here, then, is her report, which you can find (and comment on!) here

Nathan Bishop Middle School to be renovated

PROVIDENCE — Providence has gotten the green light to renovate Nathan Bishop Middle School on the city’s East Side and an expanded career and technical center next to Central High School on Westminster Street. Together, both projects will cost $75.8 million, of which the state will pay $60.6 million.

The Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education approved the school construction projects at a special meeting this afternoon. These are the first two school projects to be approved under the state’s stringent new school construction regulations passed by the General Assembly last spring.

The $35-million Nathan Bishop renovation will completely remodel the building’s interior while preserving the brick exterior. The school will have the capacity to accommodate 750 students, who will grouped into clusters of four classrooms per floor.

In April, Providence Supt. Donnie Evans stunned parents when he decided to close Nathan Bishop for one year over the strong objections of everyone except the school’s neighbors. When the community complained about the lack of public input, Evans appointed a study committee to come up with recommendations to re-open Bishop as a model middle school that would attract East Side families, many of whom have fled the public schools.

The committee recommended renovating, rather than rebuilding, the existing middle school, which is considered a landmark in the Elmgrove neighborhood.

Last night, members of the study committee expressed relief that Nathan Bishop would re-open.

“I’m extraordinarily encouraged and thrilled that the regents approved this,” said Tom Schmeling, a member of the East Side Public Education Coalition. “But we’ve got quite a ways to go.”

The new career & technical center will cost $40.8 million and involve building an addition to the existing Hanley Career & Technical Center, which has already undergone extensive renovations. The career center will feature a state-of-the-art construction trades program and will accommodate 800 students.

— Journal staff writer Linda Borg

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Regents Approve Bishop Plan!

This afternoon, the RI Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education have unanimously approved the renovation plans for Nathan Bishop Middle School. The Bishop plan was approved along with the plans for the Hanley Career Technical Education Center, which is another very worthy project benefiting Providence children.

This is the final step of official government approval required for this project. The process of issuing bonds for construction should begin within the week, and the process of gathering bids for construction should take place soon thereafter. The construction time-frame is somewhat shorter than we would like to ensure a September 2009 opening, and we will have to be vigilant in monitoring progress to make sure that work is begun as soon as is possible. We will also have to pay close attention to the construction process to ensure that the quality of the renovation is not compromised by budget and time pressures.

Nonetheless, this is a great day for Providence public education! On behalf of the ESPEC steering committee, I would like to thank you all for your hard work advocating for our children and our public schools. Thanks are also due to the Mayor and his staff, Councilman Wood, Majority Leader Fox, Superintendent Evans, the RI Department of Education staff, and the Regents themselves.

Sam Zurier has agreed to write up a summary of today’s meeting, which will be posted here sometime tomorrow.

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