Archive for the ‘National Education Issues’ Category

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.


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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:


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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.

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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.

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Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living to host the 2011 Sustainable Schools Summit on November 16th at Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence.


The Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living will host the 2011 Sustainable Schools Summit on Wednesday, November 16th at Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm.  The Summit will bring together teachers, students, parents, administrators, facilities managers, and other members of school communities from across the state to showcase successful local initiatives and to provide participants with the knowledge, resources, and support network to move their school toward greater sustainability.


The event, now in its fourth year, is made possible through partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, Rhode Island College, Providence Public Schools, Aramark, and Sodexo. Agenda highlights include Opening Remarks by Commissioner Gist and Providence Schools Superintendent Lusi, as well as a Keynote Address by RI’s Teacher of the Year, Shannon Donovan.


Participants will have the opportunity to attend hands-on workshops addressing topics ranging from “School Green Teams in Action” to “State and National Curricular Models” and visit a variety of exhibitors offering resources and programs to improve school sustainability.


The event will close with a presentation on the Green Ribbon Schools Program in RI and an evening panel sharing the inspiring story of Nathan Bishop, a school whose community rallied to restore and improve the building and is now showcased as one of the State’s leading high performance schools!


For more information about the event or to register go to www.apeiron.org.

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Kathy Crain was nice enough to attend the City Council Finance Committee meeting tonight at City Hall.

She reports the following:

Matt Clarkin (the Internal Auditor) did an analysis of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and puts the projected savings at $21,686,274 over the next three years. He did not include the retirements of 55 teachers because he does not believe those to be part of the CBA negotiations. He adds that the savings resulting from increasing the school day 5 minutes/year for three years with no increase in pay is $14,727,272 over the course off the next three years. Perhaps the most interesting point, however, is the one that was brushed aside. Matt Clarkin writes this of the No Layoff Provision:

‎”A new layoff provision has been included in this Agreement. Specifically, this new provision prohibits the School Board from laying off or terminating PTU members for financial reasons. This new provision removes an option the School Board had available to balance future budgets and could result in the establishment of a new pool of displaced teachers. The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) is expected to identify more Providence schools as “Persistently Lowest-Achieving” (PLA). Additional funds are available to a PLA-designated school. THe designated school must undergo an improvement or corrective plan, and there are four School Reform Models (Turnaround Model, Restart Model, Transformation Model and School Closure) for each PLA school to choose. Dependent upon the Reform Model chosen, there could be teachers displaced from the PLA school. For example, the Turnaround Model requires that no more than 50% of the teachers currently at a PLA-designated (sic) be rehired. The Turnaround Model would likely result in new teachers being hired and a number of the teachers who worked at that PLA school being displaced at the beginning of the new school year. It is unclear as to whether this layoff provision will prohibit the School Department form laying off teachers who were displaced from a PLA school. If layoffs in such instances are prohibited, THE END RESULT WILL LIKELY BE A NEW POOL OF DISPLACED TEACHERS BEING MAINTAINED WITHIN THE SCHOOL DEPARTMENT. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE AT THIS TIME TO QUANTIFY THE FUTURE PROJECTED COSTS TO THE SCHOOL DEPARTMENT, BUT DEPENDENT UPON RIDE’S DESIGNATION OF ADDITIONAL PLA SCHOOLS, THE REFORM MODEL CHOSEN, AND THE MOVEMENT OF CURRENTLY EMPLOYED TEACHERS FROM AND TO THESE SCHOOLS, THE TOTAL COST OF A NEW POOL OF TEACHERS COULD BE SIGNIFICANT. (emphasis added).”
Kathy goes on to state:
“If the City Council approves this, then our elected officials – the Mayor and the City Council – are willfully and knowingly approving a very short term fix that (a) will cost the School Department significantly in the long run, and (b) does very little in terms of educational reform. The Mayor has cut a deal that doesn’t even save money in the long run. How incredibly short-sighted.”
Anyone remember the GM “Rubber Room”?
The final meeting is:
WEDNESDAY, 5:30pm:
PUBLIC HEARING ON THE TEACHERS CONTRACT, City Council Chambers, 3rd Floor, City Hall. Parents and all PVD residents encouraged to give public comment.
Parents from all parts of Providence should come to this Council hearing and  speak out on the teachers contract.

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I came across an article in the Projo the other day.

Entitled “Providence’s School Management Team Dispersing”, it details the “exodus” of five of six top managers of the Providence School Department, including Tom Brady, Sharon Contreras, Stefanie Federico, Matthew Clarkin, and Kim Rose. The details can be found at the following link:


Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Educational Policy, is quoted as stating, “It could set back a district for years in terms of the loss of valued leadership, institutional memory and just people who know how to get things done.”

Warren Simmons, executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, is quoted as saying that too much emphasis is placed on the superintendent as school savior, the superhero who rides into town and saves the day (lack of “” per the article).

Around the same time, I received an email message from a friend, attaching a news article link and telling me that “we dodged a bullet.”

The article was about a new superintendent being chosen to lead Cumberland’s Schools.


This was very important to me not because of who was chosen, but who was not… my child’s middle school Principal, Michael Lazzareschi.


So this got me thinking…

It has always been clear that dynamic, charismatic leaders can make something good into something great. Even better than making something great is leaving behind a structure or framework to continue that level of greatness.

We are all very dismayed by the turmoil at 797 Westminster. I’m sure Carleton Jones and Paula Shannon are doing their best to hold things together until Susan Lusi arrives. The concerns that have been aired about how difficult it may be to hire a management team have some truth to them… it is frightening to think about our school system trying to move forward without a strong central office. All the groundwork that has been laid over the past few years (aligned instruction, curriculum development, criterion based hiring) may be lost in the shuffle over school closings, teacher firings, endless court cases, and now this leadership drain.

Frankly I was also very frightened about the prospect of losing our wonderful middle school principal.

But the comment about institutional memory got me thinking…

Institutional memory in the Providence School system is alive and well, and resides in the form of committed parents, teachers, and school administrators. For the moment, I’d like to focus on the parents.

It was institutional memory that recently led some parents to protest the reassignment of the Vartan Gregorian Principal without any parental engagement. My wife and I (as parents) have served on several Principal selection committees at several schools over the years. This decision was a fait accompli, foisted upon the Principal and school community without any outreach to or involvement of the parents.

It was institutional memory that recently led the Martin Luther King PTO to protest the recision of the plan to place an Assistant Principal in their school. We all remember that the number of administrators in a school was usually based upon the number of students, and MLK will likely top 600 children this coming year as it receives students from some of the elementary schools which have been closed.

RIDE and PPSD are both struggling to come up with a teacher evaluation plan. And yet, it is institutional memory that allows any active parent in school building to know who the ineffective teachers in that building are (at Classical, for example, they are the teachers whose students (sometimes the brightest) year after year are getting tutors to help comprehend the material that is so poorly taught in class). Why is systematizing an evaluation process so difficult?

Active PTOs support numerous school events throughout the year, year after year (another form of institutional memory). Some go so far as to bring in supplemental programming, or provide support to teachers whose classroom needs are unmet by the limited school department budget.

Even among our School Board, consider the institutional memory possessed by Ms. Crain, Mr. Touray, Ms. Sanchez, Mr. Oliveira, Mr. Wise, Mr. Lalli, and Mr. Gould (before his departure) as either parents of children who attend or have attended PPSD schools, or as individuals who went to our schools themselves. No matter what side you take about the school closings and teacher firings, you have to appreciate that the Board made impossible decisions within a ridiculous time constraint. The Board members took their fiduciary and educational responsibilities seriously, and have served the City honorably. The Mayor recently appointed an education task force, many members of which also possess significant amounts of institutional memory. Hopefully this task force will work alongside the School Board, and not attempt to supplant it.

The loss of our Principal at Nathan Bishop would have been devastating. And yet, our Principal has set our ship on a smooth course. Along with a strong PTO (which came together before the school reopened) and dedicated teachers, he has established a strong esprit de corps and culture within the school. If he leaves at some point, of course we would want another dedicated, dynamic principal, but the groundwork for a great school has been laid.

So, what is the point here? Yes, the school department needs strong central leadership. But the existing and incoming leadership needs to recognize the resources that already exist here. No, parents cannot write curricula, or establish pedagogy, but we can play a role in helping to determine the direction in which our school system should move. Although parental engagement has been slowly improving, it is still often unidirectional, and trivializes the participation of parents in the process of governance. I’m sure teachers and administrators hate to consider this, but parents are both the purchasers (as taxpayers) and consumers (as parents of school children) of school department services, and have every right to work as partners with the administration to support and improve our schools.

Along with a change in leadership, there needs to be a change in the attitude toward parental engagement. Parents are a source of institutional memory for the Providence school system, and must be allowed to work alongside administrators toward the common goal of making our schools high achieving facilities that benefit all children, and are the schools of choice for Providence residents.

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