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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.


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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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This evening the Providence School Board voted to close Asa Messer, the Messer Annex, Windmill, Flynn, and West Broadway Elementary Schools. They also voted to close Bridgham as a Middle School and repurpose it as an elementary school.

The full report is in the following Projo article and blog posts:



WSPEC had extensively argued against the closings, citing the potential negative impact not only on the neighborhood, but also on student achievement. Their well researched, annotated (!) discussion can be found at the following link:


Many of the very specific questions asked by members of the community regarding the impact of these closings were never adequately addressed.

While we don’t know what additional protests are planned, it will be incumbent upon all parents in Providence to “police the process”. The Providence School Department must live up to the promises it has made regarding student placement, educational quality, and cost saving.

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A todas las Personas que toman decisiones de pólizas en la educación en Providence:

Yo apoyo el tener maestros/as de alta calidad en todas las aulas.  Muchas veces, el maestro/a con mas señoría es el mejor para la posición, pero no siempre es así.  Yo creo que la decisión de contratar o de despedir maestros, debe ser basada en la efectividad del maestro/a y de la necesidad de los alumnos y NO basada solamente en señoría.

Por favor, no permita que continúe el sistema que permite que maestros con señoría tengan prioridad absoluta en el sistema de Providence (lo que se llama “bumping”).  Bumping es destructivo para nuestras comunidades escolares y es deprimente para nuestros estudiantes ya qué maestros con señoría tiene la prioridad de “Bump” o remover, a maestros con menor señoría sin tener en cuenta la efectividad o merito del maestro con menor señoría, ni tener en cuenta la necesidad del estudiante.

En esta crisis fiscal, no podemos poner en riesgo la calidad de la educación de nuestros hijos.  Las necesidades educativas de los estudiantes siempre debe ser lo principal.


The East Side Public Education Coalition


Queridos amigos:

Sindicatos locales y nacionales están preparando el lanzamiento de una campaña publicitaria de $1 – 2 millones en Providence para proteger su sistema de señoría ahora que se han despedido a todos los maestros.

El Alcalde Taveras acaba de anunciar el cierre de 4 escuelas.  Cerca de 200 maestros/as no serán contratados nuevamente para el próximo año escolar.

Si sistema de reclutamiento basado en señoría, permitiría que 200 maestros/as con mayor señoría puedan tener prioridad sobre mejores maestros con menor señoría de otras escuelas. Esto causaría un descontrol en todas las escuelas de la ciudad, y tendría un impacto negativo en la calidad de enseñanza y aprendizaje.

URGENTE: Haga un “click” en este link que lo llevara a una petición para el Alcalde, el Superintendente, la Junta Escolar y Oficiales Electos para expresarles su apoyo para que las maestros sean contratadas BASADAS EN LAS NECESIDADES DE LOS ESTUDIANTES, y no basado solamente en la señoría del maestro/a.




Mas detalles:

El Sindicato de Maestros de Providence cree que los maestros deben ser contratados o despedidos basado en solamente en la SEÑORIA; por ejemplo el maestro/a que ha enseñado por más tiempo siempre tendrá prioridad.   Despido por señoría quiere decir que cuando se despide a un maestro/a, ellos pueden sacarle la posición a otro maestro/a con menos señoría — sin importar la efectividad o calificación del maestro/a, ni la necesidad de los alumnos.

El Alcalde Taveras, la Junta Escolar de Providence, y la Comisionada de Educación Debora Gist apoyan contratar y despedir a los maestros/as basado en las NECESIDADES DE LOS ESTUDIANTES, por ejemplo el maestro/a que es mas calificado para enseñar a los alumnos a los que está asignado a enseñar, siempre deberían tener señoría.  Los años de enseñanza es un factor importante en determinar la capacidad del maestro, pero no debería ser el único factor.


El Comité de Educación Pública del “East Side”

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Technology Advancement for All Students

On December 11, 2010 “This Is The Time” concert will promote Technology Advancement for All Students (TAAS). TAAS is a group of students that come together and find ways to raise money for schools that are desperately in need of computer technology. We can keep our kids off the streets if they are afforded a proper education with the proper tools to achieve. We are targeting one school at a time. Hope High School in Providence, RI has well over 40 outdated computers over four years old and without a warranty. Just a dollar a day for the next 11 days can help one student attend for free.

Jiri Baskerville a senior at Classical High (very talented singer) recorded a song and all the proceeds generated from his song entitled “This Is The Time” will go directly to Technology Advancement for All Students attending Providence Public Schools. We are targeting one school at a time and Hope High was selected as the first recipient! He and two other students, one from Classical and another from Times Squared Academy, have been meeting and putting this event together. (A few parents are involved but the students have taken the lead)

The performance at Hope High School, with the full support of Hope’s Principal S. Sutherland, will be amazing with performances from Hope, Met, Mt. Pleasant, Classical, and Times Square Academy school students ranging from Poetry, Rap, rock&roll, singing, ballet to salsa dancing. ALL POSITIVE!

We need your help! Please ADOPT a seat at $11 per seat so a student can attend this concert for free and help HOPE HIGH SCHOOL raise money to purchase (40) new computers. If you can adopt more than one seat that’s great! Along with your adopted seat donation you’ll receive a free “This Is The Time” CD and your name will appear in the concert program. There are 1200 seats in Hope High School’s (HHS) auditorium and every seat donation will go directly to HHS to purchase new computers.

Help make this concert amazing for the students attending. If you would like to attend or need more information please email or call me. Your donation will help us achieve our goal for this fundraiser.

If you can and are willing to help please email me or call. If you’re paying by check, please make the check payable to Hope High School (TAAS Concert). Donations are needed by November 20, 2010 to account for how many seats will be available to students.

Thank you
Helen Dukes
(401) 935-9735

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6:30 – 8:00 P.M.



SEND THEM, ALONG WITH YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS, TO makingthegrade@verizon.net

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The Rhode Island Department of Education is holding a “Race to the Top” forum on Monday night, December 7 at 6:00 p.m. at Central High School.

We believe it is very important that there be a strong showing of parents, students, and others interested in a quality educational system in Providence at this meeting. We expect that criterion-based hiring (the system used to hire the wonderful teachers at Nathan Bishop and 5 other schools this past year) will be on the agenda, and that there may be attendees present who seek to overturn this new procedure, which would in essence be a return to seniority based hiring and bumping.

We need to lend our voices to supporting important educational reforms! Please consider attending this meeting.

More about Race to the Top, according to Commissioner Gist:

Since becoming Commissioner in July, just over 100 days ago, I have spent a lot of time meeting with educators, parents, students, business and labor leaders, elected officials, and other community members. Over the past two months, I have really enjoyed visiting many of our schools to meet students and teachers as they begin another exciting year of teaching and learning.

Everything I have seen so far convinces me that we can become a model for public education around the nation. There is no reason that our students cannot and will not compete against the best students in the world. But we will have to do more to make this happen.

The federal Race to the Top funds could bring unprecedented resources to Rhode Island to help us accomplish our goals. The U.S. Department of Education will distribute these funds to states that have both made progress and shown promise in four vital areas:

improving teacher effectiveness;
accelerating the performance of low-performing schools;
establishing world-class standards and assessments; and
developing user-friendly data systems.
These initiatives are closely aligned with the set of priorities and the strategic agenda that I am developing to transform Rhode Island education. (See http://www.ride.ri.gov/Commissioner/.)

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