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Central Falls Teacher: Why I Resigned

Monday, May 30, 2011

 

My name is Dale Dearnley. As of Friday May 6, 2011, I resigned my position as science teacher at Central Falls High School. For me, this means leaving the field of teaching and returning to research science. I entered the teaching field because I wanted to make an immediate and positive impact on the world by helping students understand and appreciate science. I came to Central Falls High School because of the optimistic and wholesome sense of community. It was a place where everyone looked out for each other, students said "thank you" when handed homework, and teachers and administrators worked together to bring peace and promote learning. Much of this stopped when Superintendent Gallo took over.

In five years, I have helped start the Jump Start Academy and the 9th grade Renaissance Academy, served as an ESL teacher, ran the after school Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences club (SMILE), brought students to both Harvard University and the University of Rhode Island for real-world science projects with real-world scientists, trained with the Amgen Bruce-Wallace Biotechnology Teacher Training Program (bringing $30,000 of equipment for student use to CFHS), assisted students in achieving college scholarships and jobs, helped start of the current PTSO, and most importantly, watched more than 1,200 students graduate—all in addition to my classroom teaching responsibilities.

I told you why I came here and what I did; now I am compelled to explain why I resigned. It was ultimately a decision based on personal and professional ethics. I can no longer stand by, or remain silent about, the current abuse of students, abuse of teachers, and abuse of power.

I came on board the same school year as Superintendent Gallo, and during this time I observed the following.

#1. Lack of discipline and accountability for students There has been an absence of discipline for students of Central Falls over the last few years. The so-called "Leadership Team's" refusal to acknowledge that students require firm and fair consequences for non-scholarly actions is neglectful and therefore abuse in its own right.

Under the supervision of Julia Steiny, district-approved a behavior system based on "Restorative Practices." These strategies are valid when implemented properly and consistently. In Central Falls, their practice has been haphazard and dismissive—thus failing students, parents and teachers. Chaos is the norm, interruption of education is consistent, and the environment is toxic.

Being sent to the "Restorative Room" is how students are held accountable for infractions from cutting class and disrupting lessons to threatening teachers and assault. I have heard from many students that they enjoy going to the "Restorative Room" because they can socialize with their friends, joke around with a so-called "behavior specialist, " and their only academic responsibility is to complete a word search puzzle. If "Restorative Practices" were working, then students would not resort to extreme vulgarities and hate speech in response to simple redirections and the routines of an orderly, productive classroom.

Reinforcing acceptance of vicious and manipulative student-behavior is neglect, tantamount to depriving children of a successful future and refusing them the tools they need to be competitive in an uncertain future.

I must say I am appalled at the audacity of Julia Steiny's presentation of "Restorative Practices." It is full of manipulated and misleading "data" to the point of lies. She reported that her system worked last year at the 9th grade Renaissance Academy, when in fact it was an abysmal failure. I taught there last year and was a part of that data. I was a scientist before I was a teacher and I know data. Hers is invalid hearsay. I ask that you scrutinize her report.

#2. Lack of Curriculum Five years ago, when I began teaching at CFHS, I asked, "What is the curriculum?" I was told, "Biology." I repeated the question, and got a list of 11 science topics, which is not a curriculum. Back then, Dr. Gallo promised that teachers will soon have a working curriculum and will be a part of creating it. I thought, "Wow, what a wonderful opportunity!" I am still waiting. We have grants for pre-packed science "kits, " again from a contracted outside agency, but they are not appropriately aligned to meet the needs of our students.

#3. Lack of Respect and Abuse of Power Last year, I was vocal against the mass firing of teachers without cause. You have probably heard that teachers are afraid to speak up because of fear of retribution. Here are some examples as to why.

The remarks about my teaching, on both formal and informal evaluations, were positive. There were negative remarks included, however, which in no way reflect my instructional practice. For example, I was designated unprofessional for taking my two allotted personal days to attend a family wedding, and for taking attendance with my back to the students (the only way to do so, as the computer is attached closely to the classroom wall).

Last year, when I was a teacher at the 9th grade Renaissance Academy, a student harassed me by shouting obscenities and threatening to kill me. That student was assigned to the "Restorative Room" for the remainder of the day, but left that classroom and continued to harass me. I told an administrator that I was going to inform the police because I felt unsafe. I watched that administrator walk over to the School Resource Officer and pull him aside. When I then spoke with the officer, I was told that this threat to my life was "not a matter for the police." Then, this same administrator reprimanded me for using the student's full name in the school's incident report that she instructed me to write. This is in direct contradiction of Dr. Gallo's recent claims that teachers are free to report violence and threats of violence to the police.

Yes, I was targeted by administration. Yes, I was abused. Yes, there is no consistency in curriculum. However, what hurts me the most was being a part of a system that tolerates, perpetuates, and encourages the neglect and abuse of children by refusing to teach students how to conduct themselves in a way that will allow them a productive place is our society.

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