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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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Comments:

FIRE GALLO AND GIST NOW!!!!! HOw many other great teachers like this are we willing to lose to this awful social experiment? Fire Ana Morales! Fire the School Board! Governor Chafee, please step in.

Comment #1 by Malachi Constant on 2011 05 30

You are so right!

Comment #2 by Rose Merry on 2011 05 30

Gallo is guilty of misleading the public, misusing public funds, and destroying the culture and community of Central Falls. She pleads for her children but is far removed from any contact with them. When she is in the high school and trouble breaks out she is the first to run away. The taxpayers of the this troubled state contribute $42 million for the district, yet there is no accountability. Gallo is an actor of the best caliber as she has convinced some people that she alone cares. Point to ONE program, project, activity that Gallo has done to support the learning environment of Central Falls! With the backing of Gist and Morales she can do any damn thing she wants. Let the State Police do a forensic audit and you will find no bid awards on roof installations and janitorial services. Let's not forget a $55,000 time clock used by 4 employees that was installed by a friend of the family.

Comment #3 by Rose Merry on 2011 05 30

I am a science and math professor at Rider, NJ. Ph.D. physics. I often substitute teaching in high school. Students need to learn that human knowledge is based upon principles. See the new book, Rational Thinking, Government Policies, Science, and Living. Rational thinking starts with clearly stated principles, continues with logical deductions, and then examines empirical evidence to possibly modify the principles. See also See Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better. Instead of making students think, focusing on their understanding of principles, high schools focus on making students imitate.

Comment #4 by Sanford Aranoff on 2011 05 30

Reading Ms. Dearnley's story breaks my heart. In any organization where does the buck stop? CF has a superintendent who has been there for four years and the articles and news keeps getting worse and worse. Surely teachers are not to blame for everything in the district. It's time to change the leadership: fire Gallo and Cano-Morales and bring in people who are willing to build trust and cooperation with the employees. What is there to lose? Clearly leadership is incompetent if Ms. Dearnley's story is even partially true! I know teachers at CFHS and they are among the hardest-working, most dedicated teachers you'll find anywhere. Gallo threw them into the national spotlight to make a name for herself. She and Cano-Morales have done NOTHING to improve the culture of teaching and learning within the district. The Board of Regents should act quickly. Fire Gallo and Cano-Morales and the Board can pick their own choice. Teachers simply are asking for effective, accountable leadership.

Comment #5 by Charlie Delta on 2011 05 30

Beautifully articulated! Your words are important to those of us who know of the abuse of power that has been masquerading as leadership in our school district for the last 4 years. We've been holding back because of fear of reprisal for good reason. I deeply regret that you had to resign in order to be safely and fairly heard. All of CFHS, students and teachers, will suffer for the loss of such a wonderful educator and role-model. Best wishes in your future endeavors.

Comment #6 by Concerned Incentralfalls on 2011 05 30

the place was complete chaos before she arrived...you cant solve everything at once especcially when the union fights you tooth and nail

the only option is for peopel to get out of central falls and move soemwhere else.

Comment #7 by john paycheck on 2011 05 30

Kudos to golocalprov.com for unearthing stories such as this, long ignored by RI's mainstream media (read: "political") machine.

I'd really like to hear from the police department, especially the officer mentioned above, as to why they feel death threats are not their concern when directed at public school teachers.

Imagine how many other similar stories have yet to be told. If the situation is as dire as Mrs. Dearnley describes, I challenge other Central Falls teachers to speak out, even if just in an anonymous online forum such as this.

Rhode Island needs to know, and no one else will, or even could, tell it like those inside.

Comment #8 by Edre Former on 2011 05 30

Students' poor test scores frustrate educators
Posted Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In math, more than 50 percent of Providence students in grades 3 through 8 scored substantially below the state standard. In reading and writing, more than a third scored well below the state standard.

BY LINDA BORG
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE -- Charles Fortes Elementary is the "crown jewel" of the Providence school system, according to a recent week-long evaluation of the school's classrooms.

Children are eager to learn, teachers are passionate about their craft and the principal provides strong leadership, a study found.

Then why are students performing so poorly on the latest round of state assessments?

"We don't know why," said Principal Lori Hughes. "Maybe the child needs more time. Maybe she hasn't seen the test before. Maybe it's cultural. We need to convince parents that this test is important."

Hughes is stymied by the slow pace of student achievement as measured by standardized tests.

"If you hear the level of conversation in class, you see how much the kids know," she said. "But it's not showing up in our test scores."

Deputy Supt. Frances Gallo is just as frustrated by the dismal performance of Providence students on the latest assessments, released in late March.

In math, more than 50 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 scored substantially below the state standard. In reading and writing, more than a third of the same group of students scored well below the state standard.

What's interesting, however, is that roughly a third of these students are ranked as partially proficient in reading and writing, which means they almost hit the standard.

Still, the numbers are staggering: In math, more than half of the students in grades 3 through 8 are testing substantially below the state standard.

Gallo agrees that part of the problem might be the students' attitude.

"In this culture, kids hit a question they can't answer and they give up," she said. "In other cultures, the suburbans, the middle class, they keep trying."

The child isn't to blame, however. It is the adults in the child's life, the parents and teachers, who aren't in the bleachers, rooting for their child to succeed.

"We say we have high expectations for all kids and we are striving to live it," Gallo said, "but at the individual level, we haven't bridged that gap."

There is another possible explanation for the city's poor performance: Poor children typically start school far behind their suburban peers.

"Some of children don't know how to hold a book," Gallo said. "They don't know their colors. They can't recite the alphabet.

"My grandchildren are only 2 and 4 years old and they can spot their names in writing. These children aren't brilliant. But they're from a family that constantly talks and reads to them."

Children living in poverty and children who come from homes where English isn't spoken need an extra boost. They need a word-rich environment when they are 3 and 4 years old so that they enter kindergarten with a basic understanding of words and books.

"We want them to start school full of curiosity, with a wonder of learning," Gallo said.

According to a national survey of pre-kindergarten children called Seeds of Success, children from low-income families had fewer than half the number of words in their vocabularies as children from professional families. And that gap only widens over time.

Moreover, the benefits of preschool continue well into adulthood. Those children were more likely to delay having children, graduate from high school and maintain a career.

Yet Rhode Island is only 1 of 10 states that don't offer a state-financed prekindergarten program. The state is still struggling to offer universal kindergarten to children.

But there are "adult issues" that affect what takes place in the classroom, Gallo said.

This year, sixth-grade teachers had to have a middle-school endorsement to continue teaching that grade. Gallo said the new requirement caused a mass exodus of sixth-grade teachers from middle schools.


Gallo said there might be more practical reasons why students didn't perform well this year. The state Department of Education introduced a new test, the New England Common Assessment Program, and it tested a much larger group of students. For the first time, children in grades 3 through 8 were tested instead of just grades 4 and 8.

"In the past, we had fourth-grade teachers who were astute at testing," Gallo said. "We need to ramp up professional development so that teachers [in grades 3 through 8] are better equipped to prepare kids for testing."

Next month, the state Department of Education expects to release its annual ranking of schools statewide. Many educators say that the rankings are a better indicator of student achievement because they show whether a school is improving over time.

Under this system, a school must hit all 21 of its targets to be classified as high performing. A school must show that each of its subgroups -- children living in poverty, African-Americans, Latino children, special-needs children and English-language learners -- are making steady improvement.

Comment #9 by Rose Merry on 2011 05 30

Great homework Rose Merry!!!!

Comment #10 by tia juana on 2011 05 31

The education system in not working.
Think of the mix of foreign students in schools now and there is not corrective action in the courses to accommodate these students, they just get grouped by age or grade without any prerequisite to qualifying for that class. So the system is not set up to teach the cross section of kids in the classes. Problem seems to be with the administration (including the political and union influence).
Ms. Dearnley, you should have an easy time getting a position where you will feel wanted. I know we would want you.

Comment #11 by Gary Arnold on 2011 05 31

Dale, I appluad you for speaking out on behalf of us who are still working under these conditions. The public needs to understand that we as teachers LOVE our jobs, however, without support from the top, our jobs become very difficult. There is no curriculum, despite all the money spent on consultants. There is NO consistency in leadership or rules. There are minimal consequences for students and serious consequences for teachers who speak out. To concerned in Central Falls, the district wasn't in chaos when she got here, but NOW it is. And to any of you reading this...yes the situation is as dire as Mrs. Dearnely's article states. It's time for someone to step in...

Comment #12 by Sandy Smith on 2011 06 01

@ Sandy:
Sandy you are mistaking my comment for that made by john paycheck. I made the comment ABOVE my name. I know all about the before Gallo and after Gallo issues...Back in the day, CFHS was run like a well-oiled machine under the previous-previous super (we MISS you Maureen!). The kids haven't changed, the teachers haven't changed...the leadership has...and real leadership is the only thing that will bring us back from the brink!

Comment #13 by Concerned Incentralfalls on 2011 06 01

Address the education issues now or address an increase in crime later.

Comment #14 by Holly Coombs on 2011 06 08




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