Education Crisis: 1 in 5 Providence Schools Failing
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
"This further destabilizes a severely destabilized district,” said Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith.
This latest string of bad news in what has unquestionably been a rough few months for Providence schools raises the question of what Mayor Angel Taveras plans to do to turn around a district that by all accounts in is trouble.
Firing and Failing
Two months ago, Taveras caused a nationwide stir when he fired all 1,900 teachers in the district, citing a $40 million budget deficit. In short order he also announced plans to close four schools and revamp six others.
Then, yesterday came the news that there are now a total of eight schools that are failing in the district. Given a district that has 41 schools—not counting two charters—that means that nearly one out of every five schools in the City of Providence is failing.
Providence also has the lowest NECAP scores in Rhode Island, a high dropout rate, and wide achievement gaps between Latinos and other students, Taveras said in an interview yesterday.
“It is a district in crisis,” said Providence City Councilman Luis Aponte.
It is unclear who is going to steer the ship out of troubled waters. Brady’s resignation is effective in mid-July, giving the city barely three months to find a replacement. And the city can’t turn to his second-in-command, Sharon Contreras, because she’s already agreed to take the superintendent position in Syracuse, New York.
Although the turmoil of the past few months may be unusual, high turnover of school administrators is not. Over the course of the past decade, Providence has seen four superintendents come and go.
He said the city needs to make sure that the next superintendent is in it for the long haul—committing to work for Providence schools beyond three years. That in itself would be an achievement, as the average tenure for an urban schools superintendent since 1981 has been 3.64 years.
Taveras shows calm
Taveras nevertheless seemed calm in addressing the issue in his office after the Brady resignation, reaffirming his commitment to education and saying that he is “passionate about it."
"I wouldn’t be here without a Providence public school education,” Taveras said. He pointed out that he has had many family members who have also gone to Providence schools. “It’s not politics, it’s personal,” Taveras said.
But big shoes remain to be filled. Despite facing a three-month window to fill them, Taveras said Brady had left the city with plenty of time to replace him.
Will Brady be part of the search? Taveras isn’t sure.
Who will assume interim leadership if the hunt goes on until the school year begins next September? Taveras simply said announcements about the transition will be forthcoming.
But he is sure of one thing: “I want to focus on getting the brightest, best person to come to Providence."
'With crisis there is opportunity'
Brady’s resignation notwithstanding, Maryellen Butke, executive director of the Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now (RI-CAN) said, “To me, what was the biggest headline of the day was eight out of 41 Providence schools are failing.”
“There’s an old saying: 'With crisis there is opportunity,'” Butke said. “There is the opportunity to move forward and do (reform) now – the commitment to having a great leader and transforming our schools. The low-performing kids can’t wait.”
Butke says she is willing to use RI-CAN’s extended national network to help in the search for a new superintendent. But she believes she knows exactly what is needed.
“I feel all the failing schools need transformational leadership,” Butke said. “I would get the best and brightest transformational leader I could to come to Providence.”
Union president speaks out
“If anyone believes he wants to learn to teach or consult, well, I’ve got some swampland in Florida to sell you.”
Smith questions why a man who was singled out for praise along with Smith and the PTU by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a national conference in February for its promising labor-management relationship – “the only district in the country he mentioned!” – would now feel it is time to quit what he started.
“Now, two months later, he decides it’s time to go?”
Smith says Brady was pressured by Taveras
Smith did not always agree with Brady, but he said respected his forthrightness, which he believes created as good a relationship as possible under tough circumstances.
“He’s always been there to take the questions and the heat,” Smith explained. "We have nothing in common but our jobs (in education). It wasn’t that we disagreed. It’s how he disagreed. He disagreed the right way.”
Smith views the massive teacher firing as an act Brady was pushed into.
“What, he held back for two years?” Smith asked of the teacher firings decision. “It is obvious there was a change in November (when Taveras was elected).”
'This is not the time for instability'
The person that Providence will now need to go looking for in its “intergalactic search,” as Smith termed it, is in essence the man they just had.
“This is a guy who demanded buy-in at all levels: the union, the community…” said Smith. “If that’s the type of guy you’re looking for, with Brady, you’ve already got it!”
Smith believes Brady was successful because the person who hired him, former mayor and now U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, gave him free rein.
"I don’t know what the mayor can do,” said Smith. "Watching this guy walk out the door is not good at this juncture. This is not the time for instability.”
- BREAKING NEWS: Providence Issues Layoff Notices to All Teachers
- BREAKING NEWS: School Board Approves Firing Providence Teachers
- BREAKING NEWS: Taveras Defends His Decision to Fire Teachers
- NEW: Providence Teachers Union Boss Calls on Taveras to Rescind Firing
- Is Taveras Right to Fire All the Providence Teachers?
- NEW: Teachers Rally Blasts Taveras
- Substitute Teachers Cost Providence $13 Million
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