Education Crisis: Four Providence Schools Still Have No Plans For Next Year
Monday, July 04, 2011
On March 29, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) identified four Providence schools (and the RI School for the Deaf) as persistently low achieving and in need of intervention, setting a 45 day deadline for the Providence School Department to select one of four potential school-reform models.
Nearly two months after the deadline, a decision has still not been made.
Now School Department officials say plans are on hold while education leaders and parents are demanding to be more informed about potential changes on the horizon for Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, Hope Information Technology School, Mount Pleasant High School and Mary E. Fogarty Elementary School.
RIDE identifies schools as failing based on a formula that shows poor performance in a number of areas over the course of multiple years. The schools are then given four potential options for intervention, which fall under federal guidelines.
The options include: Restart, which involves reopening the school under new management; Transformation, which brings in a new principal and includes more evaluations for teachers; Turnaround, which gets rid of half of the teaching staff and fires the principal; and school closure.
Five schools that were selected for intervention in 2010 (including Central Falls) have chosen the transformation model.
Process On Hold
The plan calls for implementation of the school-reform models to take place over the course of three years, but school districts are encouraged to move “as quickly as they are able” according to a press release issued by RIDE in March.
But in Providence, plans have not progressed at all. When asked for comment, Mayor Angel Taveras’ communications office referred all questions to the School Department. Schools Spokeswoman Christina O’Reilly said it is her understanding that the whole process has been put on hold.
“The RI Department of Education is still sorting through some issues with the federal guidance, so Providence is unable to proceed with the schools identified in 2011 until that is settled,” O’Reilly said.
But RIDE spokesman Elliot Krieger said the state is still discussing options with the school district. He did not mention federal guidelines as the reason for the missed deadline.
“We are in discussions with the Providence district about the selection and design of a model for the reform of the persistently lowest-achieving schools identified this year,” he said. “As with the persistently lowest-achieving schools identified last year, the selection of the school-reform model involves a series of stages and discussions before the Commissioner approves the selection.”
Parent Doesn’t Understand
A decision doesn’t necessarily need to be made the start of the school year. The schools identified in 2010 didn’t have their plans officially approved by Education Commissioner Deborah Gist until this March, although implementation had already begun.
But some parents say the entire process hasn’t been transparent and that they are unsure about what the future will hold. Tatiana Ramos, whose child is supposed to start their freshman year at one of the failing high schools, said she had no clue about the reforms set to take place.
“No one told me anything,” she said. “I haven’t heard about the schools changing anything. It would be nice to know what’s happening.”
Leadership Transition To Blame
Part of the problem, according to Karen Feldman, the Executive Director of Young Voices, is that the school district’s central office has been decimated in recent months. On the same day the schools were identified as failing, Superintendent Tom Brady announced that he would not be returning for another school year.
Since then, the district has lost its Chief of Staff, Chief Academic Officer and handful of other top administrators. Feldman said this makes implementation a difficult task.
“The situation is complicated,” she said. “There is so much transition going on and this is the cost of leadership turnover.”
Feldman said her biggest concern is making sure students are involved in the reform process. She said both Central Falls and Juanita Sanchez (the combination of Cooley and the Providence Academy Of International Studies) have done an excellent job including young people in their decision-making process since being identified as low-performing in 2010.
“Once you figure out what you want to do, the students have to be involved in the redesign,” she said. “Who else would know how to make the school more engaging?”
Parents Should Demand Answers
But “figuring it out” has been the issue. It is now July and with the School Department saying plans are on hold, the timeline for the entire process appears to be up in the air. Rhode Island Campaign For Achievement Now Executive Director Maryellen Butke said it is time for the community to step up and ask questions.
“Although four additional Providence Public Schools were named as Persistently-Low Achieving in 2011, we have not yet seen the plans to turn these schools around,” she wrote in an e-mail. “With only two months remaining before school opens, parents and young people should demand answers!”
Butke had but one question.
“How can we force parents to send their children to failing schools without a clear plan for improvement,” she asked. “The children of Providence deserve excellent schools and it is our responsibility to ensure that they have a first class education. “
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