EXCLUSIVE: No Help For Failing Providence Schools This Year
Monday, July 11, 2011
Four Providence schools identified by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) in March as persistently low achieving and in need of intervention will not experience any significant changes during the 2011 school year, GoLocalProv has learned.
Instead, RIDE intends to release a “refreshed list” of failing schools (possibly this week) that will factor in more up-to-date data than the previous list used. It is unclear why RIDE did not use more accurate information in the original version.
The sudden shift in plans means the four city schools labeled as chronically low performing -Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, Hope Information Technology School, Mount Pleasant High School and Mary E. Fogarty Elementary School – will not participate in any of the four potential school-reform models outlined by the U.S. Department of Education, nor will they receive nearly $1 million in federal School Improvement Grant funding until at least 2012.
The four school-reform models 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.
The Providence schools were expected to have selected one of the models by May and were supposed to begin implementation this fall. But such a rapid transition would have been difficult to make happen according to David Abbott, Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel for the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Abbott said RIDE is now operating off a plan created in Denver, which gives schools identified as persistently low achieving a full year to implement changes.
Abbott also said the list of schools was based on 2009 NECAP data and that at least one of the schools might have improved enough to no longer be considered failing.
“So we have asked for a waiver that would require us to refresh the list,” Abbott said.
NEA Official Criticizes RIDE
But a new list and a year’s wait will be difficult to swallow for teachers, parents and students at some schools. With just a 56.6 percent four year graduation rate, Mount Pleasant, for example, was struggling long before it was ever identified as failing and is almost certain to remain on the refreshed list. And while officials in the Providence School Department say they intend to move forward with “systemic reform efforts designed to transform the district,” intervention plans are at a standstill.
Pat Crowley, Government Relations Director for the Rhode Island chapter of the National Education Association questioned how anyone can have faith in RIDE with so many changes being made to the original plans.
"With so much at stake, Commissioner Gist and RIDE seem to be playing fast and loose with definitions,” Crowley said. “How can parents and teachers have any faith that the best interests of the students will be met if she doesn't have a clear understanding of the process, or more importantly, the outcomes?"
More Funding Or Union Concessions Needed
One City Councilman is raising other concerns.
While he admitted to not being fully aware of the situation at Mount Pleasant, Councilman Sam Zurier, a former School Board member, said he believes there is a mismatch between the needs of low performing schools and the resources that the state and federal governments offer to deal with them.
Zurier also said one of the problems with the intervention templates is that they usually call for a substantial reorganization of staffing. This would likely put an additional strain on the already volatile relationship between the city and the teachers union.
“Our students who are achieving below the “Basic” level of proficiency need double periods of each subject in which they are below the standard,” he said. “Given our six-period day, students who need intervention and both math and English do not have enough time to learn their other subjects. We need either more funding or contract concessions from the union if we are going to be able to address adequately the needs of kids in the low-performing schools.”
But for now, addressing the needs of students appears to be on hold until RIDE releases its new list. And many parents and education leaders continue to have questions:
Why did RIDE release a list of failing schools without using up-to-date information?
And why weren’t parents, teachers and students informed that the process had stalled and a new list was coming?
“[RIDE and the Providence School Department] have a certain way of communicating in a way that works for them but that doesn’t necessarily trickle down to the community,” Chace Baptista, an educational consultant and graduate of Mount Pleasant said.
Baptista said he believes the community needs to do a better job at becoming more informed about what is happening in city schools.
He said making a certain list shouldn’t be the only time that community members get involved with public education.
“As a community, we need to hold people in positions of power more accountable."
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