Gallo—Teachers Blocking Transformation of Central Falls High
Thursday, May 26, 2011
On any given day, an average of 14 teachers, or 16 percent of the 88 teachers at the high school are absent, based on records provided by the district to GoLocalProv. Last December, union leaders said the number of absences had been exaggerated by the district and included long-term leave and vacancies.
But a breakdown of the reasons for the absences provided by the district shows that sick days appear to still account for most of the absences. For example, on April 14, there were 18 absences, 13 of which were due to sick time. On a few days last month, there were as many as 20 or 21 teachers absent—meaning that one out of every five teachers was not at the school. (See below documents.)
Gallo: Teachers taking sick time ‘willy-nilly’
“I don’t think anyone would begrudge anybody taking those days based on a horrendous event in their life,” Gallo said. “But to take them willy-nilly five days at a time because you can get a doctor to say … you needed to be out - that’s inappropriate.”
Gallo suspects that teachers are taking sick days out of bitterness over the events of the past year—including the temporary firing of all teachers early in 2010. “I assume since they’re not physically looking ill … that it is bitterness,” Gallo said.
The current teacher contract allots 15 sick days a year to teachers. But it also allows them to carry over unused sick time from year to year, banking up to a maximum of 185 days—the length of an entire school year. Plus, teachers are granted extended sick time—on top of their regular sick time—based on their seniority.
Union president: high stress behind number of sick days
Jane Sessums, the president of the Central Falls Teachers Union, admitted that the absentee rate is higher than normal—but she said it is more a reflection on the problems in the school than the cause of them. “Although it is higher than in past years, I think it reflects what the teachers have been saying about their work environment … the lack of support, the fear of retaliation,” Sessums said.
She said that feedback on school programs had been ignored by administrators. “They’re told ‘This is it. This is how it works over here.’ They don’t seem to have a voice at the high school,” Sessums said.
As a result of all this, Sessums said teachers find themselves in a high-stress work environment, which she said explains why teachers might be taking the number of sick days that they are.
But one teacher at the high school went further—saying that the numbers of absences that are being reported by the district are inflated and inaccurate. For example, he noted that one teacher who has been put on leave and a dismissed substitute teacher are being counted among the daily number of absences.
Debate over discipline
Another major sticking point is the district’s new approach to discipline. Known as “restorative practices,” it aims to move beyond a merely punitive model of discipline towards one that emphasizes discussion to help students understand how their behavior affects others.
“[Teachers] didn’t buy in because it was not working,” responded one high school teacher.
Sessums said teacher concerns about discipline issues had been ignored by the district. Gallo, on the other hand, insisted that the district’s new point person for discipline issues, Heather DosSantos, has been responsive. Sessums countered that some teachers who report issues find that it backfires on them and they are ones disciplined or reprimanded—confirming what numerous sources have previously told GoLocalProv.
Gallo defiant in the face of no confidence vote
Last year, the district fired and then later rehired all of its teachers as it struggled over which federally mandated reform model it would choose for the high school, which has been identified as one of the lowest performing schools in the state. Under the so-called transformation model that was eventually selected, the teachers could return to their positions.
But now, both Gallo and Sessums seem to agree that the transformation effort is facing difficulties. While Gallo puts much of the blame on what she says is a small cohort of teachers, the Sessums says it’s a failure of leadership that is really behind the difficulties the district is facing at Central Falls High School. “I think it is very much not having the leadership in the district,” Sessums said.
Gallo: ‘At least I can say I did my best … and I did not quit’
Gallo dismissed the vote as a “union ploy” that distracts from ongoing contract negotiations. “It happened. It’s very disappointing. But I have to name it, I think it’s just a union ploy, a strong PR stunt, that could sidetrack negotiations,” Gallo said.
She also questioned whether the vote really reflected the views of teachers. “I’ve received phone calls from teachers already, crying, saying they didn’t want to do it. They felt pressured,” Gallo said.
Sessums said teachers should have felt no pressure at all since the vote was by a secret ballot.
Gallo acknowledges that with a new Governor and Board of Regents in office, her position as superintendent could be in jeopardy. But she said she isn’t about to go away quietly. “They would have to remove me. Please do not expect me to resign or step away of my accord. I have absolutely no reason to do that,” she said, adding that she believes the reforms she is implementing are in the best interest of students.
“If somebody wants to turn that ship in a different direction, yes they need a new captain at the helm and yes they’ll have to remove the person that’s there,” Gallo said. “But at least I would then be able to turn to any student, parent, or family member anywhere and any public individual and say I did my best—and I did not quit.”
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Teacher Absences at Central Falls High School
Source: Central Falls School District
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