Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who's Next? Goodbye, Tom Brady, Hello ___________.

Because it seems that the various dramas of the past six weeks in the universe of the Providence Public Schools must not have been enough, yesterday delivered to us three new headspinners:  Tom Brady's resignation, RIDE's announcement of four Providence schools targeted for intervention due to persistent poor performance, and RIDE's announcement (finally!) of its approval of the turnaround plans of the five Providence schools targeted a year ago for intervention. Here's a link to RIDE's PDF press release about both year's turnaround-targeted Providence schools.

Blog-post-wise, let's take these one at a time. First up: PPSD's superintendent vacancy. Tom Brady has resigned as Providence's superintendent, effective July 15. Here's WRNI's post that contains Brady's full letter of resignation and here's the ProJo coverage with video of Brady's press conference at which he announced his resignation. For those keeping score at home, Brady was our fourth superintendent in 11 years, and for a way to put that into some sort of national context, here's a useful overview of the state of the urban superintendency with a particular focus on years on the job from District Administrator magazine. Even by the dismal standards of the average persistence of urban superintendents, Providence isn't doing all that well.

Needless to say, with many others I regret the likely chaos that this creates. Brady's departure swiftly follows that of Chief Academic Officer Sharon Contreras' move to take the superintendent post in Syracuse, New York. We're looking at a leadership void just when students, teachers, and families are feeling particularly shaken by the precipitous process of closing schools, when we have more questions than answers, and when everything already feels up in the air.

That said, (not to be totally opportunistic but there's no point in waiting) this moment represents a real occasion to choose the next leaders of our district with meaningful input from and participation of young people, parents, educators, and community members. Will that take time? Yes, of course: see the messiness of democracy, etc. Do we have adequate infrastructure in place to hold and act on those conversation? Not completely. But we must start and sustain conversations about the qualities we expect from our next school system leadership so that the city can hire in a way that includes input from all stakeholders.

I've heard nothing yet about the hiring process that will ensue so while there's the hope that exists before we know anything, I am voicing this need: we need a process that meaningfully includes all stakeholders, that is conducted efficiently but not hastily, and that secures us leaders who can dig in deep and stay here for the long haul, building on what works, finding ways to change what doesn't, and using the considerable assets of our city to create the schools we desperately need now.

Speak up for Head Start!

Last week, as part of Leadership Rhode Island's Education/Labor Day, the Eta II class spent the morning at Children's Friend's Cianci Center. Julie Casmiro of Children's Friend blogged about our visit, and I wanted to mention it here to ask for your help to support ongoing funding of Head Start Programs.

Children's Friend provides high-quality childcare to 1,100 children with federal funds provided by Head Start and Early Head Start, which are being threatened by budget cuts passed by the United States House of Representatives. The House budget reduces the Head Start program funding by 15 percent, which would impact 180 children and families and close 10 classrooms. This is bad for these families immediately; most will not have other options for high quality childcare. And it's bad for the long-term future of the children who would be denied services; the correlation between high quality, school-readying childcare and later success in schools are indisputable.

If you want more detail on the current status of the legislation, here's a useful update from the National Head Start Association.

Please contact members of Rhode Island's Congressional delegation to ask them to support full funding of Head Start. You can send an email from this page, or (better yet!) call our Senators and Representatives' offices to share your concerns. Contact info is below. Take five minutes and do this today.

The Honorable Jack Reed
United States Senator
1000 Chapel View Blvd., Suite 290
Cranston, RI 02920
Phone: 401-943-3100
Fax: 401-464-6837
Email: click here

The Honorable Sheldon Whitehouse
United States Senator
170 Westminster Street, Suite 1100
Providence, RI 02903
Phone: 401-453-5294
Fax: 401-453-5085
Email: click here

The Honorable David N. Cicilline
United States Representative
249 Roosevelt Avenue, Suite 200
Pawtucket, RI 02860
Phone: 401-729-5600
Fax: 401-729-5608

The Honorable James R. Langevin
United States Representative
300 Centerville Road, Suite 200 South
Warwick, RI 02886
Phone: 401-732-9400
Fax: 401-737-2982

Many thanks for the Cianci Center for welcoming us so warmly and for the information that Children's Friend President and Chief Executive Officer, David Caprio, Head Start Director Aimee Mitchell, and Elizabeth Burke Bryant of Rhode Island Kids Count shared with us about the ways high quality early childhood education is on the shortest of short lists of investments we need to make in our state for the present and future benefit of families, children's educational futures, and our economy. Most of all, I am grateful for the time we spent in the Cianci Center's classrooms, meeting kids and learning from their teachers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Focus on Mt. Hope Learning Center: East Side Monthly's March 2011 Column

I don't want to let this very education-eventful March come to a close without sharing the month's "What Happened at School Today" column, which I write for East Side Monthly. This monthly, "What Happened at School Today" focused on Mt. Hope Learning Center. It's online here (flip digitally to page 41), still likely available in various neighborhood coffeeshops and other establishments, and I've reproduced it below.


A Visit to Mount Hope Learning Center (note: not the catchiest title. The piece in ESM was called "Keep Hope Alive," which could be the title of the Hope High School piece I'm finishing today that's slated to appear in May's issue. I have full faith in the editorial staff of ESM to come up with another equally catchy title.)

The East Side’s rich educational resources include the Mount Hope Learning Center (MHLC). As a parent at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, where MHLC runs an afterschool program (one of two in the school—the YMCA Out of School Time Program runs the other), I know the general outlines of the Center’s work. To find out more, I met with MHLC Executive Director Elizabeth Winangun in her sunny office at MHLC, a former residence at 140 Cypress Street that was converted to its current use in 2002.

Founded in 1998, the nonprofit MHLC focuses the Mount Hope neighborhood, which is demarcated by Hope Street, Rochambeau Avenue, the Amtrack/MBTA railroad tracks, and Olney Street. Mount Hope’s demographic statistics align with those that describe Providence’s poorer communities rather than the quality of life indicators of much of the generally affluent East Side. The 2000 Census reports that a third of Mount Hope’s children below the poverty level. While the 2010 Census data may report that this and other details have changed, Winangun reports that poverty and lack of opportunity still challenge many Mount Hope families, especially during our current economic circumstances.

The centerpiece of MHLC’s work is the afterschool program at King. Serving 100 students, the program is funded by a federal 21st Century Community Learning Grant administered through the Rhode Island Department of Education. Fifteen AmeriCorps team members representing a remarkable range of experience and other measures of diversity staff the afterschool program. The AmeriCorps team, funded through Serve Rhode Island, which administers federal funds from the Corporation of National and Community Service, is “the heart of the center,” Winangun says. Hailing from the Mount Hope neighborhood and far and wide beyond, the AmeriCorps team members dedicate 11 months to the program, earning a minimal weekly stipend and eventual education grants. MHLC staff members provide AmeriCorp members with extensive training and clear guidelines to develop capacity and skills that will stay in Mount Hope for the long haul.

Accordingly, the afterschool program at King does more than provide basic childcare. AmeriCorp team members support students’ academic achievement, develop their social skills, and provide activities that help them identify their interests through structured activities such as the fourth grade heath and nutrition group led by AmeriCorps educator Jawuan Meeks. Previously a high school social studies teacher in Boston, Meeks is working at MHLC while preparing to pursue a doctorate in education. “We’re working on finding ways to be physically active in the community and students are learning about food and nutrition,” Meeks describes. “Today, the kids got excited about radicchio, avocados, and grapefruit. They’re finding their passion for healthy food and nutrition at a young age, and they get their parents engaged and involved.”

While the program is dedicated to extending education past the formal end of the school day and has demonstrated a positive impact on students’ academic achievement, “It’s most important to work on the social stuff,” Winangun reflects. “At the end of the school day, some kids are joyful and some are miserable. Our aim is to get them all to a better place so that whoever picks them up between 5:00 and 6:00 sees a happier kid.  We teach kids how to shift gears.”

Though MHLC AmeriCorps team members devote most of their time to the afterschool program, they also work on other initiatives. Meeks is collaborating with two colleagues to create a pre-GED life skills program for young men who are out of school and work. “We don’t just want to ‘help’ the community,” says Meeks. “We assist the community to develop leadership and talent within the community itself and to take the reins when we’re gone.” Galvanized by the lack of meaningful neighborhood opportunities for 14 to 15 year old young women, another AmeriCorps member successfully wrote a grant to a Brown University philanthropy class for $15,000 to initiate a program that will train young women to identify community needs and plan projects in response for themselves and their peers.

Response to neighborhood needs has promoted the evolution of other MHLC programs, including school vacation and summer camp programs, a cooking class that’s a popular pick among middle schoolers who participate in the Providence After School Alliance AfterZone program, and a G-Tech sponsored computer lab run by part-time staffer Tom Lew. Having this ongoing support nearby is vital, Winangun believes, because for some residents, “There’s an invisible wall around Mount Hope. It doesn’t affect everyone but for some in our community, getting on a bus to take advantage of opportunities elsewhere is a huge challenge due to limited finances, fear or conflict, or anxiety about the unknown. We work with a lot of people who haven’t ventured far outside, and we need to be here for them.”

As has happened to many nonprofits in Providence and elsewhere, 2010 presented MHLC with near-knockout financial blows. As a result of management challenges, the Center went into receivership in April 2010, simultaneously weathering a change in leadership, extensive board member retirement, and a staff reduction from eight to two-and-a-half full time employees. MHLC’s excellent track record and neighborhood support have been keys to its survival. Mainstay board members Stacy Couto, Jorge Cardenas, Sylvia Soares, and MHLC co-founder Lenny Long either remained or returned to board service, thereby ensuring continuity and focus on continued service. Winangun, a longtime staff member who became executive director during this time of transition, noted that City Council representative Kevin Jackson and state representative Gordon Fox remained stalwart supporters throughout. All funders, including the United Way Rhode Island, kept funding in place throughout the receivership oversight period, and the Center did not interrupt service or programs.

Consider a donation of time or expertise to keep MHLC going strong. Though the afterschool program at King costs families just ten dollars per week per child, scholarships are in demand. And a $300 donation supports a student through a year of school vacation and summer camp experiences. It’s a great investment in the children of our community. Learn more about Mount Hope Learning Center and find out ways to support its work at

End note: Since I wrote that, the AmeriCorps program, which is the heart and soul of MHLC, is at risk of losing funding along with and many other AmeriCorps=staffed programs that serve communities nationwide. Click here to learn what you can still do to ensure that they don't. Thanks.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

PPSD School Board School Closure Hearings Start Tomorrow

Starting tomorrow and running through April 25, the Providence School Board will be holding hearings on the five schools that the district has proposed to close. Tomorrow, the Board will be holding the hearing for Asa Messer Elementary and Asa Messer Annex at 6:00pm at John Hope Settlement House, 7 Thomas P. Whitten Way (off Westminster Street).

Click to the right for the PPSD hearings schedule, which is:
  • Hearing on Windmill Street Elementary, 6:00pm, March 30, at Windmill Street Elementary, 110 Paul Street
  • Hearing on Flynn Elementary, April 6, 6:00pm,  at Davey Lopes Recreation Center, 227 Dudley Street
  • Hearing on Bridgham Middle School, April 11, 6:00pm, at Bridgham Middle School, 1655 Westminster Street
  • Hearing on West Broadway Elementary at DelSesto, 6:00pm, April 13, at DelSesto Middle School, 152 Springfield Street
At 6:30pm on Monday, April 25, the School Board will vote on all of the proposed closures.

Finally, here in PDF form is the information that the district shared at last week's community forums on school closures. It's got some useful graphic info on the various schools proposed for closure depicted in terms neighborhood students, and other details that are worth some geek-out time no matter where you may stand on the wisdom or folly of the proposed school closures.

Also - a plea from your dedicated Providence Schools blogger: I am unlikely to be able to attend the hearings for Messer and Windmill this week. If anyone reading this is willing to write up some thoughts that I can publish here, with credit to you, of course, or anonymously, if that's the way you roll, please let me know. I'd really love to share some first-hand knowledge of what happened. Thanks!

Friday, March 25, 2011

City Council Education Subcommittee Hearing, March 30, 5:00-8:00pm

For all busy education watchdogs/activists: the pace has been mad this week but don't let up! Make plans to attend the City Council Education Subcommittee Hearing at City Hall on Wednesday, March 30 at 5:00pm.

The Providence Teachers Union contract is the single largest municipal expenditure in Providence, and it determines a large slice of education policy and school management conditions for our children. The Education Subcommittee will invite the public to comment on the contract, including the provisions they support and those they would like to see improved.

So make plans to attend, go, learn, comment! If you're a Facebook sort, you can RSVP here.

West Side Walk for Better Schools, Saturday, 3/26, 8:00am

As a way to make visible the desire for walkable, neighborhood schools (some of which are threatened to be closed as a result of the city's recent cost-cutting measures), the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, the West Side Public Education Coalition (WSPEC), NoMADS and Project Future are inviting families and supporter to join a West Side Walk for Better Schools. The march will take place at 8:00am, leaving from Hudson Deli at 68 Hudson Street and lead participants to the 9:00am PPSD Forum that's taking place at Classical High School. Click here for details and a map; here's a link to a press release from WSPEC for more on the march.

Preview of "Triangle" and discussion at Hope High School tonight, 7:00pm

Tonight, the Hope High School Theater Company will offer a free preview performance of Laurie Brook's Triangle, a play focused on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire disaster and its parallels to current-day immigrants' issues. Hope theater teacher Christine Auxier and her student performers chose today for the preview because it's the 100th anniversary of the fire. A discussion with the actors and Hope high school faculty will follow the half-hour preview performance.

The Triangle preview will take place at Hope High School, 342 Hope Street in Providence, 7:00pm tonight.

The Hope High School Theater Company will perform Triangle in Edinburgh, Scotland this summer at the American High School Theater Festival, which takes place in conjunction with the city's renowned Fringe Festival. The American High School Theater Festival showcases the best of high school theater in the United States - it's a highly competitive, tremendous undertaking. Hope is a repeat visitor to the Festival, having performed there previously in 2000 and 2004. This video prominently features Hope High School's performers from their trip in 2000, and conveys a vivid sense of the festival's thrill and rigor.

Attend tonight's performance and discussion to learn more both about the Triangle fire and its parallels to today and to connect with this extraordinarily focused and talented group of young people at Hope High School. I'll be sharing more here in the coming weeks about how to support the Hope High School Theater Company as they make their final preparations to travel to Scotland in August - and if you don't want to wait, feel free to contact the company's director Christine Auxier by email to offer your support.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Providence Summerbridge - opportunities for sixth graders

Middle school teachers and parents (or middle schoolers yourselves!) -

Providence Summerbridge is looking for low-income sixth graders eager to work on the skills and habits of mind that are essential for ongoing success to participate in its summer program. Its mission: "To create a pathway to college for low-income, academically motivated middle school students in Providence Public Schools, and to encourage talented high school and college students to pursue careers in education." Sixth graders in this case means students who are in sixth grade this year, seventh next year.

I have no direct experience of Summerbridge but feel happy to help - it's been around a long time, in various forms. For many people I know, their experience as Summerbridge instructors fueled their fire to go on to have long and productive careers as educators.

Check it out and help spread the word!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

PPSD school profiles: I have my doubts

As part of the information that the district is providing to support public input toward and understanding of the process of closing and reorganizing several schools, it has provided updated school profiles based on assessments made by consulting firm Fanning Howey that demonstrate the space determinations it's working with as it assesses opportunities to reassign students and best utilize existing space.

Making sure that students are in the best school of their choice and making sure the district is using existing space efficiently are goals that at least most of us can support. I am not sure, however, that the recommendations provided in the school profiles provide optimal information for making decisions that ensure continuity and the best conditions for teaching and learning.

To be totally transparent, I don't know much about what the possibilities and limits are in each building. I know only one building well, and that's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, where my kids have been students since 2005. Its profile is on the left. Click here to access all of the school facility profiles.

What I noticed immediately was the building capacity estimate of 700. We currently have 530 or so, and that feels like a whole lot of kids. It's hard to imagine 700 with our current staffing situation, which includes just one administrator and half-time art and music teachers.

The chart that describes the grade structure that would make 700 kids at King possible reveals a range of intriguing and/or disturbing assumptions. The "space type" list states that we have room for four pre-K classes, yet there are only two rooms allocated for pre-K, each of which currently houses a full-day pre-K class. I appreciate the commitment to continuing King's excellent pre-K program, but am not sure how two more pre-K rooms would be possible.

The chart also states that King has room for four kindergarten classes. Currently, we have three kindergarten classes, all housed together in an area of the school that works well for kindergartners. In the past, we have had four kindergarten classes and it doesn't work well. The fourth K class is at a relative disadvantage, without dedicated bathrooms or easy access to a K-only recess area.

I know, cry me a river. Plenty of K classes across the city don't have those amenities. But having four K classes bodes poorly for our kids. As you follow the space chart up through the grades, it indicates that we have room for four first and second grade classrooms, but then the number of classrooms drops to three in third through fifth grades.

So where are those extra 26 kids supposed to go in third grade? This is not a rhetorical question. In recent years, King has tried to support four classrooms of each grade in the early years, only to have to drop to three as the kids go on--the very scenario that's being suggested. It's terrible for the kids who want to stay and are forced out. What's the mechanism supposed to be for deciding who stays and who goes? How is this good for kids or in any way equitable? It's not.

Yes, student attrition due to mobility may take care of some slots, but as the demand for seats grows districtwide and at King in particular (it's a popular choice both in its neighborhood and citywide), it seems inevitable that some kids will be forced to attend other schools. In the past, when this situation has occurred, it has demanded considerable time from our very devoted principals (not that we have two, but that both of the men who have served as principal at King recently have had to deal with this) as families panic and try to figure out what to do.

Is the assumption of the facility profile that we're supposed to institutionalize this terrible process? Are 26 kids every year supposed to expect to pack up and move after second grade? I hope not, but it seems to be the case. Again, I know that compared to some of the situations that educators, families and students face in other buildings, this is a relatively high class problem. But it matters hugely to kids for whom having educational continuity is often an essential part of their success. Let's not intentionally create situations that ensure disruption and damage.

Again, for all I know, King is the only such school for which such misguided recommendations are being made. If anyone reading has thoughts about the implications about the recommendations for schools that they know well, please chime in so that those at PPSD making decisions about facilities will pay attention to the long term implications of the available space that the Fanning Howey recommendations seem to indicate.

PPSD Community Meetings - happening this week!

This week, the Providence Public Schools is holding six Community Meetings to allow opportunities for us to get in-depth answers to questions about school closings, student assignment, teacher hiring and firing, or other changes that may happen as a result of the city’s financial crisis. Click on the flier to the right for more information.

These are taking place at the following locations and times:

Juanita Sánchez Educational Complex
182 Thurbers Avenue
Tuesday, March 22, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 26, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Classical High School
770 Westminster Street
Wednesday, March 23, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 26, 9:00 - 10:30 a.m.

Veazie Street Elementary School
211 Veazie Street
Thursday, March 24, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 26, 1:00 - 2:30 p.m.

Word from the district is that these aren't taking place in the schools that have been slated for closure and/or reorganization (Flynn Elementary, Asa Messer Elementary, Asa Messer Annex, Windmill Street School, and Bridgham Middle School) due to ADA accessibility requirements.

I am going to try hard to make it to at least one--likely one or two of the Saturday sessions. Anyone who goes tonight, tomorrow or Thursday, please post a comment so we can have some immediate first hand reports.

Parent and Community Forum on the Providence Public Schools, 3/19/11: recap

On Saturday, March 19, I worked with a handful of other PPSD parents, with Karina Wood from Better Providence (who is also a PPSD parent) and with the staff of the office of the district's office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) to create the Parent and Community Forum on the Providence Schools. Big effort, and playing catch-up in all of the other areas of life has necessitated a couple of days of blog silence even though there's so much to talk about. This meeting was a separate and independent effort, spurred by recent events but not related to the Community Meetings on the future of Providence Public Schools that the district is hosting this week.

Quick event recap: the organizers--and my informal sense of reaction from most participants--is that it went really well. Mayor Taveras and Superintendent Brady opened the Forum with short remarks that included their own wishes for the Providence Public Schools - a thoughtful way to get participants ready for what was to come. They then took several questions, not directly from the audience but from the audience, who wrote their questions for the Mayor and Superintendent on index cards. Ina Anderson posted the most frequently occurring questions. We'll be sharing all of the questions, and I'll get a report from someone who was paying attention to the Mayor and Superintendent's answers to share their responses--I could not, as I was engaged in other event-related getting-started urgencies.

Following the Superintendent and Mayor's remarks and Q & A,  we moved the audience members into small groups of 10 or so, each group gathered around a table, and each group paired with a facilitator. The facilitator led the groups--which were mixed across roles, neighborhood, race, and other factors--through a conversation with several phases: quick introductions, longer discussions in pairs in which each participants shared her/his reason for coming to the forum, a full-group discussion in which each person shared their partner's reason, a short individual writing session in which participants wrote about their top three wishes/hopes/dreams/expectations for the Providence Public Schools, a time to share those wishes, which the facilitators captured on chart paper, and finally, a group conversation that identified the group's top three wishes. We then brought the small groups together and they shared their collective results, which I will share here as soon as they're typed up.

I wish we'd asked for feedback at the end - unfortunate oversight. Though I can't report directly on people's experience, what we saw was encouraging. Anecdotal feedback told us that people were gratified both to have heard from Mayor Taveras and Superintendent Brady. They valued having the opportunity to express themselves not just to people who they knew, but to people who they never would have otherwise met. They talked about the immediate issues that their schools are facing as a result of the current financial mess, and they talked about the bigger picture of what we want our schools to be in the long run. We saw teachers, parents, elected officials, appointed officials, students, and others being able to share their experiences with each other with honesty and respect--and we noticed a lot of intent listening. Informal conversations lasted long after the small groups dispersed, and again, there were folks talking with each other who never would have met, and they were able to feel a sense of mutual support and new understanding of each other's challenges. I think the event went a distance toward humanizing groups that might have found it easy to be disparaging or dismissive in the abstract. When faced with a real person talking about their worries and hopes, we realize both that our experience is not universal, and that we need to gather our assets citywide to create lasting change in our schools that will make the difference for all kids in all neighborhoods.

Next steps include sharing the results of the meeting, particularly the pressing questions and the hopes and dreams for our schools. We will definitely do a follow-up gathering of some sort soon, and we'll see where our collective energy takes up. This could be the foundation of a city-wide public school advocacy group powered by those who are closest to young people and their learning: educators, family members, and students themselves. Providence needs it, and the time is right to make it happen.

If you want to read yet more, the ProJo and the Brown Daily Herald came out and reported on the event; I think there were other media outlets there as well but haven't seen anything else in print or online.

I could go on, but for those of you still reading, I'll let you off the hook, at least for now. Just one more thing to do, which is to say thank you to the many people who helped make this possible. Thank you to Mayor Taveras, Angela Romans, Melissa Withers, Superintendent Brady, Janet Pichardo and the FACE staff, Christina O'Reilly, Peter Lee and the staff of the John Hope Settlement House, Jorge Cardenas of Sodexho for providing food, Aramark for providing chairs, Karina Wood and Better Providence for tireless event support, Youth in Action and Kidoinfo for helping to spread the word, members of the Parent Advisory Council who came out on Saturday morning to assist with registration and set-up, and the members of the Parent Advisory Council leadership group who planned the event: Robin Adams, Dawn Clifton, Carmel McGill, Lee Keizler, and Michelle McKenzie.

If you'd like to find out more about the Providence Public Schools Parent Advisory Council, email us at

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nothing Beats the Eyeball, and the ripple effect of school closings

About an hour ago, I headed over to Windmill Street School to drop off some fliers for the Parent and Community Forum on the Providence Public Schools that's happening on Saturday (you're coming, right? Right!). All inside of course was business as usual for the whole 15 minutes I was there. Business as usual, including custodial staff and kitchen staff at work cleaning up after lunch, aides walking with kids down the hall, the school office staff joking around about how lucky I was to be able to go outside into the sunshine. No joke - it is gorgeous out there today! Why I am inside typing away is something I should not consider very carefully or I will stop.

And of course it hit me like a belated load of bricks that when a school closes, many people beyond teachers, students, and families feel the effects. I don't know where the school staff at Windmill, Flynn, Asa Messer, Asa Messer Annex, and Bridgham will end up. I hope all of them who are great assets to their current schools land in places where they continue to serve young people well. This article from yesterday's Brown Daily Herald does a nice job of capturing the ripple effect of unintended and sometimes unnoticed consequences that results when a school closes or is disrupted.

Years ago, when I was settling into editing and writing Horace for the Coalition of Essential Schools, I had a long chat with Gary Heyder, a custodian at Hilliard Weaver Middle School in Hilliard, Ohio. He was so thoroughly eloquent about his work as an educator, accomplished as he went about his work as a custodian that I did what love doing best, which was to work with him to shape his words into "A Caring Adult in a Different Setting," which ran under his own byline. The title is meh - I really wish we'd called it "Nothing Beats the Eyeball" - but the piece is a powerful strong reminder that the adults that spend time with our kids at school have the potential to be forces for greatness in their lives.

I cannot say whether any of the school staff that are affected by the school closures in Providence interact like Gary Heyder does (thought I'd bet that some do). I don't know offhand if any of them are unionized here and the ways their contract with the city (or with Sodexho and/or Aramark) affects their prospects for continued employment in other PPSD schools. If anyone who is reading this has a clue, please comment to shed some light.

Leadership Rhode Island at Central Falls High School

This year, I'm happy to be participating in Leadership Rhode Island. Thus far, three months in, it's a powerful experience helping me and many others contribute as effectively as we can to sustaining and improving our state.

Due to a work obligation, I was not that happy to have to miss an opportunity to spend time at Central Falls High School on Monday morning with some of my LRI class and LRI alums, who visited the school to meet with Central Falls students to talk about careers and the future. Here's the ProJo coverage of the event. I have heard it was a mutually beneficial connection, and I think that lives were changed among the adults and young people who participated.

We need to continue to find ways to get adults and young people together, both for one-offs like this and for more sustained relationships.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Calling all Families and Educators! Parent and Community Forum on the Providence Public Schools, March 19, 9:30am

On Saturday, March 19 (this coming Saturday!) from 9:30am-noon, please take a couple of hours to join parents, family members, young people, educators, and concerned citizens across Providence to participate in a Parent and Community Forum on the Providence Public Schools.

The Forum will take place at the John Hope Settlement House, located at 7 Thomas P. Whitten Way (off Westminster St.) in Providence. If you're driving, enter front parking lot off Westminster Street or back parking lot via Thomas P. Whitten Way.

The forum is sponsored by the Providence Public Schools Parents Advisory Council (known as the PAC, of which I am a proud member and of which I will say a bit more below) and BetterProvidence (with which it has been a delight to collaborate).

Parents and community members will identify and discuss our education priorities, and how can we be better engaged in our schools and partner with our schools and the School Department to improve the quality of education for our kids. We're planning on facilitated discussion in small groups, and what people share really matters. Your voice will be heard!

In addition, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras will outline his education agenda and priorities for Providence public schools and Superintendent Brady will provide the most updated information from the Providence Public School Department.

The Parent and Community Forum is free and open to all. Spanish and Hmong translation services, refreshments, and free child care will be provided. Please call in advance to reserve childcare: 401-456-0686

For further information, please contact or the PPSD Office of Family and Community Engagement at 401-456-0686 - or ask me here and I'll find out what you need to know. If you click on the flier in the upper right, you can grab copies of it for yourself. Please help spread the word!

As you can tell, I am excited about this event. In early March, when the impact of the city's financial crisis became know, the PAC leadership gathered to act on the foundation we've been building for some time to create strong connections among families with students in the public schools across Providence. The PAC meets monthly with representatives from many (should be all, but isn't now) schools in Providence. One of our members, Robin Adams, was instrumental in pulling together a meeting of parents statewide earlier this year to hear from and ask questions of RIDE Commissioner Deborah Gist about Race to the Top funds and parent involvement.

This meeting will be our first focused on Providence itself, the first effort by parents for parents that we're aware of recently, and we see it as an important moment. We're eager to use the strength and energy of those who show up to form a strong citywide coalition of families. We won't always agree, but we can work across difference, find what we have in common, and speak clearly as one to stand for the best interests of all of our kids.

This is not limited at all to families, of course. We also hope that teachers and high school students -- who thus far have been better organized than families in this city -- will join us.

Please help spread the word, and if you have any questions or comments, please share them below or with me in email. Use the address - I'll be checking it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

PPSD school closings announced + please sign petition

The ProJo has the rundown on the anticipated school closures with detail about expected teaching job losses, reconfiguration of several schools that are remaining open, and more. The article is here.

Flynn Elementary School, Windmill Street Elementary School, Asa Messer Elementary School and the Asa Messer Annex will all close. Bridgham Middle School will become an elementary school. In order to create space for the teachers who will be losing positions, teachers considering retirement will be offered a one-time stipend to do so. Other shifts and changes which at least on the surface seem to make a lot of sense are described in the article.

Not described in the article nor in the press conference at which Mayor Taveras and Superintendent Brady spoke was any sense of how teachers from those schools will be hired back into positions. Will they interview for open positions under the district's criterion-based hiring system? Will they be able to bump less senior teachers? Will there be another way? Not clear now. What is clear is that if you do not think that seniority should be the single and only deciding factor for teacher hiring, now is the time to express that opinion. Please take a moment to sign "Put education needs of Providence kids first," a petition created to tell our school board members and other officials that we wish to see a way to manage teacher hirings that both respects experience, wisdom, and seniority and considers other factors. Please take a moment to sign.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

School closing announcement delayed again. Who stays and who goes?

Mayor Taveras' office has released a statement that the school closures announcement, originally slated for Monday and postponed until today, will now happen on Monday, March 14. Here it is, in full:
Superintendent Thomas Brady and Mayor Angel Taveras have postponed by one week submission of a list of schools recommended for closure in 2011-12.  The list will be announced on Monday, March 14, 2011. The decision to postpone reflects the seriousness of the process, the complex variables that must be considered before a school is closed, and a commitment to conduct school closures in a manner that produces the best outcomes for students and significant cost savings for the City. In addition, the administration is still in ongoing conversations with leadership at the Providence Teachers Union to discuss how teachers displaced by the closure will be terminated and how those unaffected will have their letters of dismissal rescinded. These are challenging decisions that cannot be made lightly or without adequate consideration.
The second to last sentence points to a real challenge: who will stay, who will go, and how will that be determined? I ask the Mayor not to use seniority as the sole basis for continued employment. If the only criterion is seniority, the result will be bumping, which allows senior teachers to displace more junior teachers. This destroys the fabric of school communities and presents the prospect of disruption that our already stressed-out students can't afford.

I write this with great respect for our teachers with seniority in the system. We need their wisdom and experience. Seniority has a place in the hiring and retention process, but it cannot be the only factor.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

PPSD kindergarten registration field report

Yesterday, I stopped by Providence Public Schools' Student Registration and Placement Center to register my youngest child for kindergarten. In and out in 25 minutes. The staff confirmed that 4:00 in the afternoon on weekdays is a great time to stop in if you can; in our case, it was the only hour I had available that has been designated for children whose last name starts with the letter of the alphabet with which my youngest son's last name starts.

Much was the same as when I registered my second child three years ago: too-loud tv blaring in ther corner, blank empty room, lots of chairs in rows. A shelf or two of books and games for kids would be lovely, and perhaps a DVD featuring performances and learning in action in Providence Public School classrooms would go far to making the wait (brief in my case, but longer for many) more pleasant.

Nevertheless, the process itself was easy. Filled out the various forms, presented birth certificate, health records, and proof of residency (this kid's circumstances don't require extra steps of ESL assessment or IEP processing), a chat with the registration staff member to confirm or supply information, and that was that. As I was registering my son for a school which a sibling attends, I received verbal confirmation that he would have a kindergarten seat at that school as long as his immunization records were up to date.

In past years, the process included meeting with a school nurse to review health records. Not this year - the registration staff member I met with reported that they're swamped and no longer do those individual meetings. A nurse will review kids' immunization and health records and be in touch if anything is missing or awry.

So that was that. 25 mostly low-stress minutes from start to finish. I do not expect that everyone will have an identical experience, and I continue to suggest you enter into the process informed about which schools you wish to choose as a first choice and the implications of those choices. Read this post on registering your child for kindergarten and first grade in the Providence Public Schools for thoughts on those matters, and for more advice.

The only caveat to the ease of the experience--well, the only caveat in addition to the blaring tv in the waiting area--is the uncertainty that all parents share about which schools are likely to close. The announcement of which schools will be closed, originally slated to be released yesterday, was delayed--here's Mayor Taveras' statement on the reasons for that delay and the criteria that decisionmakers are using about choosing which schools to close. The timing is terrible, of course. Parents may well be choosing schools that will soon be closed, or finding that the school that they chose will be significantly different due to increased student population or other unknown factors. I asked the registration staff member who assisted me how this would impact her work and she sighed in a way with which any one of us prepared to put in many long, difficult hours at work would sympathize.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

TEDxNYED today - check it out

Evidence suggests that you're already: 1. online and 2. thinking about education. Perfect timing! Head directly to the TEDxNYED live stream. TEDxNYED's purpose is in its name - it's a TED-like conference on education that's happening right now in New York City.

Here's the schedule, and here's the local angle: Dennis Littky, co-director of Providence's Big Picture Learning and co-founder of the Met School and College Unbound, will be speaking at the end of the 11:40 session. Dennis is a great pre-lunch choice, assuring that everyone will be carrying his energy and wisdom into their lunchtime conversations. Gary Stager is also in that session, so tune in at the start to catch Gary--who has been using his online presence to do some powerful truth-telling--in action.

Lots of other great speakers too, some of whom I know and some of whom I wish I did. I l look forward to connecting with their ideas when the TEDxNYED presentations are archived and online. Though I'm here in computerland now, I won't be soon, though I do hope to peek in now and again. It's a regular Saturday for me - getting the guys to basketball practice, farmers' market, laundry (yay! still catching up after the dryer fire), birthday party, and generally catching up with my kids after a crazy week.

In 2010, I attended the first TEDxNYED. The presentations inspired and connected me to great ideas, and the contacts and friends I made there have been lasting and powerful. I hope that this year is the same for those who are there--enjoy, and I hope I can be back soon.

PPSD school closing announcement moved to Wed., March 9

The ProJo reports that the announcement that will tell us which Providence schools will be recommended for closure as a result of our financial crisis has been delayed until Wednesday, March 9. Here's the original timeline that Mayor Taveras shared last week.

If you're still reading, having made it through that painful passive construction that I used in the first sentence above, thank you for hanging in there. Since last week, when all of this started with the teacher termination news, Mayor Taveras' office has initiated all communication from the city's perspective about what's happening to our teachers, schools, and other education-related matters. Perhaps moving forward, some of this info will start to come from PPSD, though there's no way to be sure of that, hence the grammatical hedge.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Extremely far from ideal

Here's a small excerpt from my upcoming April East Side Monthly education column. I put aside what I had been writing for April to focus on the sharing reactions from teachers in the first week of hearing that they faced termination at the end of the school year. Since last Wednesday, when the news of the teacher terminations broke, the possible impact of PPSD budget cuts on our young people and their schools was surrounded by a larger context of bleak finances and immediate responses by Mayor Taveras. The mayor is addressing neglected and obfuscated financial responsibilities; I applaud him and am committed to contribute all I can to move our city to its next strength. Here's part of what I wrote; the issue should be in your mail within the next couple of weeks, and I'll link to the full version when it appears online.
...we know  that the way the teacher termination decision was reached and announced was extremely far from ideal, even if could not be helped. I am not in a position to know if there were no other choice. What I do know is that the specific circumstances of the teacher termination announcement—during vacation, with no guidelines or support of which I am aware provided for teachers to manage students’ anxiety—created a perfect storm for stress and unease. One can assume the utmost good will and believe that no one intended to create anxiety among students, but the consequences, however unintended, have been real. The erosion of trust that resulted from the way the teacher termination news broke created resentment, confusion, anger, and worry at precisely the worst moment. We all need safety and security to use our minds well. We need everyone at their best as we pull together to preserve what works and improve what’s broken in our schools for the benefit of our city’s young people.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

teacher's voices

As I write, the financial picture of Providence is changing rapidly for the grimmer. It was a hell of a day, with last week's teacher terminations and subsequent worry about what's going to happen to our schools placed in a broader context of massive deficit and proposals for cuts to city services and agencies across the board.

Before we totally lose the thread of the impact on teachers, I want to remember what this felt like to them when the teacher termination news first broke by highlighting a comment that appeared on the blog that the East Side Public Education Coalition maintains. In response to a statement that ESPEC put out (which, for full disclosure, I helped draft last week), Jennifer Galpern, a parent at Vartan Gregorian Elementary School, shared thoughts from teachers at Gregorian in the fourth comment down. These teachers shared their thoughts before school resumed on Monday, and give a window into what this felt like to them. As Jennifer said, "our teachers' hearts are broken and their trust lost." I am not presuming to say that all teachers feel this way, or that these teachers even feel this way now, nearly a week later, but I don't want their voices to get completely lost in the maelstrom in which we find ourselves.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Community Forum on Current Issues Facing Providence Public Schools, March 2, 6:00pm +

Tomorrow evening at 6:00pm, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization is hosting a community forum to discuss the current financial issues facing Providence Public Schools. This meeting is being co-sponsored by the Vartan Gregorian Elementary, Nathan Bishop Middle School, and Hope High School PTOs.

MLK PTO president Dr. Corey D. B. Walker, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, will facilitate the conversation, which will focus on sharing clear information, creating a space to share concerns and questions, and consider next steps as a community.

Invited speakers (not all of whom are represented in the image of the flyer on this page - this has come together fast!) include:

Superintendent Tom Brady
Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith
School Board Member Brian Lalli
School Board President Kathy Crain (confirmed)
Mayor Taveras' Senior Adviser on Education Angela Romans (confirmed)
Annenberg Institute for School Reform Executive Director Warren Simmons (confirmed)
City Council Member Seth Yurdin (confirmed)
City Council Member Kevin Jackson (confirmed)
City Council Member Sam Zurier (confirmed)

The meeting will be held at MLK Elementary School, 35 Camp Street. Please enter through the cafeteria doors on Carrington Avenue, on the south side of the building. Carrington runs between Hope and Camp Streets.

Registering for Providence Public Schools, Kindergarten and First grades, 2011-2012

This rundown of what you need to know to register your kids for kindergarten or first grade in the Providence Public Schools appeared on last week and I am delighted to share it here.

In what is now an annual tradition, Kidoinfo offers tips and guidelines to help you have a successful experience as you register your child for the Providence Public Schools as a kindergartner or first grader. This year, I’ll be among those signing my child up for a kindergarten spot as Henry, my youngest son, will be entering kindergarten at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School. How my little baby is now old enough for kindergarten will be a mystery best explored in another article, so let’s dive into registration-related matters.

Information provided here is based in part of Kira Greene’s expertise, which was part of Kidoinfo’s 2010 Providence Public Schools registration overview. Kira, whose kids attend Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point, has spent many hours helping families navigate the Providence Public Schools District (PPSD) registration system.

For the 2011-12 school year, enrollment for PPSD kindergarten begins on Monday, February 28, and runs through Saturday, April 9. Grade 1 registration for students who are new to the Providence public schools will happen on the same dates. Consult the kindergarten and first grade registration calendar for specific information about when to register your child. For students who are new to the district enrolling in second through twelfth grades, registration begins May 5, and information is available here. The processes to choose middle schools and high schools run separately.

Registration must happen in person at the Student Registration and Placement Center, 325 Ocean Street in Providence (Map it). If you’ve been there before, it’s in the same location, though with a different street address. Families are requested to register children on certain days according to the first letter of the child’s last name, and make-up days are available during the last week of the registration period. To be eligible for kindergarten, your child must have been born on or before September 1, 2006, and reside in Providence.

Here is a list of documents you need to bring:
- Birth certificate, passport, green card, or I-94 card
- Child’s immunization records from pediatrician’s office
- Proof of physical exam, vision screening, and lead test results
- Proof of Providence residency (utility bill or lease/rental agreement)
- For special education students only: bring your child’s current Individualized Education Program (IEP) if s/he has one.
- If a language other than English is the primary language at home, your child will need a language assessment, available by appointment.
- Families of first grade students also need to supply proof of registration in an accredited kindergarten program.

Note that you don’t need to bring your child! You certainly can bring him or her, but it is not required. As you head into this process, please know the guidelines and details as described in PPSD’s Student Assignment Policy. Here are some important considerations specifically related to how and whether to choose a neighborhood school:

Providence public elementary schools are defined as neighborhood schools (this doesn’t apply to charter schools, which have enrollment processes that are separate from the public schools). The school assignment policy provides families with a choice of schools while encouraging neighborhood school enrollment. This means that you need to know which schools PPSD defines as neighborhood schools for your child’s primary address, and that you need to be prepared with school choices at the time of your child’s registration. All children in the city of Providence have two neighborhood schools, which are the two closest schools (as the crow flies) to where your child lives. Unfortunately, there is no map online to illustrate this for you. You must call the Student Registration and Assignment Center  456-9297), provide your address, and ask for your “two neighborhood schools.” When you request this information, and any other information, make a note of the date and the name of the person with whom you spoke, along with the information you received, so you can have good records should anything go awry. If registration is like last year, you will receive a sheet with four choices. It is important that you write your first choice on the first line!

For those families who are registering students at a non-neighborhood school (that is, not one of your two neighborhood schools), here’s some advice based on Kira’s experience. Because the Student Assignment Policy states that “80 percent of the general education seats in each school will be reserved for students who listed the school as a first choice and live in the neighborhood,” it appears that if you list a non-neighborhood school as your first choice, you are not automatically guaranteed your neighborhood school as your second choice. Therefore, if your first choice is a “non-neighborhood” school (for your address) that is popular and difficult to get into, you may not get into your neighborhood school of choice if it is listed as your second choice. Therefore, unless you are dead-set on choosing only one school, your first choice may need to be your top preference of those schools that are likely to have space for your child. Remember, this does not apply to families for whom their first choice is also their neighborhood school.

Another implication of the assignment policy’s stipulation that 80 percent of the seats are reserved for neighborhood children is that most of these seats are often allocated in kindergarten, so if your heart is set on a particular school, kindergarten may the best time to take advantage of that policy. Parents who register their children for first grade may not get their choice of schools because seats at neighborhood schools are limited.

Here are a few more tips to make sure that the registration process results in a good outcome: Registering your child in the Providence Public Schools can feel bureaucratic and cumbersome. Remember that your experience at registration will have nothing to do with your experience at your elementary school of choice. Please keep this in mind as you go through this process, and also remember that PPSD processes registrations for thousands of kids each year. Therefore, we recommend that you know the registration policies and advocate for your child! Kids can fall through the cracks and mistakes happen.

After you have registered your child, if you are concerned or just need confirmation, call the Student Registration and Information Center and ask them to repeat the schools you have applied to and what category (neighborhood/non-neighborhood) your child falls within. At the end of the registration period, you can even ask, for example, how many neighborhood children applied to the school for which you registered your child. If this number is below 80 percent, you know you will get a spot.

For many families, the process goes smoothly, but occasionally mistakes happen, and again, we emphasize the need to advocate for your child and to ask for help if you need it. If you are having any difficulty or are worried that the practices do not meet up with the policies, call the principal of the school at which you wish to register your child and reach out to other parents whom you may know at that school or the leaders of the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization (if there is one) for advice.

Student Registration and Information Center
Telephone: 401-456-9297
Fax: 401-278-0553
Main web page:
Contact information (including information for speakers of languages other than English):
Address: 325 Ocean Avenue (formerly 650 Prairie Avenue) in Providence, behind the BJ Clanton School Complex/Woods and Young Schools.