Friday, April 1, 2011

Questions from the West, questions from the East, and the company we keep

Both the West Side Public Education Coalition (WSPEC) and the East Side Public Education Coalition (ESPEC) have posted thoughtful, necessary questions about the intertwined school closing/teacher firing/student reassignment crises: WSPEC questions here and ESPEC questions here.

Timelines to meet city budget and teacher retirement deadlines have created a sense of urgency that seems to be in conflict with the equally urgent need for transparency, not to mention an appropriate process, described as a minimum 12-month process. in this comprehensive guide to school closures due to urgent fiscal pressures put out by the Broad Foundation.

To make sense of and meaningfully participate in the current situation and in order to (re)establish a baseline of trust so that we can move forward with faith in the system and our leaders, we (students, family members, educators, and everyone else) need clearer, better answers from the Mayor, other elected officials, and the school board.

And in order to put the proposed school closures into a national context, take a few minutes to read this excellent account from the Philadelphia Public School Notebook of the Ford Foundation's recent "Examining School Transformations and Closures from the Ground Up" event and related school closings/reorganizations in the works in Philly and Newark (thanks to Tom Hoffman for pointing out the Notebook story).

While the context in Providence doesn't overlap fully with what's happening in New York and Chicago, the effect of our current lightning round of school closures has the truly unfortunate potential to producing much of the same community alienation and distrust. And while those of us who know the situation in Providence can read the Notebook's account and say, "Well, that's not us," those outside our context could and likely will easily believe that our city is selling out its public schools in ways that the Chicago and New York activists are claiming (if you need proof of this, see the recent claims that the city's move to dismiss all PPSD teachers put us firmly in Wisconsin's company).

Let me be clear: I don't think that's what's happening. There's a completely valid case to be made for "rightsizing" a district by dealing with excess school building capacity. There's a real need to deal with school buildings that have outlived their usefulness as places that provide the conditions for excellent teaching and learning. And there's a completely evident urgency that Providence must deal with its finances responsibly. No arguments there. But because the rushed process cannot include meaningful community/stakeholder participation, we have to face the reality that we're damaging our city's public schools, even though that damage may be inadvertent. Therefore, the need to get clear answers to pressing questions is critically important right now so that we can put everyone in all neighborhoods to work containing the damage and moving forward to ensure the best shot at ensuring consistently good schools for all kids in every part of Providence.

No comments:

Post a Comment