Friday, August 26, 2011

First Day of School - Wednesday, August 31 (hurricane delay!)

So, turns out my kids might have been a little bit right when they predicted that the first day of school wouldn't happen due to Hurricane Irene. Just got a call from PPSD saying that the first day of school is not Tuesday, August 30. It's now Wednesday, August 31, with a make up day scheduled for Friday, January 20, 2012, a day already set aside for make up.

Stay safe, everyone.

Messer Elementary School at Bridgham: Help Needed Monday, 8/29

Judi Jeroslow, West Side Public Education Coalition volunteer, passed on this request for help on Monday, August 29 to get Messer Elementary School at the Bridgham school building ready for the first day of school. Happy to share it! From Judi:
As we enter into the weekend, I want to put out a call for anyone who can lend a hand on Monday, August 29th, at the Bridgham school building (1655 Westminster Street). We'll be planting plants and flowers, painting classroom numbers on the pavement outside, and hanging maps and mascots around the building. If you have a free hour or two and want to help out, please let me know. School starts Tuesday and we're hoping to make it easier for those little kids to navigate around that big huge building on their first day of school. Thanks! 
p.s. If anyone has a pickup truck and is willing to help haul soil, please let me know!
If you can help or have resources to contribute, please contact Judi via email or post a comment here and I'll pass it on.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Providence Public Schools first day: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 (but will be we UNDERWATER and BLOWN AWAY???)

Leo making the academic magic happen on the first day of school.
Sometimes I peek at the stats to find out what brought people to this blog. #1 on the search terms for the past few days: variations on "first day of school Providence."

The first day of school for the Providence Public Schools is Tuesday, August 30. You can go to the Providence Public Schools website at and download a 2011-2012 school year calendar, a PDF in English and Spanish versions.

We're shifting into back to school mode this weekend: shopping for new sneakers, getting haircuts, washing backpacks, getting those last pages of summer reading done, procuring school supplies. I'm in an "all systems go" mindset, though my kids are starting to suggest that Hurricane Irene's impending arrival will cancel the first day of school. This is, apparently, a topic of wild speculation among the elementary and middle school set as they face down the first day of school from the feral camaraderie of the last week of summer camp. "But mom, EVERYONE says that there will be no school on Tuesday because we will be UNDERWATER and the schools are all going to BLOW AWAY!!!" Okay, kids.

As previously noted, PPSD has brought in extra logistical and planning support to ensure the easiest possible first day for all, an idea that seems especially fortuitous now that the first day of school may indeed coincide with the aftermath of Irene which is getting many in addition to my kids and their goofy friends all wound up--or, rather, keeping us all wound up after this week's seismic shakeup. The earthquake that rattled many schools in and around Virginia and Colorado on their first day of the new academic year triggered thousands of communities in the mid-Atlantic states up through New England to inspect buildings and review disaster planning, so perhaps this can been seem as lucky timing.

Here's hoping that despite the shakes and storms that nature is throwing at us, Providence and other communities are prepared and ready, with a focus on safety for everyone.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Getting Ready for Kindergarten

Last night, we participated in Henry's Kindergarten orientation at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in preparation for the start of the school year on August 30. We feel oriented, ready for Kindergarten action and very excited!

Conversation on the playground while we were there reminded me of a article that I wrote a couple of years ago. The original is here, and I've adapted it to reflect a few minor developments. Enjoy and please share with other incoming Kindergarten families!


This fall, for the third--and final!--time, I am sending a child off to kindergarten. We are very excited and a little nervous. Whether you are preparing your first child (and yourself) for kindergarten or you’re readying the next one on deck, here are some strategies to help ensure that your family is ready for this transition.

Read about it. We have a much-loved copy of Rosemary Wells’ My Kindergarten that is the star of the bedtime book routine right now. We love how My Kindergarten takes a careful look at what happens in the lives of a kindergarten student, her teacher, and her classmates throughout the year. It’s useful at all year long, and has given us a lot to talk about to help our kids visualize what life in the classroom might be like.

Visit. If you can, visit your child’s school. Each school will have its own policy, and some may welcome visits more readily than others. This time of the year is a key time for teachers to do preparation for the start of the school year, and they may not have much time to chat. But if you have not already, see if it’s possible to visit the classroom that your child will be in. Look at where the coat hooks, cubbies and bathrooms are. See where the outdoor play space is, if the school has one, and what the door that your child will enter looks like. Take a picture, if you can, to make the school feel familiar when the year begins. Many schools also offer kindergarten orientations, kindergarten playdates, and other ways for kids and parents to meet each other and their teachers before the official first day. Go if you can, and if you see your kid making friends with others, take a moment to swap phone numbers with parents so it’s easy to set up play dates once the school year is under way.

Ask questions. The school may have sent you a lot of information about transportation, food, classroom routines, but if it has not, or if you have additional questions, give the school a call. Find out when lunch is and how to pay for it, how to talk with the school nurse if your child has health concerns, what the bus schedule is like, and anything else that you may need. You may not get all of the answers you seek, but the school office is a great place to start, and a great place to make friends with the staff members who are there to make sure your kids are safe and that school is running smoothly.

Make a study space. Homework? In kindergarten? Well, maybe a little. Different schools will have different policies, but nearly all kids will benefit from having a quiet, organized space to work, think, read, draw, store valued work from school and, yes, do a little bit of homework from time to time. An orderly, well-supplied study space will become more important later on, but establishing it in kindergarten makes your little kid feel big and like she belongs in the world of big-kid school.

Don’t forget to take a picture! I often get so caught up in the first day of school frenzy that I forget to take a picture of the big event! This photo shows my son Elias saying goodbye on his second day of school, because I was so excited about getting him there on the first day that I completely forgot to take a picture. So take a moment to get your big kid’s first day on film (and hey, if it’s the second, close enough!).

Talk about it…but not too much. For us, the parents, our kids’ kindergarten debuts are thrilling milestone. And for many kids, it’s a pretty great day. But remember, many kids locally have at least a week left of summer vacation. As much as it’s important to take time to get ready, it’s also important to enjoy this time, to let your children sleep a little late if they are so inclined, to spend a lot of time outdoors, to do all the fun end-of-summer kid stuff that they can. For some kids, transitioning to a mostly-inside, fairly structured routine can be a bit of a challenge. So for now, talk about what’s coming, get ready, but also enjoy the last few weeks in ways that allow all of you to face the first day well-rested, happy, and confident that your child’s entry to kindergarten is the start of a great adventure of learning, making friends, getting to know a new place, and having fun.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thoughts on the Achievement First Mayoral Academy proposal, charter schools, and in-district public schools

I have refrained from opinionating about the pros and cons about the proposed Achievement First Mayoral Academies because I have not wanted to join what feels like one of two sides:
  • those that doggedly flog and endorse the proposal and seem to indicate without a great deal of critical thinking that charter schools = excellence (and in-district public schools = mediocrity)
  • those who vehemently resist the AF Mayoral Academies proposal and seem to indicate without a great deal of critical thinking that charter schools = evil conspiracy
As is usually the habit of truth, the reality is likely in murky gray, and really, who wants to go there in one's free time? Much easier just to pick a side, to go with a group. But I cannot. After many months of resistance, it's time to pull on the hip waders and slog through.

I'm a huge fan of many charter schools. I've worked for many years at the Coalition of Essential Schools and seen many extraordinary charter schools in action and in collaboration with many in-district public schools and independent schools. I served on the board of a charter school in San Francisco. I entered my oldest child into the lotteries for three charter schools when we moved to Providence and am very up front about the fact that if he had been selected for a spot at any of the three, he and his brothers would likely be there. It's worth noting that in every instance, these schools are "independent" charter schools that emerged from their communities for specific purposes and are autonomously run by their own boards. They're not "Mc-Charters" operated by large charter management organizations that import a model that's not connected to the school's community.

That's why I wholeheartedly support most of Rhode Island's existing charter schools. At the very least, I support their existence and in some cases, think that the work they're doing with kids is great; that said, I don't at all claim to be familiar with them all.

And I have not ever felt that my support of well-run, community-based charter schools takes away from my ardent support of public schools in general and the Providence Public Schools, where my kids and 20,000+ of their peers, are students. Our schools--already urgently in need of improvement and already benefiting from considerable assets and investments--were sorely battered and bruised this past school year. We need to do all we can to address shortcomings and build on our strengths. I am passionately in it for the long haul as a parent, a community member, and, to the extent that it's useful, education professional, to do just that. A strong public school system that serves all kids in all neighborhood with the highest levels of quality, caring, and equity is absolutely imperative. It's maddening and frustrating that I or anyone else would even have to assert that, but of course we must, over and over and over.

Now that Mayor Taveras and the Providence School board have endorsed the proposal to create the Achievement First Mayoral Academies that will serve 900 Providence students, we will need to amplify the volume of that statement radically. I report these developments not with outrage but with urgent questions about the ways the opening of Achievement First Mayoral Academies will affect students who remain enrolled in Providence's public schools. Here are a few:
  • How will the Achievement First Mayoral Academies will be an asset to all current and future PPSD students (as well as Cranston's public school students)? Will there be collaborative relationships and knowledge sharing established such as that between the Learning Community and Central Falls Public Schools? Or is this strictly a competition? 
  • How will students be recruited and selected so that the newly opened charter schools don't skim off the "cream of the crop?"
  • How will the schools' culture, governance, curriculum, approaches to discipline, and other elements reflect our community's hopes and dreams for our children? How much room is there in the Achievement First model for local input?
  • What will be the real long- and short-term financial impact on Providence Public Schools' budget and students?
  • How will the newly opened charter schools avoid the effects of (re)segregation that has been the effect of many charter schools nationwide? Evidence abounds for this: see reports from Minnesota, California, and Florida for a sense of this effect.
These are questions that should apply to all existing and future charter school that enroll Providence students. They are questions that I expect elected and appointed policy makers to ask and to insist on evidence that demonstrates that all students in Providence will attend better schools as result of these proposed new charters.

Monday, August 22, 2011

School Board and City Council education subcommittee meetings this week + more

Week before school starts and it's all PPSD-related meetings meetings meetings. Here are a few that have hit my post-vacation radar:

Tonight - Monday, August 22

Providence School Board Meeting, 6:30pm, 797 Westminster Street, 3rd floor: The School Board will meet to discuss a number of issues including the potential participation of Providence in the Achievement First Mayor Academies being proposed for Providence and Cranston. School board meeting agenda available here. Arrive early to sign up for public comment if you have thoughts on any of the agenda items or if something else PPSD-related is on your mind that you want on the record.

Parents Advisory Council meeting, 6pm, Family Resource Center, 379 Washington Street: The Parents Advisory Council (PAC) is a gathering of representatives from all Providence public schools. If you are interested in joining the PAC to represent your school, please join us! I have been a PAC member for several years and will be representing Nathan Bishop Middle School during the coming year.

Tomorrow night - Tuesday, August 23

City Council Education Subcommittee meeting, 5:30pm, Providence City Hall, 3rd floor: The School Department will report on issues related to the reopening of school, including the length of the instructional day, assignment of children from closed schools and the teacher "match" process.

Wednesday, August 24

Rhode Island Jobs for Justice Cranston parent rally, 5pm (or perhaps 6pm) onward: A series of rallies is planned in Cranston for families in that district to stand up for their schools. May be of interest to Providence folks with an interest in what's happening with the proposed Achievement First Mayoral Academies. More details here at Tuttle SVC.

What we did for our summer vacation

Family vacation: victory!!!
Happy to say that Providence Schools and Beyond has returned, or more properly, I have returned from vacation to write it.

We went to Montreal for the week. Loved every minute of it. Took the Metro everywhere, learned a very little bit more French, really enjoyed seeing the world from a different perspective.

We experienced much but of course left wishing we had many more days to explore and get to know Montreal. I left obsessed with RESO/La Ville Souterraine,  Montreal's underground city tunnel network. It is AMAZING, the largest underground network in the world. Elias and I walked for nearly an hour down there one night and barely covered any of it. It links well over a hundred kilometers of hotels, malls, supermarkets, shopping centers, apartments, government buildings, civic centers, arts and cultural buildings, all connected by Metro stations. As long as you pop up to the surface to get some vitamin D from time to time, you really could live down there - not that you'd really want to since Montreal is so fantastic but on a very cold and snowy day, I totally get the appeal, and just think that such a massive urban planning effort as a citywide underground network is supercool. 
Drove home through the Lake Champlain area into Vermont, stopped at the Ben and Jerry's factory and spent the next day at the Shelburne Museum. Also very excellent. And now we're back for the last week of summer vacation for the guys - school starts August 30.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Vacation

Be back the week of the 22nd! Let me know if the PPSD earth shakes this week and I'll catch up when I get back.

Friday, August 12, 2011

PPSD's first day of school: time for PPPPPPP

The association between "first day of school" and "emergency" is unsettling. That said, help is good. A calm, well run first day of school (and all subsequent days) is great. Coordinating Marine logistics in Iraq might well be adequate preparation for May Col. Pete Gaynor to help ensure that teachers and students--along with their buses, cafeteria tables, books, and everything else--are in the places that they're supposed to be.

"Providence schools to get help from emergency manager," from yesterday's ProJo news blog:
PROVIDENCE -- Providence Emergency Management Agency Director Col. Pete Gaynor will assist the School Department with the opening of school Aug. 30.

Gaynor will maintain his position at PEMA while he takes on this temporary role. He will not receive any additional compensation for his service.

To provide expert logistical support, especially to schools and students most affected by the closure of five schools this year, Interim Supt. Susan Lusi is drawing upon Gaynor's nationally recognized logistics skills.

Gaynor is working with Lusi and other school leaders to make sure supplies and supports are in place to help students, parents, teachers and administrators start the year off on the right foot.

"Colonel Gaynor is a tremendous asset to the City of Providence," said Mayor Angel Taveras. "His unique expertise in coordinating large-scale operations and training in logistics management will provide PPSD with an extra layer of support in making sure that the first day of school in Providence goes off as smoothly as possible. Students, parents and teachers deserve nothing less."

"I greatly appreciate Col. Gaynor's willingness to share his skills and abilities with us," said Lusi. "The last few months have been a challenge for everyone at the department and having this extra layer of support will ensure efficient operations and a smooth opening for all of our schools. This is priority number one for our team."

Gaynor, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, has participated in military operations in numerous theaters, including Iraq, where he was responsible for daily operations with I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) in the Al Anbar Province.

Gaynor began meeting with School Department administrators this week and expects to continue working closely with the team through the beginning of September.


*PPPPPPP:  proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Providence Teachers Union contract in full

On Tuesday, the members of the Providence Teachers Union voted with a robust majority in favor to ratify the contract discussed here and elsewhere previously. Here's the ProJo's report on the outcome.

BetterProvidence has posted the full text of the contract (PDF download) for your analysis, distraction, enjoyment. Not for me to judge. You have your fun and I'll have mine. Since this blog constitutes one of my main pastimes, infer what you will about mine.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ready to Learn Providence free high quality preschool opportunity for 4 year olds

If you're a Providence resident with a child who will be four by September 1 and are interested in an option for pre-Kindergarten, visit Ready to Learn Providence's website to find out about the Rhode Island Department of Education's highly rated preschool program, which runs five days a week all day. You can also find information about additional locations. You can learn more about the program here.

The program takes place at the Liston Campus of CCRI on the south side of Providence and is free, with additional locations elsewhere in Providence and Warwick. Applications (PDF download) are due by August 15.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hope High School students: what did you do this summer? Read on to find out!

Summer can be a tremendous time for learning for students, as evidenced by the intense projects on which some Hope High School students have been working. During the past month, students from Hope High School's H2O After School programs participated in "The Experience," a four-week program in which they honed their entrepreneurial skills as product developers and marketers. Channel 6 ABC news reported on their efforts, and if you're on Facebook, you visit Hope H2O's Facebook page to learn more both about "The Experience" and Hope H2O's work in general.

And as I've written about previously, other Hope students in Edinburgh, Scotland to perform Laurie Brooks' "Triangle" at the American High School Theater Festival that's part of Edinburgh's Fringe Festival. They're performing this week, so send excellent vibes across the ocean! Recent local press coverage from GoLocalProv is here, and Rhode Island College's PR office covered the production in detail here; both Christine Auxier, a drama teacher at Hope and "Triangle" director and the production's technical director, Alonzo Jones, are RIC grads. Jones is also a Hope High School graduate.

Rock on, Hope High School!!!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Back to School Guide from KidoInfo

Thank you, Kidoinfo,com, for compiling your school-related information into a school guide. It's a really great way to get your head back into the game. And the game is gong to start soon - Providence Public School's first day is Tuesday, August 30.

My kids go to day camp for most of the summer, unless we're all off for vacation together or one or another child is visiting relatives, so most of the time, our summer routine isn't dramatically different from the school routine. But it's definitely more chill - no homework, no jackets (not to mention gloves/hats/boots), no "do you have that items you need for that thing you are doing afterschool" discussions. The start time is the same for my elementary-age kids but my middle school son will have to get the party started an hour earlier.

And it's summer, with all of the conditions that pertain thereunto. It's light out later, dinner has drifted later, we're just all more laid back. So yes, I definitely feel like I need to get my head back into school mode within the next few weeks. Those of you who are searching for info about back to school, first day of kindergarten, talking with your kids about what's happening at schools, etc. (and I know from the site statistics that many of you are searching for that info) will find the's school resources to be a big help.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What will the new PPSD-PTU teachers contract mean for teaching and learning?

Mayor Taveras' August 2 announcement mentioned in the previous post focuses mainly the tentative agreement between the Providence Teacher Union and the City on the teachers contract, on which PPSD teachers are voting today (click here for a PDF version of a letter from Providence Teachers Union president Steve Smith that contains the announcement of the vote).

Each side seems to have given big to get big in certain areas. The union agreed to criterion based hiring to replace hiring/classroom assignment controlled by seniority. The city agreed to nearly all fired teachers keeping their jobs. The city nets $53 million in savings as a result of the agreement, which in our current dire financial situation is, of course, the big win. As former school board president Kathy Crain argues in GoLocalProv, the contract doesn’t seem to contain significant improvement in the conditions it establishes for teaching and learning, so no big wins for students.

Since this is a follow up post to thoughts about the length of the school day, it’s worth noting that the contract itself doesn’t expand instructional time in any meaningful way, other than adding 5 minutes a year to the day over the course of three years. Not nothing, but not really something either.

Additional stipulations of the new tentative agreement that have been released are provided by the Mayor’s announcement and reported by the ProJo, Providence Business News, and other outlets.The contract itself has not yet been made available to the public.

Last but definitely not least, take a few minutes to review the list of reactions and questions about the new contract that Better Providence is compiling on Facebook. Very thoughtful. I want to know the answers and thank Better Providence for asking for more clarity.

PPSD Middle/High School Common Planning Time/Early Release: No More

Update to the previous post about Councilman Zurier’s upcoming hearing about PPSD’s practice of releasing middle and high school students early in order to accommodate the need for teachers’ common planning time: an announcement from Mayor Taveras’ office released Tuesday states, "...the district will immediately increase instructional time by ending the practice of dismissing students early every week to accommodate state-mandated common planning time."

That’s it? Well, okay then.

The City Council Education Subcommittee's August 23 5:30pm hearing, according to email that Councilman Zurier sent to constituents, is still going forward to "review other issues related to the re-opening of school this fall, including the assignment plans for children who were in schools closed this Spring, and the “match” process by which teachers from the closed schools were assigned new positions."

The Mayor’s August 2 announcement focused mainly on the recently negotiated contract with the Providence Teachers Union. More about that in the next post.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Common planning time and early release - seeking alternative solutions

Ward 2 City Council member Sam Zurier is holding a meeting on August 23 that will focus on the impact of common planning time on middle and high school schedules. Last year, middle and high schools released students early to accommodate common planning time for teachers. For more on the effects, reactions, and possible repercussions of the early release time, please see GoLocalProv's "Providence Schools Violated State Law."

Here's Councilman Zurier's invitation, which is extended not only to parents but also to anyone who would like to comment on or learn more about the impact of common planning time on instructional time:
I would like to give you a heads up that the City Council Education Subcommittee will be holding a meeting on Tuesday, August 23 at 5:30 p.m.  It will take place at City Halll on the third floor.  The purpose of the meeting is to ask the School Department how it is going to handle common planning time in middle and high schools this year, with the hope that they have found an alternative to the early release program they ran last year.  I am hoping that some parents can come to the meeting to express their concerns with last year’s program.