Thursday, September 22, 2011

Providence Schools need a clear, equitable staffing plan

With her permission, I am posting a letter that Providence Public Schools parent Lorraine Lalli sent to Nina Pande, Acting President of the Providence School Board, cc-ed to all school board members and Superintendent Susan Lusi. Lorraine and I have kids who attend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, the school that she describes here.

The problem Lorraine outlines - that PPSD needs clear guidelines for school staffing - applies to all schools within the district. Please read Lorraine's letter and consider adding your own thoughts about ways to use resources as equitably as possible throughout our school system. The professionalism of King's principal, Derrick Ciesla, and the school's staff members go farther than one could ever expect to ensure good conditions for teaching and learning, but without appropriate staffing, the situation at King is precarious, and the situation is likely to repeat at other schools if we do not adopt and adhere to clear staffing guidelines.

Dear Ms. Pande,

I am writing to urge the Providence School Board to implement a staffing plan for Providence Public Schools that indicates clear guidelines about when a school needs the support of a second building administrator. This staffing plan is essential to ensure adequate staffing resources in the District's Elementary Schools.

Currently, my children attend the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School ("King"). This school was greatly impacted by the closing of other District schools at the end of last academic year. As a result, enrollment at King increased by about 25% (120 students) to over 620 pupils for the 2011-2012 academic year. When the School Board voted to close Windmill Elementary, it was explained that approximately 100+ students would be reassigned to King School. The determination of King's ability to service additional students from Windmill Elementary was at all times dependent upon an additional building administrator, namely an Assistant Principal, being assigned to the school to support a larger student body. This additional building administrator was never assigned. Resources saved from the closing of Windmill School failed to follow the impacted students as expected. As a result, King does not have adequate administrative staffing.

While I am sensitive to the budget realities of the Providence School District, I am disappointed by the failure to provide the administrative support necessary to ensure the success of the students at King School. While we currently have an unassigned teacher serving in the role of "Special Assistant to the Principal" this in unacceptable and inadequate support for our students. Highly-qualified professionals should be serving as administrative leaders in our buildings.

At this point in time, it appears that the District leadership is unwilling to make an affirmative statement about when a school should have additional administrative support. That is why I urge the Providence School Board to adopt guidelines for administrative staffing of schools. Best practices from the National Association of Elementary School Principals indicate that an assistant principal should be assigned where enrollment is over 400 students. Past District practice was to assign assistant principals where enrollment was over 500 students (i.e., Veazie Street Elementary). If the District is unwilling to assign administrate support where it is so clearly needed, then the School Board must establish a policy that dictates when an assistant principal is necessary.

The students of King School need the support of highly qualified teachers and administrators. While I have complete confidence in our Principal, Derrick Cielsa, additional administrative support is needed to service a school of our size. This week, I learned that one of our strongest building staff members, Reading Specialist Susan Martin, has been hired as an Assistant Principal at Woods-Young Elementary School. Ms. Martin has been at King for 11 years, providing essential support for the under-resourced King school above and beyond her assigned duties. The loss of Ms. Martin makes the need for additional administrative support at King even more urgent.

Some important factors to consider about King School:
  • Our current enrollment is well over 600 students. This includes two self-contained special education classrooms and an inclusion class at each grade level.
  • Since last year, we have an additional 120 students, increasing our student population by approximately 25%. Increases were heavier at the higher grades levels, with a doubling in size of the fourth and fifth grades.
  • We have 7 new faculty members, with at least one new faculty member in each grade from first to fifth. Our overall faculty size increased by over 10%.
  • Although we have met AYP, last year 30% of our students did not meet proficiency in reading and 53% were below proficiency in math. We must continue to make academic improvements and need the full support of the District to continue our progress.
  • The latest InfoWorks data indicates that 71% of our students qualified for free or reduced lunch.
  • Our school is over 80% diverse. We have the one of the highest (if not the highest) percentage of African-American students, at 40%.
As a parent, I urge the School Board to take a leadership position in defining adequate staffing levels for our elementary schools by adopting a staffing plan for the District's elementary schools.

Thank you,

Lorraine Lalli

1 comment:

  1. I'm just pointing this out because I was looking at a spreadsheet of this data today, but 71% poverty is the 4th LOWEST in the PPSD. Amazing but true.