Monday, April 30, 2012

Providence superintendent search: no news is not good news

Though you would not know it from the news, Providence is engaged in searching for a new district superintendent. The most recent news reports, from late March, indicated that four candidates were in play, one of whom is Interim Superintendent Susan Lusi. Other than Dr. Lusi, the candidates names were confidential, "a common professional courtesy," meant to prevent them from tipping their hands at their current workplaces, as WRNI reported.

While I am no expert on the protocol of superintendent searches, I have informally witnessed enough to know that if such secrecy is a common professional courtesy, it's largely honored in the breach. Generally--though certainly not lately in Providence--final candidates make public presentations and have an opportunity to interact with stakeholders. Generally, the media reports on the final stages of the process, and the hiring process that school boards follow is publicly reported.

The courtesy of confidentiality extended to candidates, even if it is common practice, may have less merit than the benefits of transparency that would accrue if this process were more public. I expected that at this stage, final candidates would be public and we--the public--would have more information about the possible directions in which the district might head. I wish we understood the options. Wait, scratch that. I wish we had an opportunity have meaningful input into the outcome of this process. Given that meaningful public conversation around district leadership doesn't seem to be happening, I hope that the search committee and school board pay close attention to what stakeholders want. Pay attention to the comments that people submitted in response to the committee's request for public input (thanks to the Mayor's office for sharing these), which, along with two brief forums, represented the only opportunity for public engagement in this process.

Finally, pay careful attention to what the outcome of this process should be. If you want a strong, unified public school district (a big if, given the direction in which Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans and other busted up, privatized districts have headed), please hire Sue Lusi permanently for the position. Sue is building systems that will see the district through the long haul. She's stabilized the district's relationship with the union. She takes teaching and learning seriously. I can attest that she communicates with parents and families confidently, compassionately, thoughtfully, and competently. Her experience and expertise are very well suited for Providence.

If you agree, speak out. You may want to sign a petition that just got started on to indicate your interest in Dr. Lusi's continued work in Providence; if so, here it is:

Friday, April 27, 2012

National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing

For those of you who would like to place your opposition to the mis- and overuse of high stakes standardized tests on the record, I am sharing the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing that's been circulating recently. The National Resolution is modeled on the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) resolution passed by more than 412 Texas school boards as of April 26, 2012.

The dissatisfaction and search for alternatives that's happening in Texas seems like a hugely positive development toward more meaningful, student-centered teaching and learning. I am not sure what the impact of the national resolution is supposed to be, though even if it's only used to say that all of the rest of us support TASA's stand for better assessment for better learning, that seems like use enough.

To sign the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing, click here and scroll down for further links to click and add your name either as an individual or on behalf of an organization.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writers in the Schools Poetry Reading at AS220, Saturday 4/28, 3-5pm

Come out to AS220 this weekend to celebrate poetry as part of learning and support students from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and Central Falls High School as they read original work written with poets who have spent time in their classrooms as a part of the Writers in the Schools project.

This photo was from last year's AS220 Writers in the Schools event, which was an fantastic afternoon of creativity, personal expression, and excellent poetry from young kids at King and older ones from Central Falls.

What: Writers in the Schools poetry reading
When: Saturday, April 28, 3:00-5:00pm
Where: AS220, 115 Empire Street, Providence
Why: Because poetry is awesome!
How: RSVP on Facebook here.

In the Winners' Circle: Veazie Street Elementary, Hope High School, Classical, and Nathan Bishop

I said I'd back off from being PPSD"s Suzy Sunshine so this post may seem like a contradiction to my promise to hit harder and smarter. However, within the past two weeks, a handful of Providence Schools and educators have been named winners of various honors and awards, a nice collection that I want to celebrate. Here's what's gone down:

Susan Chin, RI Elementary Principal of the Year
The ProJo reports today that Susan Chin, principal of Veazie Street Elementary School in Providence, has been named 2012's Elementary School Principal of the year by the Rhode Island Association of School Principals. Kudos to Ms. Chin!

I wish I knew or could easily find more about Veazie Street Elementary. Its test scores have risen during the past few years, as you can see via the school's InfoWorks report. Beyond that, I've heard great things about the school generally and Ms. Chin's leadership in particular in a word on the street kind of way.

In 2008, Mike Lazzareschi, then the principal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, won the award. Prior to Lazzareschi's honor (which happened when I was PTO president at King), there had been no Providence principals who had received the award as far as we could determine. Now, two in five years.

Lisa Rose Bucci, Providence Teacher of the Year
On April 10, Lisa Rose Bucci, physics teacher at Hope High School, was named Providence's teacher of the year. The award had lain dormant for years - it's great that PPSD resurrected it and awarded to Ms. Bucci. Here's a write up from WPRI about Ms. Bucci and the teacher of the year honor. She sounds like an amazing educator.

Nathan Bishop Middle School and Classical High School, National Green Ribbon Schools 
On Monday, the United States Department of Education named Classical and Nathan Bishop Green Ribbon Schools to recognize their "comprehensive approach to creating "green" environments through reducing environmental impact, promoting health, and ensuring a high-quality environmental and outdoor education to prepare students with the 21st century skills and sustainability concepts needed in the growing global economy." Here's the full USDOE announcement. Bishop and Classical are Rhode Island's only representatives on the list of 78 schools in 29 states and Washington, DC.

What Bishop and Classical have done specifically to achieve Green Ribbon status, I don't know, but yay anyway!

Do all of these awards and honors mean good times for PPSD? Nope. But they're still the kind of thing worth celebrating even as we keep our eyes on the big prize of building a strong public school system that serves all students in all of our city's neighborhoods effectively and equitably.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Leaving it all on the field

Am still here! Busy week at work--am working on producing three new products for release in the coming months. Exciting and intense.  On the other side of the work- life balance, a huge weight just smacked down on the life side; this week, Little League games started. Three kids playing in three divisions on three fields in two locations, each with two to three practices a week is totally awesome! It truly is.

It is also totally intense and requires a whole lot of planning and management to get kids to games, equitably spread parent attention among games, make sure uniforms are clean and equipment isn't scattered to the four winds. Also: how and when to eat dinner with games that go from 5:30 to 7:45 or later and full-time working parents handling the whole deal.

I am so not complaining. I really do love baseball season's eight weeks of intensity. All the guys have played one game do far and they are fired up for the season.

Again, not complaining, but acknowledging that a whole lot of my energy is going toward baseball logistics. I'm leaving it all on the field.  Posts are coming--more on high stakes standardized tests (lots of grumbling out there now from New York and elsewhere), the school shutdowns/takeover situation that's unfolding in Philadelphia, our family's experience playing with Khan Academy, and of course local stuff.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Allergic to pineapple

Tonga Room!
Some people in my family are allergic to pineapple. My father can't eat it, nor can I, nor can one of my kids. This response to a tropical fruit seems strange among northern/eastern European-descended Jews, but, whatever, humans are weird. And as allergies go, it's highly manageable given our usual non-pineapple-centric food options.

Nevertheless, due to the pesky pineapple allergy, I generally spend a tiny bit more time thinking about pineapple than most people, usually when I am in tiki bars, to the extent that I do any thinking at all in tiki bars, and thinking about them at all makes me miss the Tonga Room, San Francisco people, please go to the Tonga Room and have a non-pineapple-containing umbrella drink for me until I can join you there myself. Thank you.

That is, I suspect I think about pineapple more than most people (or at least more than most New England-based middle-aged white ladies) until this weekend, when pineapple was on everyone's minds when the usually quite separate topics of pineapples and standardized tests collided in a brouhaha that the New York Times thoroughly documented here. Go read it.

Done reading? Excellent. Now we can think about something else that far too many of us, including me, don't spend enough time considering: the content of high stakes standardized tests. We focus fiercely on test scores and what they may or may not mean for various subgroups, schools, districts, states, and nations. But most of us don't spend nearly enough time thinking or asking questions about the validity and reliability of the test questions themselves. We are justly anxious about the impact of teaching to the test, but I take part in relatively little conversation about the quality of the tests themselves, the method of their construction, their uses (many that are supposed to be diagnostic are used as high-stakes assessments) and the ways they are scored.

As a parent, perhaps a parent who thinks about standardized tests a fair amount (certainly more than pineapple), I am shocked at my own lack of critical thinking about this. I don't love the NECAP and don't think it tells anyone very much about my kids academic abilities. I have from time to time downloaded samples and look at what's on the tests, but haven't asked myself or others where those test items came from, who developed them, how they're scored. I haven't asked much beyond, "Is my kid likely to know this?" and "Will this freak out/bore/amuse/engage my kid?"

So, in the free moments when I don't think about pineapple because I lack Tonga Room proximity, I am going to think a bit more about the tests per se, and drag you along with me. If you really like the results, you can fly me to San Francisco and buy me a (pineapple free!) Tonga Tart.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Save a school library (earn good karma which your own kids' school library may well need soon enough)

Read my friend Marjorie's words about what's happening in her kids' NYC public elementary school. Due to horrible budget cuts that are following draconian budget cuts which themselves followed devastating budget cuts, the library - the heart of their school - will be closed, and the PTA is doing all it can to forestall that. This is not Providence, the place that I usually focus on in terms of doing what needs to be done to preserve meaningfulness in schools. If you're looking for a connection, Marjorie is from Providence, grew up here, went to Classical.

Up to you to respond - whether you do or not, we all need to come together to say ENOUGH to destroying our schools and the souls of our kids. This will be us soon enough if we don't all figure out a way to insist that we stop underfunding schools. There is no way that our kids can bear the punishment, no way that our society can in the long run. No dollar saved today is worth it.

Update: several people have asked where to go to donate. Go here:! You are excellent.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The discussion that matters isn't about a lobbying group's PR efforts.

In Providence, it's April break - no school this week for public schools, with the same true for many (all?) surrounding districts. Hope that some of you are not reading this because you're off doing something super fun with your kids. Me, not so much - owning to my month of unusual travel in March, it's a regular work week, with my kids dispatched to various vacation camps, relatives, play-dates, and schemes of self-amusement. This strategy, such as it is, is working out fairly well so far, and allows the opportunity for a quick look back at last week...

...when RI-CAN released a set of school rankings for Rhode Island's schools. Some folks thoughtfully objected to the methodology of and strategy for the rankings, particularly:
I share their concerns and strongly oppose such rankings for the very reason that I strongly oppose any attempt to sum up a student or an educator using a limited set of data, particularly high stakes standardized test scores. RI-CAN's attempt to represent schools with that same limited data misrepresents the necessary complexity of the process of understanding whether and how schools are serving students and their communities effectively. Conversation about gains in education at every possible level need to be based on thoughtful consideration of meaningful and multiple measures employed in ways that enhance learning, growth, and improvement.

And as the Learning Community statement points out, Rhode Island already has Information Works! a strong and more complex data system. If you want data, use that and as you do, resist any urge to assume that there's necessarily a best and a worst. Instead, use your judgment. If you're able to move from one neighborhood or town to another in search of a school that will serve your child well, you need to put in the time to do the real work. Know your child's needs, hopes, dreams, proclivities, and abilities. Visit schools. Talk with multiple current parents and (if possible) students. Consider what value you and your family can add to a school community. Resist anything--a fancy list, hearsay, an isolated incident--that invites you to think that you've really learned anything meaningful from it alone.

And know above all that a school that, by the light of one ranking system, may seem inadequate may instead be serving students similar to your child very effectively. That's certainly the case for our family's experience with the schools that our children have attended. That RI-CAN publicly states that the schools that my children attend are substandard says more to be about the limits of RI-CAN's understanding than the schools themselves, and masks the real complexity and urgency of the fact that many schools and school systems serve some kids well and some not well enough.

Okay, enough. The discussion that matters isn't about a lobbying group's PR efforts. The discussion that matters is how we will to make every school in every neighborhood a powerful, effective, and joyous place for teaching and learning for every child. Onward. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I Was There celebration - correct date and time! May 3, 6-8pm

Last week, I shared information about Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point's I Was There project. In that piece, I incorrectly reported the date and time of the final celebration. That celebration will be at the school, 455 Wickenden Street, on Thursday, May 3 from 6:00-8:00pm. Full information in available on the I Was There project blog,

Please be there for I Was There, and I apologize for the error!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I Was There at Vartan Gregorian Elementary School (and perhaps at your school)

For May's East Side Monthly, I wrote about I Was There, a fabulous multi-dimensional oral history (and much more) fourth and fifth grade project. Text follows and is on the ESM website in prettier form here.

I didn't have the necessary magic ahead of deadline to do the project justice. I Was There is a great example of the ways learning happens inside and outside the classroom seamlessly for kids, of the ways that neighborhoods have valuable resources, of the way the school itself can and should be an essential resource for a neighborhood, and of the abilities of young people when they're engaged and supported in the right ways.

This is the sort of interdisciplinary, community-based learning that could and should happen at all schools, and though it's way late notice, I do want to share that there will be an I Was There  Teaching Institute on Friday, May 11 from 4:30-8:00 PM and Saturday, May 12 from 8:30 AM-5:30 PM at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage. If you're interested in participating, let me know via comment or email to jill.davidson (at) ASAP and I'll connect you with the organizers.

Living History: Experiential Learning and Place-Based Education
Immigration and neighborhood life. Narragansett Bay. Work in the Jewelry District. These are the themes of I Was There, an annual project at Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point, a Providence public school built in 1951 and located on Wickenden Street in the heart of the Fox Point neighborhood. I Was There connects Vartan Gregorian Elementary School’s students and teachers with Fox Point community members, historians, storytellers, scientists, business and industry representatives, public officials, artists and chefs. Together, they all take a deep dive into topics that bring the community together as learners who create content that is displayed all over the walls of the school and shared online.

This year, Vartan Gregorian’s fourth and fifth graders are learning about the role of food in the neighborhood’s families, cultures and memories. “Placebased multidimensional education” best describes I Was There, which provides an arena for students to use resources throughout the entire neighborhood to learn about where they are, how history has evolved and what matters in their lives now. They learn oral history skills – taught first to their teachers by staff members and graduate students from Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage – to interview Fox Point residents and professionals. They go on field trips, this year to Johnson and Wales’ Culinary Arts Museum. They learn about food scientifically, studying taste, refrigeration and sanitation. They incorporate standards-based learning from across the rest of the curriculum to create a final presentation and add to a living museum in the school, for which they serve as trained docents. They create content for the I Was There website. The project provides multiple avenues for students to be historians, archivists, writers, photographers, videographers, event planners and artists. Every Vartan Gregorian fourth and fifth grader learns, develops skills and makes a lasting contribution to their school and its neighborhood.

In collaboration with teachers and the principal, Vartan Gregorian parents Wendy Grossman and Catherine Carr Kelly started I Was There in 2008. Grossman and Kelly wanted to know more about the neighborhood where their kids were going to school and felt that the school urgently needed more arts education in the curriculum. “We thought that there should be some way to honor the school itself, the neighborhood and the past,” said Kelly, the executive director of the Central Square Theater in Cambridge. “We wanted to know what had made the neighborhood important,” added Grossman, an activities therapist at Butler Hospital. To support and sustain I Was There, Grossman and Kelly have secured funding from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the Rhode Island Foundation, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and VSA Arts, which funds arts and humanities projects for people with disabilities (the project fully includes all fourth and fifth graders with learning and other disabilities at the school).

Vartan Gregorian Elementary’s fourth and fifth grade teachers say that I Was There is powerful for them professionally, reporting extraordinary engagement among their students and an appreciation for the professional development opportunities that result from the connection to the John Nicholas Brown Center. They also appreciate the ways that I Was There reinforced the role of the school as the center of the neighborhood. As special education teacher Maureen Kenner described, “People in this area were forward-thinking. Where the school is now had been a park. The neighbors wanted to preserve green space and advocated that the school keep that sense of place with a courtyard, which still has a beech tree that connects the past to the present.”

Fifth grade teacher Jacqueline Fish observed that I Was There created a unique opportunity for experiential learning fused with critical thinking. “One of the best aspects of this project is that our students learn how to ask real, deep, meaningful questions,” Fish commented. Fourth grade teacher Eileen Pedroso Afonso agreed, noting, “This isn’t a textbook. It’s living history through talking with community members - our students learn through conversation.” Pedroso Afonso grew up in Fox Point herself and has brought family and community members to the school to be a part of the project over the years. “Every year, people want to come back. They’re excited to be a part of the history that our students are documenting and sharing.”

This spring, I Was There will culminate with an exhibition and presentation open to the public on May 6-8 CORRECTION: Thursday, May 3 from 6:00pm-8:00pm*. Students and community members will share memoirs, cookbooks, photos, poems and more at a community dinner and other events. They hope you’ll join in.

Visit for more info.

*Very sorry to have reported the wrong date!!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Providence Schools and Beyond evolves into....

Especially recently, Providence Schools and Beyond's 2012 posts have been sporadic and erratic as a result of a few things: two big trips for me in March (Dominican Republic and Israel--my passport finally feels some love), intensity as usual in all areas of life, and some nagging sense that I need to clarify what this blog will be about moving forward.

I'm considering two different ways to proceed:

1. Providence Schools and Beyond is a place to talk about Providence's schools--especially Providence's public schools--that includes many voices in discussion about how we can support our public school system to provide a great education for all of the young people in our city. More conversation than blog.

2. Providence Schools and Beyond is a place where I can spout off about what's happening in education in Providence, in Rhode Island, nationwide from my own particular perspective. 

Both of these approaches differ from what Providence Schools and Beyond has been so far. It started as a way to share info about the Providence Public Schools (and beyond) for families who were making decisions about what schools to choose. I started the blog after our family had recently gone through that decision-making process, and from time to time I have circled back to our own experience. I created this blog as a community resource, particularly for other parents of school-age kids. That still sounds useful. Offering help to parents figuring out how to navigate the system and tools for decision-making is useful, as is sharing information that helps those of us who already have kids in school. 

As time has gone on, my feelings around that purpose have shifted. I feel, at times, like an unpaid (and unasked!) volunteer in the Providence Public School's communications department. They didn't ask for my help for sure, and I think that since I started this blog, PPSD communications have improved. There is room for yet more improvement for sure, and the topic of how school systems can and should best communicate with families (and student, teachers, and the general public) would be fun to explore. But my perception that I needed to echo information about kindergarten registration dates and other events seems less urgent that it used to.

So I don't want to do PPSD communications work, and I am fairly sure that the people who are paid to do that work don't want me to do so either. Put more broadly, I don't feel like being Suzy Sunshine for parents looking to know more about PPSD. I used to dig doing that. Now, not so much. The reasons for that are a whole other blog topic, too. What I know now is that these insights punch a big hole in the current purpose of this blog. 

So for now, that's it. I will be publishing actual content on Thursday and Friday. In the meantime - or anytime -if any readers are interested in sharing ideas about what this blog could or should be, I am all ears.