Monday, May 21, 2012

Capital-izing on Education - June East Side Monthly column

My June East Side Monthly column is about two focused and determined students at  Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School and their trip this month to Washington, DC with the Close Up program. Connecting young people with meaningful, authentic learning is essential to their grasp of future possibilities and understanding of how motivation and focus will get them there. One of the students I interviewed said, "I want Providence to want this for Providence." Exactly! 

Click here to read to the East Side Monthly column on line. It's also around town in print in the usual locations and appears below. Illustration is by ESM's Jessica Pollack.


Capital-izing on Education*

Last month, two high school students from Providence spent a week in Washington, D.C. Before you ask, “So what?” take a few moments to find out who they are and why they went. By the time you’ve read to the end of this page, you’ll realize that this simple story contains a meaningful message about how real world-based learning can be rocket fuel for young minds... and how adults’ faith in the abilities of young people can be the match that sends them soaring.

The two students are sophomore Jenly Tavarez and junior Decontee Roberts; both attend Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in South Providence. When I talked with them, Jenly and Decontee were gearing up to participate in Close Up, a national organization that provides learning experiences in Washington, D.C., to develop students’ leadership skills while familiarizing them with the workings of our democracy. Close Up students meet with Congressional delegates, participate in study visits to landmarks, visit the Supreme Court, take part in seminars and debates and observe Congress in action.

For these two students – the only participants from the Providence Public Schools – the Close Up trip is a singular opportunity to put their passions into context. “I have been taking AP government this year, and we’ve spent months having class discussions about how government works. I have so many questions in my notebook and I can’t wait to ask them,” said Decontee. “We’ve had so many conversations and debates in class, and I have so many ideas. I want to go to Washington and ask the people who work in government questions. How do they feel about the work that they do? What do they believe?”

Jenly noted that she was excited about the trip because, “I want to study law to learn everything that it has to do with government. Now I am going to go to Washington, D.C., to experience it firsthand. I am going to see how it is done in our nation’s capital.”

Both Decontee and Jenly have served as interns for Senator Juan Pichardo, and both are immigrants who, since their respective arrivals in the United States, have not spent time outside of Providence. Their Close Up trip represents a huge expansion not only of geography but also of possibilities.

Decontee came with her family to Providence in 2007 as a refugee. “I remember war,” she shared, “and I remember what it was like to come somewhere where there is no war, where it is peaceful and safe, where you are able to put your mind to something and get it. I want to become a doctor and travel. I want to know about different countries and how they work together. Having the opportunity to go to Washington gives me more details about how the United States works. I want to know everything and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get there.”

Jenly’s focus is the law. “Almost half of my family are lawyers in the Dominican Republic and through them, I’ve been able to see that laws are different here. In the United States, there is more structure and fairness. This has made me realize how important it is, when I become a lawyer, to defend people the correct way.”

Though both students received some funding from Close Up, they have devoted significant time and effort to raise money for the trip. Despite the significant financial challenge, assistant principal Jonathan Mendelsohn, who brought the Close Up opportunity to the attention of Alvarez’s faculty, is committed to including more students from throughout Providence in the years to come. “Students who are economically disadvantaged should have the same opportunities as others. They will benefit as leaders and students, and the community will benefit,” said Mendelsohn, who wants 40 or more students from middle and high schools across the city.

Alvarez is one of five Providence schools identified this year as needing intervention to spur academic success. “The students’ role in school change is critical,” said Mendelsohn. “We want students to get student government off the ground as a part of building positive school culture. We want students to more actively pursue opportunities to advocate for what they believe in, to address and solve issues. Students have to feel invested in their schools, not only here at Alvarez but all over Providence.”

For Jenly, the Close Up trip feels like destiny. “I want to be a leader for the whole school. I want everyone to want this for the school. I want Providence to want this for Providence. We are going to raise the game for everyone.”

So do your part. Find ways to light and stoke fires under our city’s teenage students, either by supporting their participation in Close Up or in other ways. As Jenly says, let’s want this for our young people.


* East Side Monthly's editors titled this column "Capitol-izing on Education." I am not great at titles and headlines so I appreciate the catchy title. I think "Capital-izing" is a better fit as the Close Up trip is focused on DC as a whole, not just Congress. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Proposed 2012-2013 PPSD calendar

Up above is the draft version of the 2012-2013 Providence Public Schools academic year calendar that was supposed to be approved at last night's school board meeting. Click on the image to see a larger version. It's available as part of the publicly posted school board meeting agenda, which can be found here:

However, this calendar wasn't approved because only three of nine school board members were in attendance - not a quorum, so they could not vote. Three out of nine! I don't know which three were there. Thanks for showing up, whoever you are. And the rest of you? What's the deal? Who am I to ask, you could ask - after all, I wasn't there either. But hey, I'm not on the school board.

School board members, show up so that business can get done, even basic business such as approving this calendar. Families urgently need this information in order to plan our summers. Let's assume it will be approved as is, which means that the first day of school will be Tuesday, August 28.

I'll guess that approving this calendar was not even the most urgent business that needed to get done. But because it's what I was waiting for, I'll invest a few minutes in this little fuss, and also offer up the draft as a likely indicator of what next year looks like for our kids.

And while I'm in ranty territory, I'll hang out here a bit longer to ask why Providence School Board meetings (and other public meetings) aren't broadcast on the web for people to view if they cannot attend. Due to family obligations, I can't often make it to school board meetings. If the meetings were webcast, you can be damn sure I'd tune in, or at the very least watch recordings. That the ProJo nor other local media do not cover the school board meetings is frustrating, too - though the need for such coverage would be less urgent if we were able to take advantage of easily implemented technology to make the meetings more accessible--and the school board more accountable--to many more citizens.

I imagine I'm not the only one who wants this and I would love to know if there's any energy inside (or outside) City Hall to put school board and perhaps other meetings online. If not, why not?

Now leaving Rantopolis.

UPDATE: The ProJo, object of my complaining, did report on the meeting nonattendance. Thanks for that, and the the story shares that Keith Oliveira, Nina Pande, and Barbara Wong were in attendance last night. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Tom.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kindergarten assignments have been made...what next?

For most of last week, I left it on the field, hence few posts here. This week will probably be similar but I will attempt to post when possible.

A couple of weeks ago, families of incoming kindergartners received letters from PPSD informing them of their children's placements. I am tuned into this mostly through my connection as a long-time parent at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, where I help school staff and students (fifth graders are the tour guides at King) to offer tours to prospective families. We have had a flurry of interest from newly assigned families and we've done our best to accommodate their desire to tour King and learn more. Though I am sure there's similar interest all over town, I am not at all sure whether people have the opportunity to see the schools where their kids will be. Ideally, it would be great for elementary schools to offer some kind of open house/orientation during this time of year, and as part of the PPSD Parent Advisory Council, I'll work on whether it's possible to build that into next year's schedule.

This is happening now because the district made K assignments far earlier than in years past. I haven't been tracking in any formal way, but I know that generally, families don't find out until June, often near or past the end of school, where their kids will be the following year. PPSD has been working on tuning up the registration process and while I have heard that there is still plenty of room for improvement, the district should get a shout out, which this is, for getting word to parents in a speedier way about K assignments.

If your kid is going to another school and you want to take a peek inside, please note, as I am sure you already have if you've read this far, that there is no formal program within PPSD for doing that kind of thing. Getting access to schools during this time of year is handled on a school by school basis and it's a crazy busy time of year. For sure, you should be able to check out your kid's assigned school but at this point, you may not be able to. I'd definitely call the school, and see if there's anything they can do for you. If you can't get a tour, you may want to ask for the name of a parent who's willing to talk with you. PTO leaders are usually willing to do this (sorry, fellow PTO people, for potentially putting yet more on your plates)

More things you can do as an incoming family:

  • Ask for the phone/email of the PTO president and be in touch with her/him to ask to be put on any email list they might have. Some schools send weekly emails to families and that's a good way to get a sense of what's doing at a school.
  • Ask about whether you can attend an upcoming PTO meeting or other school event.
  • Ask whether the school has a Facebook group you can join. Some do. Here's a link to the MLK PTO Facebook group:
  • Ask whether it's possible to set up a meeting with the principal or assistant principal to learn more about the school. Again, crazy busy time of year, etc., so it may be tricky. But if you have specific concerns or questions, don't just sit on them. Pick up the phone and get the info that you need.
As the mom of a kindergartner this year, I will say that it's been a super year. Henry is reading, and confident about math, and has lots of new friends. He's had a terrific year and is eagerly anticipating first grade. I wish I could guarantee it will be the same for you - can't of course. But I can wish you all the best, and whether this is your first or fifth kid heading off to kindergarten, do what you can to be involved not only with your kid but also with her/his school, not only for your own kid but also for all of the kids at that school and in the district. They need you!  But first, enjoy the rest of preschool and the summer. 

PS: For what it's worth, we'll be doing one more tour of MLK this Thursday, 5/17, at 9:30am. Please spread the word if you know people who'd like to see the school.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blended Learning Conference, May 19

If you're interested in knowing more about how blended learning works, there's a conference coming up on Saturday, May 19, unsurprisingly titled the Blended Learning Conference, that will meet that need. Visit for more info and links to register. Early bird registration, through 5/11, is $40 - price goes up to $60 after that. I think it's at the Highlander Charter School in Providence, which is associated with the Highlander Institute, the sponsor of the blended learning conference. This much I have figured out to share this info. If any readers have more insight into the connections between the two, please share.

I know nothing about it, not necessarily endorsing it, but am sharing for those who might be interested. If you want to know more about blended technology in classrooms, you can read this March 2012 piece that I wrote for East Side Monthly that digs a bit into the possibilities for technology integration in classrooms.

Dr. Susan Lusi chosen as Providence Public Schools superintendent

Last night, as the ProJo and other sources reported, the Providence School Board unanimously* voted to appoint Dr. Susan Lusi as the permanent superintendent of the Providence Public Schools. Yay! And onward. Lots and lots of work to do, and I am glad that many of us will be doing that work with Sue's leadership.

*Worth an asterisk because at last night's school board meeting, five of nine school board members were in attendance: Keith Oliveira, Nicolas Hemond, Nina Pande, Robert Wise, and Barbara Wong. Natalia Rosa-Sosa, Megaly Sanchez, Maila Touray, and Julian Dash were absent from the meeting and therefore did not vote.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Providence School Board meeting tonight, 6:30pm, public vote on PPSD's next superintendent

Tonight, the Providence School Board is scheduled to vote on the confirmation of the next PPSD superintendent. Originally, this was slated to be a decision that took place entirely in executive session, per this Providence School Board agenda filed on Tuesday, May 1 and posted on the RI Secretary of State's website. On Friday, May 4, a revised agenda was posted stating that the board will meet first in executive session and then reconvene publicly for a vote to confirm the superintendent choice.

This is a welcome change that adds a last-minute smidgen of transparency to a process that has been secretive. I wrote last week about the undemocratic effects of the covert superintendent choice process. I very much wish to be present this evening for the vote in order to take advantage of what little opportunity for participation has been afforded. If you're just learning about this now and have any opportunity to attend, I hope that you do and that you're willing to post here in a comment or otherwise share what you saw and heard.

I didn't plan to be there, since until Friday there was no reason to be there. This week's capacity for evening meetings, already quite limited during Little League season, is already full; I'll be at the monthly PPSD Parent Advisory Council (PAC) meeting on Thursday evening (and if you want to know more about the PAC and how to participate, please let me know!). Mercifully, that's our one baseball-game-free evening this week. Part of me, of course, wants to figure out some way to get to tonight's school board meeting to witness whatever goes down. But a whole lot more of me--as much as I'd like to be there, as vital as it is that we show up and be heard--really needs to be present for my kid who will be playing tonight; for my other kids who will be at the game too; for my husband who's also trying to balance a job, a commute, and a family and who I don't wish to hit with a last-minute plea that he leave work early so I can be at the meeting tonight; and for some semblance of sanity, laundry, homework, dinner, and routine, none of which are easily had right now. 

Had this whole process been more transparent, inclusive, even marginally acknowledging of the importance of public engagement or at least public information, I'd likely have found a way to be at the meeting that should have been public all along. Yeah, I know that I've previously groused about how hard it is for many of us--particularly family members with school-age children--to react to last minute info, drop everything, and show up to stand up for what's right for our schools. We live in an imperfect world, that's just how it goes. Nevertheless, the last-minute change irks me, not because the school board vote has been made public but because it should have been public all along so that (to name just one reason) people could plan to be present  for--and perhaps even participate meaningfully in--important events in the life our our city's schools.

So, to recap: School Board meeting tonight, 6:30pm at 797 Westminster Street, during which the Providence School Board will vote on the next PPSD superintendent. Please go if you can. Please share what you saw and heard. Please know that I really wish I could be there. Thanks,

Friday, May 4, 2012

My email to the Providence School Board in support of Dr. Susan Lusi

Dear Members of the Providence School Board,

I am contacting you to ask that you appoint Dr. Susan Lusi as the permanent Superintendent of the Providence Public Schools. I strongly believe that her credentials and experience for this position are exemplary. 

During the past year, Dr. Lusi has led our district away from chaos and toward sorely needed order. PPSD cannot afford the interruption and disruption that will result if the you do not appoint Dr. Lusi; we need the continuity of her leadership not only for its own sake but because her work has been exemplary. Dr. Lusi is building systems that will see the district through the long haul. Her attention to dealing with back-office issues around data management and systems integration represent work that has been overlooked or poorly attended to for years. She takes teaching and learning seriously. The partnership with the Providence Teachers Union that she has forged to support a cohort of schools receiving federal School Improvement Grants represents an important collaborative step. She has the knowledge and experience to work well with the Rhode Island Department of Education.

As a parent of three children in the Providence Public Schools and member of the District's Parent Advisory Council leadership group, I can attest that Dr. Lusi communicates with parents and families confidently, compassionately, thoughtfully, and competently. Providence's public schools have benefited from the commitment, fierce focus and work ethic, deep expertise and experience, and local roots and knowledge that she has provided and will continue to bring to the job. 

Thank you for your consideration of my request to appoint Dr. Susan Lusi as the permanent Superintendent of the Providence Public Schools and for your public service.


Jill Davidson 

Please see this post for more on why it's important to support Dr. Susan Lusi and some information about the possibile alternative.

Providence School Board: Please appoint Dr. Susan Lusi as PPSD Superintendent

Earlier this week, I wrote about my support for current Interim Superintendent Dr. Susan Lusi and urged the school board to confirm her as PPSD Superintendent on a permanent basis. At that time, I noted that we knew nothing about who the other candidate(s) were or are.

I believe we know more now. GoLocalProv reported that the field is down to two: Dr. Lusi and a mystery candidate from Pennsylvania. That mystery candidate may be Thomas Darden, deputy for process improvement and compliance of The School District of Philadelphia. If so, Tom Hoffman's report on Darden's background is very troubling. From Tom's blog:
...the private investment firm of which Darden was a co-founder and managing director, sunk Rhode Island based BlueSky Brands, of which Darden was a director, committing violations of labor law in the Virginias and mis-managing (if not looting) the pensions of workers in Rhode Island. Darden then headed off to the Broad Academy and Philadelphia Public Schools, where he was a key part of the corrupt and discredited Ackerman administration's strategy of parceling off the district's schools to private operators. And now he's the frontrunner for PPSD superintendent? In the middle of a rolling pension crisis?
This doesn't take into consideration that Darden's background in education seems shockingly minimal, especially in comparison to Dr. Lusi's deep experience and expertise. I remain committed to supporting Dr. Lusi and urge the School Board to appoint her as permanent Superintendent of the Providence Public Schools.

Of course, I am not the only one who believes that Dr. Lusi is the best candidate for the position. Linda Borg has reported in the ProJo that Providence City Council members, Council President Michael A. Solomon, Council President Pro Tempore Terrence A. Hassett, and Sam Zurier, have send letters of support to Mayor Taveras expressing support for Dr. Susan Lusi as permanently appointed Superintendent of the Providence Public Schools. You can see Zurier's letter here.

Please speak up if you have not already. If you have already, speak up again. Here's why: Dr. Lusi is building systems that will see the district through the long haul. Dr. Lusi has experience as a superintendent, not only via this past year in Providence but during a long stretch as Portsmouth's superintendent. She's stabilized the district's relationship with the union. She takes teaching and learning seriously. She communicates with parents and families confidently, compassionately, thoughtfully, and competently. Providence's schools desperately need the continuity, commitment, fierce focus and work ethic, deep expertise and experience, local roots and knowledge, that she has provided and will continue to bring to the job. She has the knowledge and experience to work well with the Rhode Island Department of Education. If all that were not sufficient, we cannot afford the interruption and disruption that will result if the school board does not appoint Dr. Lusi.

And here's how:

1. Email your City Council representative and ask that s/he write a letter of support for Dr. Lusi to Mayor Taveras, and do so yourself. Email or send letters of support for Dr. Lusi to PPSD school board members. Here are their email addresses:
UPDATE: A heads up: when I sent my email to the above list, Natalia Rosa-Sosa's email bounced. Click here for a copy of the email that I sent.

2. If you have not yet done so, sign and share the petition that is another way for you to demonstrate your support for Dr. Lusi. It's at

3. Spread the word. Please urge your friends and neighbors to speak up for what's best for our city's schools and young people. Thank you.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

City Council Education Subcommittee Hearing + Vartan Gregorian I Was There Celebration

A heads up from Councilman Sam Zurier about tonight's City Council Education Subcommittee meeting, with links added by me:
Tonight at 5:30 p.m., the City Council Education Subcommittee will review a draft report about the Mayoral Academy application of Meeting Street School. The draft report will discuss the application’s financial impact. It also will discuss the broader context of special education programs in the Providence Public Schools in light of a recent review by the Council of the Great City Schools. Please consider joining us.
The meeting takes place at City Hall, 25 Dorrance Street, 3rd floor.

Also, tonight from 6-8pm: the annual celebration of Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point's I Was There project at the school, 455 Wickenden Street. Students, educators, and community members will present artwork, photography, video, audio and, of course, food related to this year's theme, "A Taste of Home." You can learn more about the work of I Was There here.