Friday, February 7, 2014

Meet Kimberly Luca, Nathan Bishop’s New Principal - October 2013 East Side Monthly

As I mentioned earlier this week, I had a delightful time chatting with the principals of the East Side's public schools. Here's my October 2013 East Side Monthly piece on Kim Luca, Bishop's (not as) new (now) principal. It's online here. 
I'll note that Kim and I talked in August, right after she stepped into the position. Nearly six months later, she's holding strong as a really great force of positive leadership. All of my contact with her is as a involved-ish parent, and I'm repeatedly impressed with her ability to sort out big issues from minor concerns as well as her capacity to address problems with a maximum of competence and minimum of drama. I'll have one kid leaving Bishop this year to go onto high school and another entering it the fall as a sixth grader, and am looking forward to continuing to work with Kim.
Meet Kimberly Luca, Nathan Bishop’s New Principal

Photo by Kate Poor
If you’re feeling a blast of positive energy emanating from Sessions Street, it’s probably coming from Kimberly Luca’s office. “I wouldn’t change working in Providence,” she shares. “If I were offered twice the money to work in another district, I would refuse. I love working as an educator in this city, and feel so lucky to be at this school.”
Luca is the new principal of Nathan Bishop Middle School, our neighborhood’s only public middle school. She’s the second principal of Bishop since the city reopened the school in 2009 with comprehensive renovations and revamped academic and student support programs. Luca started her career as a substitute physical science teacher at, as it happened, Bishop. Luca settled into her teaching career in her chosen subject, social studies, nearby at Hope High School.
At Hope for 14 years, Luca adored her work with students and her fellow educators, for whom she served as representative to the Providence Teachers’ Union. She was also frustrated by constant change at Hope, noting, “We were always stuck in the planning stage with no chance to implement,” and saw an opportunity to create more stability as a principal. Luca joined the Providence Public Schools’ Aspiring Principals Program, which trains district teachers for administrative positions. Upon completing the program in 2006, Luca was offered a position in the Providence Public Schools’ central office as a curriculum supervisor; her role shifted over time and was most recently the district’s Supervisor of Social Sciences, Library Media Services and Civic Engagement. Though she knew that she wanted to be a principal, Luca appreciated her time as a district administrator, which allowed her get to know all of the district’s schools. When Bishop found itself in need of a new principal this summer - the previous principal, Michael Lazzareschi, is now principal of Central High School - Luca believed that her time had come.
The committee of Bishop teachers and parents tasked with selecting the school’s next principal thought so too, and recommended Luca to Superintendent Susan Lusi as their first choice. The Providence School board approved her appointment on August 13, and with two quick weeks to open school, Luca was off to the races. We talked during this ramp-up time and I asked her about her hopes and expectations for her first year at the school. She stressed that she had faith in the work that the school was already doing, and did not intend to disrupt current programs and structures. “I want us to pull together and continue to collaborate as a faculty to make sure that all students are receiving a rigorous education at a safe and caring school. That’s what this school has been able to achieve, and we need to continue that commitment,” she says.
We talked the morning after a reception hosted by the Nathan Bishop Parent-Teacher Organization to welcome Luca that was attended by hundreds of teachers, family members, students, and district staff members. Thrilled by the community’s enthusiasm, Luca was ready to roll, noting, “I have a lot of energy, and I know I am going to need it!” Middle school students need a school that can “lead them down the right path,” she says. “It’s my moral and ethical job to give them the best education and to help them treat each other well.”

With the faculty, Luca believes that her high school background will be an asset in the work of building an academic community. “Middle school teachers don’t want to work in isolation. The teachers here care about kids as if they were their own. I’ve been able to see that now, before the kids even arrive, as I meet teachers coming in to get ready for the school year. I’ve never worked with staff and faculty as passionate as this group, and I think they’re ready for really powerful collaboration.”
Luca added that she invites community members to reach out to help maintain Bishop as a great school serving a diverse range of students. Bishop already enjoys strong neighborhood support and under Luca’s leadership, is likely to continue to build connections with the East Side.
Luca and the Bishop faculty will need to deal with challenges along the way, of course. Facing a population bulge of sixth graders in particular, the city’s middle schools need to find ways to absorb an expanding population in reduced circumstances as a result of recent school closures. As I write this, it’s the third day of the school year, too soon to determine what may be in store. Nevertheless, I’m confident that we have the leadership and other elements in place to produce amazing results. So welcome back, Ms. Luca, to the East Side! We’re thrilled you’re here.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Are snow days for learning (to do nothing)?

As of yesterday, there have been three snow days so far in 2014 for the Providence Public Schools, On such days, my kids' needs are to find entertainment and food. Mine are to find time work from home (make no mistake, I'm grateful that I can do that and know that I'm lucky to be able to do so) and a semblance of sanity. Let's just say that some days have gone better than others.

Yesterday's snow day was mostly successful. No one yelled, no one cried, and we made Bunny the Snow Individual during my lunch hour.
It wasn't perfect. We forgot to feed one kid lunch, which resulted in a 5pm meltdown which was ameliorated by an emergency bowl of Cheerios. And I got enough work done.

What we didn't figure out, and what I'm trying to determine, is whether snow days should be a time for formal learning, which some districts are considering (I have no idea whether PPSD is one of them). The most feasible method is some kind of online learning that kids would need to walk themselves through when bad weather keeps them at home.

Good idea? I am not sure. I'm appreciating the range of opinions in this New York Times Room for Debate feature, in which a few people weigh in on the topic of virtual school on snowy days. Most seem mostly for it (Khan Academy representative, your support for online learning is not the biggest shocker). One, a charter school teacher, pointed out my biggest concern, which is the lack of online access that's a real factor for many families.

I do encourage my kids to use their brains when they're home from school due to weather. They read and write and draw. They also indulge in sleeping late, board games, lolling about, and some screen time. Coming from a place of privilege and with kids who are fairly successful in school, I'm not too worried about learning loss. I just want them to keep their heads in the game a bit.

Is that the motivation for teachers? That kids keep their head in the game? Or is it to try to keep classes on pace - a legitimate concern because for so many, there's so much to cover. I'm intrigued by the idea but suspect that unless there were a much more robust technology initiative, it wouldn't work well. And I am not sure that all parents - including me on a busy work day - would have the capacity to monitor their younger and/or ditzier kids properly to make sure the work actually got done. It seems that there would need to be some meaningful communication, training, and expectations-setting for this to have a chance at doing more than keeping some percentage of kids occupied in putatively studious pursuits.

This weather thing seems likely to continue to be a thing for those of us in snowy and cold regions, so at the very least, it makes sense for all of us to have a snow day plan in place that ideally leaves a time both for family fun, some learning, and the essential work of learning to entertain oneself when school and family aren't right there to make it happen. That, I think, is the biggest lesson of all, probably worth far more than whatever math problems might get done online.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Providence public school principals - four conversations for snow day reading

Hello, snow day! Before the dual demands of the day--productively occupying my kids while staying productive at work--commence, it's time for a much-overdue blog update.

During the fall and winter of 2013-4, I wrote about the East Side's public schools for East Side Monthly, focusing on the principals of each school. Here's the full line-up:

Kim Luca, Nathan Bishop Middle School (October, 2013)
Tamara Sterling, Hope High School (November 2013)
Kristen Mercurio Lussier, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School (January 2013)
Susan Stambler, Vartan Gregorian Elementary School (February 2013)
Here on the blog, I've already featured the interview with Ms. Sterling, and will do so with the other three in the coming days.

My intention for the ESM  pieces is to keep the opportunities and concerns of public education at the forefront of conversation in Providence, and the specific intention of these features was to remind ESM's readers that we have four vibrant public school options close at hand. On a practical basis, with the limited time I have to write these pieces, an interview with the principal allows a schoolwide perspective and insight into the schools' direction. 

These four principals have more than geography in common. All are women, which is consistent with a trend of increasing numbers of female school principals nationwide (though, according to this research from RAND, the rates of promotion to principal are still higher for men (and yes, these data are dated, but I couldn't find a more recent study, at least not at this moment while the snow day clock is ticking)). All are also fairly new on the job, with two or fewer years in their current position--though their experience levels vary widely, ranging from a first-time principal to a principal with many years of administrative experience. This was consistent with principal tenure at schools serving disadvantaged populations, which tend to have high principal turnover; on average, principals serve fewer than three years (Center for Public Education). I hope that all four principals break that trend and choose to/are able to stay on the job so that their school communities can feel the impact of their thoughtful, collaborative leadership.

It was a real pleasure to meet all of these school leaders, and I was grateful for their time.