Letters to the Editor 05.15

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    To the Editor,

    Thank you for Jonathan Howard’s excellent article about that state of Providence’s school system. Changing the course of a school system is like turning an ocean liner – it takes foresight, patience and time. It is very difficult to do. One thing that can be done is to appoint and support a  talented captain and crew. It would seem that the initial excellent management team was not supported and that the current organizational structure and leadership is a shambles. As a former school administrator I always believed in listening to the students and teachers. They know. Through their actions and performance they are saying things are bad, vision and leadership lacking, moral low, and conditions for consistent successful learning missing. Blame COVID if necessary but hit restart and bring in leadership connected to Providence’s  classrooms.

    William Lawrence

     


     

    To the Editor,

    Thanks for publishing in the Providence Eye Jonathan Howard’s May 8 summary “Are Providence Schools Better Off After Five Years of State Management?”  Howard provides a nice blow-by-blow description of events following the Commissioner’s request of the John Hopkins Providence Schools evaluation team, with its devastating condemnation, with Howard’s report noting where things have gone awry since then.

    Of course, the answer to Howard’s title question is No, the schools are not better, but to be fair, who could ever have predicted Covid, with its schools setback, especially for urban schools? The current high student absentee number is not just local; it’s national, especially  with urban schools, nationally, with students getting used to staying home during the pandemic crisis with school shutdown.

    But we can’t blame covid for everything. Mr. Howard is very helpful in detailing the high turnover in district administration that has teachers’ heads spinning, due to different expectations with central office administrators coming and going. This revolving door isn’t new to Providence, or, again, nationally, but we need to find a way to get around this pattern.

    We currently have a proposal that can make a difference.

    A bright spot today is that the diligent and persistent state Senator Samual Zurier, of Yale Law School, a Providence public schools graduate himself, has taken it upon himself to put together a study group to examine district best practices nationally and take a look at the city teachers union role in the seemingly impervious sad state of Providence schools. The fraught relationship between the Providence Teachers Union and district management has long successfully prevented positive changes. The Union has stayed firm on its policies for decades. It’s not only the high turnover of district leaders – stimulated by the PTU, which mobilizes against each district leader – but antiquated Union rules that hold schools back.

    Zurier’s report that he’s sent drafts of to constituents calls for re-thinking the union system of seniority that’s plagued Providence schools. More enlightened districts have long ago chucked seniority, which protects and pays those with the longest time as a teacher. Seniority – rather than teacher effectiveness – determines salaries, and whose job is eliminated in times of cuts, with last hired, first fired. This means new, up-to-date, inspired young teachers are paid less, no matter how much extra time and positive energy and caring one puts into one’s work – and are “let go” first. In addition, the report calls for merit pay – stipends based on multi-year effectiveness – in place of extra pay for the number of degrees a teacher accumulates, with Brown’s Annenberg Institute head reporting to the committee that research shows there’s no correlation between teacher success and number of degrees.

    This unique management study report also calls for taking control off the remote downtown central office, which by all reports still seems to be in some confusion, and instead puts control into “site-based decision-making,” in which a school team makes school decisions. The report specifically states that this needn’t be a team based on teacher seniority but is made up of those deemed most effective.

    Pay based on classroom effectiveness mitigates against the burnout that pervades schools, and can be a wake-up call for those who halt school progress, the loud and proud “Napoleonic” naysayers who have been long protected by the Union seniority policy, but not necessarily with students’ best interests at heart.

    The Senator’s proposal takes advantage of the potential successes of educator empowerment, rather than schools at the mercy of Union rules and district turnover, which sink morale.

    While certainly it depends on who’s making decisions within a building, this opportunity to get out from under old-school ways of working has the potential to release the capabilities of the sleeping giant of school-based control for progress instead of the top-down one-size-fits- all district and Union guides, which just don’t seem to be working so well.

    Kay Scheidler, Ed.D.

    Kay is a former teacher, Hope High School, longtime Providence resident, and former Assistant Superintendent in varied Massachusetts school districts, currently teaching teachers. She’s author, Standards Matter, Montgomery, Ala.: NewSouth Books and Renegade Teacher: Inside School Walls with Standards and the Test, 2023.

     

    Kay

    Katherine Scheidler Ed.D.

    www.kayscheidler.com