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New school leader after surprise resignation

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tom Brady, a retired Army colonel, will become superintendent of the Providence school district starting in mid-July, after being confirmed by a vote of 9-0 at the school board’s meeting last Monday night.

Brady, who now serves as the interim CEO of Philadelphia schools, is replacing current superintendent Donnie Evans, who announced his resignation unexpectedly last month.

Evans’ announcement on March 17 that he would not seek a contract renewal came as a surprise to many, although he has faced mounting criticism in the last few months over budgetary problems and a contract dispute with the teachers’ union.

Critics point to the closure of the West Broadway Elementary School, the increase in special education class sizes and the mismanaged response to a winter storm last December that left students stranded in their school buses for hours as examples of Evans’ faulty leadership.

Evans’ resignation came two days before the school board’s deadline for a decision about his contract renewal.

“I know that he had had a lot of challenges to endure over the past several months,” Christina O’Reilly, spokesperson for the district, said, adding that Evans resigned for personal and professional reasons and not because of any criticism.

O’Reilly said in the wake of Evans’ resignation, the district’s focus should be on student achievement programs that were put in place under Evans.

Evans emphasized such programs in his resignation letter, citing “an increase in the number of schools making annual yearly progress” and “higher percentages of students performing at grade level” as some of his accomplishments.

“I am grateful to Dr. Evans for his service and commitment to the children of Providence. He is a man of unquestioned integrity, decency and dedication, who cares deeply about every student in the Providence Schools,” Mayor David Cicilline ’83 said in a March 17 press release.

In the past, Cicilline has publicly criticized Evans, saying he was “very disappointed” in the superintendent’s handling of the snowstorm, according to a Dec. 21 Providence Journal article.

Evans has been the Providence superintendent since September 2005, when a search committee led by President Ruth Simmons identified him as a finalist for the position.

“He had so many incredibly relevant experiences for this position,” Simmons told The Herald in a 2005 article.

Brady’s career in education started with a position as president of a high school parent-teacher association in Fairfax, Va.

He also has spent a year at the Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains executives with non-education backgrounds to be urban superintendents, according to a March 26 Providence Journal article.

When Brady arrives in Providence, he will find a suspicious teachers union, a $9.7 million budget shortfall, a large percentage of under-performing schools and frustrated parents.

He told the Providence Journal that he believes “there are no easy answers. I’m not the Messiah of K-12 education.”

In the meantime, “Dr. Evans has reaffirmed his commitment to remain and ensure a smooth transition,” O’Reilly said. Although “a change in superintendency is certainly bound to bring new ideas,” O’Reilly said, “our expectation is that schools won’t feel the impact of this transition.”

Some frustrated school officials disagree. K.C. Perry, principal of Feinstein High School in South Providence, said administrative discontinuity – there have been three superintendents in eight years – has been much more harmful than any of Evans’ missteps.

“It is really difficult in terms of building consistent programs,” Perry said. What school administrators and teachers really need, he added, is the resources to do their jobs. Under Evans, the schools were at least “definitely improving,” Perry said.

When asked about Brady, Perry responded that he did not “know anything about him at all” apart from what he had seen in the media.

“He hasn’t spoken to any of us. It’s hard to have an opinion about the replacement when you haven’t talked to him,” said Perry, who added that high school administrators were not consulted in Brady’s selection process.

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