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Supt. Brady talks teaching, family

Providence Public Schools Superintendent Tom Brady discussed the need to improve teaching and encourage families' involvement in schools at a meeting with parents, students and community members Wednesday night.

Speaking at a meeting of the Providence Education Excellence Coalition, Brady, who has been superintendent for eight months, answered audience questions for over two hours.

While the discussion centered on improving teacher performance in the city's public schools, both the superintendent and coalition members emphasized the role of families in education.

"Didn't President Obama say something about the responsibility of parents?" Brady asked the audience, adding that parents should become more involved in their children's education.

"I wish we had 1,000 parents here," said Carmel McGill, a mother and the president of the Classical High School Community Association. Nearly 20 parents were in attendance at last night's meeting, in addition to about five students and two Brown undergraduates.

"It's fantastic, the information that's coming from you tonight," McGill said to Brady.

A retired Army colonel with leadership experience in both the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. school districts, Brady said he recognizes the enormous challenges he must confront as superintendent. For starters, he inherits a position that few have been successful in maintaining - Brady is the fifth superintendent to serve the city's schools since 1999.

And with the state's budget in question, he understands that money will be tight.

"I want to put a sense of reality in this," Brady said.

He cited Gov. Donald Carcieri's '65 plans to redirect millions of federal stimulus dollars away from education to close the state budget deficits. Last week, the governor presented a state budget proposal giving local communities less money than allotted under the $787 billion stimulus package.

Carcieri "is going to take that money and put it against the deficit," Brady said, adding, "We need to be realistic and practical."

Brady also spoke of improving teacher evaluations and expanding the district's professional development programs for faculty and staff.

"We need an evaluation tool to make teachers better," he said, acknowledging that the system doesn't "do a very good job" of assessing instructor quality. "I don't know what the vehicle is to properly evaluate teachers."

He said he wants to change a "culture" in which many teachers do not participate in development programs. Last year, when the city sponsored such a program at Providence College, 15 percent of the teachers registered did not show up, Brady said.

Two Brown students who attended last night's meeting were also concerned with addressing teacher inadequacies. Mike MacCombie '11 and Brad Greenburg '10 represented Brown Students for Education Reform, which MacCombie co-coordinates.

The advocacy group's current focus is encouraging people to sign a petition to end teacher "bumping" in Providence public schools. By bumping, the district shifts teachers to fill vacancies based solely on seniority, rather than teacher quality or expertise. Though the Rhode Island Department of Education has ordered schools to end the practice, the students anticipate that the Providence Teachers Union will sue to protect the seniority policies.

"We feel (bumping is) unfair and counter-intuitive," Greenburg said. "It doesn't make sense from an educational standpoint."


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