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Central Falls district moves forward

Two months after school officials agreed to rehire teachers and faculty who lost their jobs at Central Halls High School, the district is preparing to rehabilitate the underperforming school for the upcoming academic year.  The mass firings that sparked national headlines originally came in the wake of Central Falls being labeled one of the poorest performing schools in the country.

School officials and the teachers' union agreed to terms and pay, and the school's fired teachers have been rehired. The terms include lengthening the school day by 25 minutes and eliminating the 15-minute homeroom period, said Victor Capellan, the district's deputy superintendent of transformation, recently hired to reform the school system.

Other obligations include weekly one-hour tutoring lessons, 90-minute planning and professional development sessions and lunchtime with students, said Central Falls Teachers' Union President Jane Sessums.

The teachers also met with Capellan and newly hired co-principals Evelyn Cosme-Jones '87 and Sonn Sam in June for a week of professional development, Sessums said. The teachers are expected to meet again the week of August 23.

The teachers will be compensated at $30 per hour for the summer professional development weeks and receive an annual stipend of $3,000 for the weekly development sessions during the school year, according to the settlement agreement.

The union and the district have also agreed to create teams and committees to accommodate the changes expected in the school, including a scheduling committee that will aim to create a permanent daily schedule. Sessums said one problem the school and its students have struggled with in the past is a turbulent schedule that changes yearly.

According to Capellan, the administrators, teachers and guidance counselors at the school have submitted their ideas on how to restructure the schedule, which has yet to be finalized.

The district has also formed the School Improvement Intervention Team to explore further changes within the schools. Both the district and the union have three appointees each to the team, Sessums said. According to the May settlement agreement, the team will be composed of three administrators and three teachers appointed by the union. The appointees will report to the superintendent once a month and the Board of Trustees quarterly.

The district also hired Capellan, formerly an assistant superintendent and chief academic officer in Fall River, Mass., to serve as deputy superintendent of transformation. Capellan said his job entails working with the principals and other leadership figures at the high school to oversee the transformation process. He is also responsible for submitting the final transformation plan — which has yet to be finalized — to the Rhode Island Department of Education by Aug. 13, Capellan said.

Sessums said she is still waiting to hear back about everything that will be included in the final transformation plan.

Though all 93 teachers and administrators who were initially fired were rehired, some administrators have been moved to other schools in the district, such as former principal Elizabeth Legault, who will serve as principal of Calcutt Middle School in the fall.

The teachers who returned reapplied for their jobs and went through a screening process, including an interview and a short sample lesson, Sessums said.

Though pay for the additional work was part of the issue that led to the disagreements, Sessums said, the conflict was never about objecting to it on principle.

"We were never opposed to additional time," she said. "We just needed to know how much was necessary."

Apart from the teachers' retention of their jobs, the controversy has another upside, Sessums added. "Through this disagreement we've been able to get that teacher voice back," she said.

Capellan said the discord brought to light how much everyone — including teachers and district and union officials — has invested in the district. "I think you see people here who are interested and willing to make it work," Capellan said.

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