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Forum addresses school interventions

When Shannon Hernandez' husband began working in Massachusetts this year, she decided to stay in Providence with her daughter, who is currently enrolled in kindergarten at Mary E. Fogarty Elementary School in Lower South Providence. But with the latest blow to the city's public schools — this month the state department of education targeted five low-achieving schools, including Fogarty, for intervention — Hernandez is considering leaving the state to join her husband.

She was one of five Fogarty Elementary parents at a meeting held by the Providence Public School Department Tuesday night to solicit feedback on four possible transition models to turn the school around.

Four school department officials — one of whom translated the meeting into Spanish — attended. In addition to the five parents, one teacher also attended. Once targeted, schools have to choose from four models — closure, restart, turnaround and transformation. Both the turnaround and transformation models require the schools to replace their principals, but turnaround also mandates that all teachers be fired and a maximum of 50 percent be hired back.

The forum was intended to both inform parents and allow them to offer their input on their model preference before Superintendent Tom Brady makes the official recommendation to the education department May 20, said Dorothy Smith, executive director of school transformations.

"It's important to get all of those thoughts and get them to the superintendent," Smith said. "I'm sure he'll make a decision that … is best for the kids and will improve their outcomes."

"It's unacceptable that the schools are what they are," she added. "I look at it as they're not being forced to do something, they're being offered assistance."

The choice of schools was "statistically driven," based on a formula that takes into consideration data like test performance, attendance rate and graduation rate from the past four years, said Elliot Krieger, spokesman for the state education department. "The idea is to completely reform education in these schools, so it's a pretty dramatic effect that (the interventions are) going to have."

For the first half hour of the meeting, Smith went over each model and its implications for the school.

Officials then opened the forum to discussion, asking the parents for their feedback on each model. School closure was swiftly rejected as an option. "What about the community?" asked Rith Am, the father of a kindergartner at the school. "People have gone to school here for years."

"We have nowhere else to send kids," Smith told The Herald.

One mother noted the benefit of teacher evaluations mandated by the transformation model. "It gives the teachers time to improve if they're lacking," added the teacher attending the meeting, who did not announce her name. Under the transformation model, if after a year a teacher still does not meet prescribed standards, he or she would be dismissed.

Officials also emphasized the importance of choosing a sustainable model that does not depend too heavily on federal funds. "What's going to happen in year four when federal money is gone?" Smith asked.

At the end of the meeting, each parent was given a blue sticker to place on a chart listing the four models. Am said he was somewhat torn between the turnaround model and the transformation model. "I hate to see people lose their jobs," he said. "But you might find somebody with more knowledge if you get rid of — I'm sorry to say this — dead weight." But, he added, "I'm going to vote for transformation anyway to give them a chance to improve things."

The interventions come on the heels of several tumultuous months in the school department. In February, Mayor Angel Taveras fired all 1,926 of the district's teachers and recommended four schools for closure.

"All these processes need to go forward regardless," said Christina O'Reilly, spokeswoman for the school department. "They just happened to coincide with each other."

The superintendent announced this month that he will resign in July, after making his recommendation in May. "The structure of the district remains intact," O'Reilly said. "The work will go forward regardless of what the leadership structure looks like."

Brady has extensive knowledge of the school district after a three-year term as superintendent, Smith said. "I'd hate to put that decision on someone walking through the door," she said.

Hernandez lamented the meeting's low attendance. "It's just the community. I think a lot of parents look at school like it's not a big deal," she said. "This is what caused this — there's no making sure your kid is up to standards."

Hernandez said she agreed with the education department's choice of schools. "They're doing pretty bad with their scores," she said. "They need to get kids involved in school. … This is how they end up on the street."




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