When a high school’s graduation rate drops to below 50% and it is named one of the worst performing schools in the state, there is no doubt lots of blame to go around. Administrators, teachers, parents and students are clearly all failing in one way or another. But in such a case, the responsibility to correct the situation falls to one person: The school superintendent. And under threat of school closure, Rhode Island Central Falls School District Superintendent Frances Gallo is taking that responsibility quite seriously.
After failing to come to an agreement with the Central Falls Teacher’s Union on a plan to raise performance levels, Gallo is taking the unusual step of firing the entire staff of Central Falls High School.
She didn’t want to do it. Her first choice for a plan of action involved a “transformation” model which would require teachers to work more hours with very little additional pay. She asked them to agree to teach an additional 25 minutes each day, provide before and after school tutoring on a rotating basis, eat lunch once a week with the students and submit to tougher evaluations. Her plan also involved mandatory weekly attendance at after-school planning sessions and two weeks of additional teacher training in the summer months.
According to Gallo, the teacher’s union rejected this “transformation” model knowing full well that doing so would force her to resort to her second choice for improving performance: The “turnaround” model. That’s the one in which everyone gets fired and no more than 50% of the terminated teachers are eligible for re-hire.
The school’s 74 teachers have been advised to attend a meeting this week at which they will all receive termination letters that take effect for the 2010-2011 school year.
So, what do parents and students think about all this? They are “shocked” and “dismayed” that the teachers are being blamed for the school’s poor performance. In fact, at least one student and one parent say the fault lies not with the teachers but with the “lazy” students themselves.
No doubt some of those teachers are good at what they do. And presumably they will be among the 50% who are offered their old jobs back. But firing the teachers is not a magic pill. If the system in which they were allowed to fail so miserably doesn’t change, they will continue to fail. If the so-called lazy students don’t take responsibility for their futures, there will be no improvement. But more importantly, if the parents of these students don’t step up and get involved in their education, their children will continue to suffer. I sincerely hope Gallo’s plan goes beyond cleaning house.
Before anyone gets a pink slip, the plan must be approved by Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, who has indicated support for the plan. Union representatives say they don’t believe Gallo has the authority to carry out her plan and vow to fight the terminations. Stay tuned.
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