PROVIDENCE — Providence had an opportunity to profoundly change the way students are taught and teachers are trained, but instead, both teachers and management chose to nibble around the edges.
When the state took over the Providence schools schools in November 2019 after a scathing report from Johns Hopkins University, there was a clear sense that the teachers’ contract needed a radical reset.
Asked whether the new contract, ratified by teachers Friday night, met those expectations, former Providence Supt. Susan Lusi said, “That certainly seemed to be the hope when the state took over.
“As time went on, I began to honestly wonder,” she said. “I thought they would move more quickly and possibly impose a contract, knowing full well that they might end up in court. My sense is neither governor (Gina Raimondo and Dan McKee) was anxious to go to court.”
Lusi, who ran the Providence schools from 2011 to 2015, described the 60-page agreement as “not nothing” — but not what it could be.
Outlining the contract’s upside
Here is what she liked: the additional days of teacher training, the increased scrutiny of lesson plans, especially for new teachers; turning unassigned periods into planning periods; and the requirement that teachers participate in two rounds of parent-teacher conferences and four school events each year.
But she said the bigger stuff — not just a longer school day but longer days for specific groups of struggling students — was missing.
“I think both sides have an obligation to do better by kids and teachers,” said Lusi, who is now president and CEO of Mass Insight, a Boston-area education consulting group. “Providence students have a huge array of needs. I honestly think there could be better conditions both for kids and teachers than is achieved in that contract.
“It’s too bad,” she said Saturday. “You always hope when there is a governance change that the conditions will change. This doesn’t appear to have been the case.”
McKee, in a statement released Friday night, said he didn’t want to start the new school year without a new contract because that “could have resulted in prolonged, expensive litigation and a chaotic and uncertain start to the new school year….”
But he had another option, according to Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Superintendents.
1-year deal would keep issues alive
If issues like seniority and a longer school day were important, Duffy said, the governor could have given teachers a raise but limited the contract to one year with the understanding that these issues would be on the table again in 12 months.
Duffy also pointed out that the contract ratifies something that was already law: allowing principals to hire staff with the input of two teachers.
“The General Assembly passed that two years ago,” he said. “For new hires, it requires the principal, in (consultation) with the school improvement team, to make the hires.”
The language in the contract, he said, is redundant.
The contract also awards a $3,000 bonus to teachers. Duffy thinks that money would be better spent offering a retirement incentive, freeing up money to recruit teachers of color. (The assumption is that teachers taking retirement are paid at the top of the scale.)
Finally, rather than mandate four days of training for all teachers, Duffy would tailor professional development to teacher evaluations.
“If you’re doing great, we won’t ask you for more professional development,” he said.
Teachers should be able to create their own training plans and submit them to their principal for review, Duffy said. If the principal thinks it’s a good plan, he or she signs off on it. If the teacher’s evaluation is poor, that educator needs more training.
“Professional development,” Duffy said, “should reflect whether the teacher is competent in the classroom.”
Linda Borg covers education for the Journal.