Providence Public/Charter School Idea Requires More from Everyone
Last week I called it “refreshing” when the news came out that Providence was looking to convert 9 public schools to public/charter hybrids. Some were understandably skeptical, but, as I responded, I was encouraged because the idea “indicates a change in mindset, even if a little bit, from the same ol’/same ol’.”
Education maven Julia Steiny attended a meeting regarding the proposal–a “meet and greet” for the staffs of the 9 schools–and had her own observations, reminding us that “the whole point of the charter-school movement from its inception in the early 1990s [was] to encourage experiments and innovations that could spread back to the regular district schools. But the way history played out, charters and district schools felt pitted against one another, bitterly competing for resources, students and praise.” She also described Providence School Superintendent Susan Lusi’s three goals, chief among them being that “charters are characterized as being cohesive communities of parents, students and staff.”
As Steiny concurs, noting that “since charter schools live or die on their ability to attract and keep students and families, they’re famous for being warm, welcoming places that parents prefer to the often-hidebound, district schools.” So, to be successful, the people in public school buildings will have to embrace that sort of change. Steiny offers this anecdote:
So consider this little clash of cultures. Many of the Providence district attendees expressed a strong desire to improve their relationship with parents. One charter director conceded that involving urban parents is a super-tough job. So his teachers all visit their students’ homes before school opens in the fall, to meet or re-connect with the family and talk about their mutual expectations for the year.
A Providence teacher asked, “Who does these visits?” The Director enthused, “The classroom teachers. And giving the parents a business card, saying call me any time; this is my cell phone number, that creates a relationship that’s crazy powerful.”
“The teachers give out their cell phone numbers?” asked one. “Yeah,” said the Director. And there was an uncomfortable pause.
It’s about more than just changing the model, it’s about changing the attitudes of everyone. More will be asked of everyone. Is everyone willing to step up to the plate? We’ll see.