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.

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Tabetha
Tabetha
9 years ago

I taught for 8 1/2 years in Providence and I used to do home visits. Granted I taught I self-contained special education class, which meant I had a small number of students. But I did, in fact, visit students’ homes and I did exchange phone numbers with the parents. (I actually got my first cell phone in 1999, the year I started teaching.)
That said, one reason I was able to connect with parents of my students was because I am bilingual. I have a serious practical question for teachers who are not. In a district like Providence where many parents speak only Spanish, how will teachers who are not bilingual communicate with parents during these home visits or on the phone? I remember frequently helping non-bilingual teachers on parent-teacher night. In a school setting, you can usually find someone who is bilingual (Spanish/English) to help. (Other, less common languages pose more of a concern. For example, when we had an influx of students from Somalia, we had to get help from the International Institute and they had to go to CT to find us an interpreter!)
When visiting the family at home, trying to communicate will be more difficult. On the phone it will be all the more challenging because a phone conversation is decontextualized. You really have to understand the other person’s language in the absence of facial expressions and gestures.
So are these charter schools sending interpreters? I seems unlikely that every teacher they hire will be bilingual.

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