I have been going back and forth, trying to get this straight in my head and just had to do it this way - writing about it in my blog. I know that my view on something as important as this, matters very little, but it was important to me to get a handle on it, as it is a big topic of discussion on the internet and at my school. As I wrote this post (which I started on Friday) I changed my mind several times on the direction I would take until I finished up a few minutes ago. Even now I am torn about who is right and who is wrong? It seems to me there is plenty of blame to go around.
Okay here goes. Let's see how many people I rile up with this post?
I have been reading and listening to discussions about the firing of 88 teachers and the Administrative Staff at Central Falls High School by the School's Board in Rhode Island with a great deal of interest with a 5-2 vote. From what I have been able to piece together, the school is in a high poverty area, it has been a failing school for several consecutive years, multiple changes in principals over the past 5-6 years, there were prolonged negotiations between the teacher's union and the school with no agreement on the "how" of how to improve the school's AYP, and just recently the Superintendent decided to recommend the nuclear option of firing all the teachers/administrators at this school. I think those are the facts in a nutshell (yes I know that what happened is a lot more complicated than the simplistic version above).
How bad were things at this school? By all reports I have read things were BAD.
It sounds like it was very difficult to teach there and even more difficult to be a student at CFHS based on the drop-out rates (somewhere around 50% dependent upon which source you read). It seems like a variety of "things" were attempted to improve the school and little progress was made on "test scores" or more importantly to me - staying in school rates. The Superintendent recommended to the board to fire everyone and got 5 board members to agree to that recommendation, inspite of the tremendous pressure that they knew they would face as a result of their decision, speaks very loudly regarding how negative things must have been in that school and how contentious the relationship between the union and the board had become.
Outsiders like me have to ask:
- Was there a culture of failed leadership by administration?
- Did administration fail to respect and incorporate the teachers and community into their plans to reform the school?
- Was there a culture of some teachers having given up and negatively affecting their peers?
- Did teacher's support administration's efforts to reform the negativity at the school or add to it?
- Did teachers actively or by their inactions block changes that could have helped the school?
- Was there a lack of support from the parents and community to improve the schools?
- Was leadership provided by administration or teachers? It seems there wasn't enough from either.
Yes this is a poor school district, but it is not the poorest school district around and I agree that standardized testing sometimes is as much a reflection of socio-economic factors as it is poor teaching. At the same time students were voting about how bad the school was with their feet - by dropping out. Other low economic schools rural and urban are successful - what happened here?
I have a feeling that all the above and much more happened as is evidenced by the Superintendent and their version of the school board resorting to the "Nuclear option" of firing all teachers and the principal. I cannot believe that this was a decision that was reached lightly or without a great deal of warning to the teachers and their union. It is a decision that does not happen overnight and yet the way we are talking is that is like this just suddenly happened. This is part of a long process that started quite a while ago and while it is not the end result that either side wanted, a decision was made. Which was basically - blow up everything and start over.
I do not know the particulars of the negotiations prior to the decision to fire everyone and start over. I am sure that there will be lawsuits and investigation by politicians attempting to make a name for themselves. The finger pointing and blame game has already started. But who really suffers?
The students? Maybe? Do they really suffer during this - not as much as many would have us believe, they are already leaving this school at an outrageous rate, that in itself shows that are tremendous issues and problems at CFHS. There is going to be a lot of publicity and the negativity from teachers that are being fired is really going to make the rest of this school year suck. Maybe this drastic action will eventually have a positive effect...for the students in the future, but I do feel sorry for this year's seniors, they have quite a cross to bear.
The teachers? Yes they will suffer and be branded as "failed" teachers coming from a school that used the nuclear option. These teachers have to face the remainder of the school years as lame ducks and then go try to find another teaching position. Many or most of those teachers who are not part of the returning 40-50% probably will not be able to find a comparable position, especially in today's economy. I would not want to be a teacher at this school through the next 4-5 months, it is going to get very ugly, as the morale that is already so low, sinks even lower.
The administration? Yes getting through to the end of the school year is going to be a nightmare! Teachers will use up all of their sick time, student behaviors are going to be off-the-wall, teachers will be in-school but not invested, unless they believe that they will be part of the cadre that will be re-hired. During the next year this school administration is going to be under tremendous pressure to hire quality teachers, incorporate a complete change in the climate and attitudes of the teacher/students and other stakeholders towards this school. They are going to have to provide training and professional development to staff on a scale that was not considered in the past. Finally, they are going to have to listen to the community and get the new/old teachers involved in the change they are attempting, because top-down management will not work in this situation. Unfortunately, much of this is going to require additional funding, hopefully they will get those funds.
The community? Initially there will be some "hard feelings" and negativity around this action, but in the long-run the actions that all this publicity has generated will hopefully positively impact this high school. Possibly the community will take a more vested view of "their" school, which will help in improving the school and possibly result in more students staying in school and graduating. It sometimes takes a crisis like this to bring a community together to make the needed improvements?
There are so many more questions than there are answers to this sad situation.
This high school will probably hit bottom around June 2010, what will happen after that will be a combination of the efforts (or lack of) of the Administration, the Teachers and the Community. I just hope that the end results, justify the means and that Central Falls High School will become a reasonably performing high school in few years.
Was the Nuclear Option warranted? I don't really know but the genie (as they used to say) has been let out of the bottle, now we have to live with those consequences.
But I am very scared that as we go further into this, that this "nuclear option" will be used to break unions, not just improve failing schools, but that is a completely different post and I am sure that many others will do a much better job of discussing that issue.
Have you made a difference today? How?
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