So I went to the Superintendent's forum on the new Nathan Bishop Middle School tonight. Basically, I had to stick a little knife into the only chink in the School Department's otherwise seamless drive for conformity across the district. All schools are expected to fall in line with the upcoming curriculum guidelines, regardless of past precedent or agreements.
The one flaw in this plan is that the previous Superintendent had been convinced by some newly organized East Siders (read white, affluent) to re-open the closed middle school in their neighborhood on special terms.
So I came with some pointed questions. If this is to be some kind of innovative model school will have a formal waiver from the district curriculum and pacing guide? Response: hand-waving.
I also asked about whether the school would be "site-based" under the district contract. This is a well-established, successful, if not widely-used, contract provision in Providence that provides a formal structure for school-specific contract variances. Brady's response was that they thought it was too unwieldy and bureaucratic and, as he had described earlier in the meeting, the plan is to have the state do some kind of "your district is in intervention" mojo and grant some kind of special status to the school that lets them hire whomever they want. I followed up pretty aggressively on this. "Do you expect this status to go on indefinitely?" Frankly it would be pretty absurd for the one (presumably) high performing middle school in the city to be the only one in ongoing state intervention (that's my analysis, not Brady's, which was more hand-waving).
Then this guy sitting near me interjects with some very ill-timed, condescending and unfortunately worded reassurance put to me as if I was a concerned neighborhood parent (which I'm not) rather than a frustrated interloper from a neighborhood which is decidedly not getting a special new school. The sub-text was "Well, you see, they can't actually say they'll give us special treatment in public, but they will, because we are, you know, white, affluent and well organized. Trust them."
This, of course, pushed me over the edge a bit, and I pulled off my disguise and went on a short rant of my own about how I too had once engaged with a new superintendent in designing an exciting new model school, which was now being "dismantled" by the Brady administration, so I had some reason to be suspicious.
Mr. Brady was not entirely pleased with being broadsided this way, but it was pretty much at the end, and immediately afterwords he came over, introduced himself, shook my hand and told me to set up an appointment.
So the first takeaway here is that my charm is irresistible.
Beyond that is the apparent de-stigmification of state intervention status in Providence. This was always a mystery to me. Rhode Island is not that much bigger than Providence, and the state Department of Ed has provided much more sound, stable, and forward-thinking leadership than the city ever has. So "shape up or the state will take you over" always sounded more like a reward than a threat to me. I would have run into the open arms of the state at any point. Everything we did at Feinstein was completely in sync with state initiatives. "Can the state take us over? Please?" It is the city that doesn't understand us. Of course the state has limited capacity to intervene with individual schools, which makes takeover an even more extra-special privilege. Apparently the City of Providence itself has also realized this is more a reward than a punishment, and they're taking advantage of it to create their special new school in an affluent neighborhood. Not sure how that plays out in the long run.