Monday, January 11, 2010

You Won't Have Feinstein High School to Push Around Anymore

ProJo - State orders overhaul of 6 worst R.I. schools:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Rhode Island education officials have identified six of the state's "persistently lowest-achieving" schools for intensive intervention.

Central Falls High School has been identified, along with five Providence schools: Charlotte Woods Elementary, Feinstein High School, Lillian Feinstein Elementary, Roger Williams Middle School and William B. Cooley, Sr., Health & Science Technology High School.

As many of you know, I helped redesign a then-reconstituted (turned-around, whatever) Feinstein High School in 2001. I believe it was opened originally in 1994 but foundered initially due to poor leadership. This was in the era of big Gates small schools grants, of which Providence was a major recipient. I've not had much interaction with the school for the past five years or so, but my wife has worked there since 2001, teaching social studies, and we live two blocks away.

Before I ramble on further, a few very important facts:

  • The building that houses Feinstein High School (FHS) is not owned by the city, but has been leased under rather unfavorable terms. I believe that lease is almost up. Also, it is in a converted office building in bad shape overall, lacking a gym, auditorium, etc.
  • The other small high schools in the city are in new facilities, including one designed specifically for FHS but given to a new school several years ago for reasons unknown to me.
  • Enrollment is declining in Providence, so something is probably going to have to close.
  • FHS was re-opened by an administration looking for a "break the mold" high school, followed by a middle period of feckless indifference, concluding with the current administration which has a laser focus on getting everyone very much back into the mold.
  • We were told to create a standards-based program "where time was the variable and learning the constant," with a population of students mostly entering well under grade level. As an expected consequence of this design, FHS has a four-year graduation rate in the lower third of RI urban high schools (56%) but the second highest five year graduation rate among neighborhood urban high schools (69.8%), with almost all of the students who stay an extra year graduating.
  • FHS's math program has always been weak, the design of the school is admittedly humanities-oriented in many details, and they've never been able to find and hold onto a strong cadre of math teachers, and math leadership at the district level has been weak as well over the past decade. On paper in 2010, that's half your school.

I realized last year that low scores plus bad real estate situation alone is pretty much a death sentence. I don't have the stomach to try to gather and enumerate the strengths of the school or the slights and bad breaks it has endured.

At this point, all aspects of the original design have been completely dismantled, and it is just a small big high school that the district administration loathes in a crappy, leaky building. Might as well put it out of its misery. Unfortunately, the grand facilities plan for the district will not come out until the school has to go through a charade of gathering community input about which of the four Race to the Top turnaround strategies we would prefer. I am, at this point, perfectly happy just keeping this about the building, enrollment, and money, and moving on.

But being called one of the six worst schools is Rhode Island is going to stick in our craw for a long, long time though. FHS might not be the first on the list of high schools you'd pick to send your kid to, but if you had the time to visit schools and do your research, it sure as hell wouldn't be at the end of it. It has served many kids in this neighborhood well.

The other Providence schools on the list are also in my neighborhood:

  • Lillian Feinstein Elementary is the closest district elementary school to our house (five short blocks). I don't know anything about it.
  • Charlotte Woods Elementary, Roger Williams Middle School and William B. Cooley, Sr., Health & Science Technology High School are part of a rather dingy campus stuffed between Broad Street and 95. I suspect they have some larger plan in mind; Roger Williams made AYP last year, and it is exactly the kind of big old pile of a junior high a CMO wouldn't want to mess with. It wouldn't be hard to make it worse, so I'm not sure what they're thinking. Cooley was another one of the new Gates small schools that didn't quite take.

Also on the list is Central Falls High School, which is too tempting for would be reformers to avoid -- it is a one square mile urban district. A perfect fracking petri dish!

All the high schools are ones that have been either reconstituted by the district, taken over by the state, or started from scratch in the past ten years. That kind of gives the lie to the "historic" scope of this effort. We've been down this path before. Maybe now we'll get some outside management in, and that'll make all the difference. Except we've been bringing more and more outsiders (me!) in for the past decade as it is.

I will probably go to the community meeting about Lillian Feinstein Elementary, since theoretically my girls could go there. I'll have to think about and inquire into whether Big Picture Company is interested in that kind of thing. Otherwise, I'm puzzled about how this is supposed to play out -- the current district "reform" is ALL SCHOOLS MUST BE EXACTLY THE SAME so I don't know how other reforms work in that context. Same dance, different dancers?

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