Dear Regents and Commissioner Gist,
I own a home and live at 125 Adelaide Avenue in Providence with my wife and two daughters, aged 1 and 3. We're two blocks from Highlander Charter School.
My wife and I both have masters degrees in teaching, from the University of Pittsburgh and Brown, respectively. She is currently a teacher in Providence, and I did formerly. In my current work in open source school data systems I collaborate with schools on four continents. We are, in short, highly informed consumers in the educational marketplace.
We have been planning to enter our oldest daughter in the lottery at Highlander in two years and would still do so without reservation.
As a parent I am angered that the state would propose to take this option away from my family, presuming to know our needs better than we do ourselves.
As the husband of a master teacher currently considering a range of job opportunities at district schools and charters in and outside of Rhode Island, I am baffled by the message sent by the proposed abrupt closure of Highlander. When weighing our final decision about what position to take should we assume Rhode Island charters offer less pay, loss of union protection and, unlike Connecticut and Massachusetts, the possibility of capricious closure?
As a resident of Elmwood I am frustrated by the Commissioner's indifference to the upheaval which has been brought to our fragile neighborhood, where five of the six schools named "lowest-performing" in the state are sited, including the two closest elementary schools, Charlotte Woods Elementary and Lillian Feinstein Elementary. Highlander's arrival on Broad Street was a blessing; it provides social capital we cannot afford to lose.
As an advocate for urban school reform, I am well aware of the destructive effect of policy churn when each new superintendent brings his or her own pet programs into a district, discarding his or her predecessor's indiscriminately. I am afraid the commissioner's actions toward Highlander represent a new era where charter schools throughout the state are subject to the same treatment each time a new commissioner arrives.
I was going to attend the Regents' meeting today, but based on Commisioner Gist's reply and the general tea leaves, the outcome will be an extension for one year to see next year's performance data rather than the original one year extension to give parents a chance to run for the lifeboats before the ship is scuttled. I'm not particularly happy with that, but I don't think there is much chance they'll completely roll over Gist and just give them the five year renewal now.