“I do not take this decision lightly. This is hard,” Gist said. “But this is exactly why the kind of decisions we have to make in education do not get made. Nobody wants a school that people are happy with to close.
“But we have to have higher standards in this state than the ones that have been in place.”
Not everyone at the state Department of Education agrees with Gist’s tough stance.
Keith Oliveira, who for 11 years has overseen charter schools for the department, “wholeheartedly disagrees” with Gist’s recommendation and says the school deserves to be reauthorized for at least three years.
Oliveira was part of a six-member team from the department that visited the school in May. Oliveira says four of the six members, himself included, did not think the school deserved such harsh treatment and made their feelings known. But their opinions were not reflected in the official report given to the Regents.
“It’s a good school that has done what RIDE has asked them to do in terms of its curriculum, intervention strategies and a stronger focus on teaching and learning,” Oliveira said. “So now that they’ve righted their ship, why would we not give them the opportunity to show the results?”
Oliveira tendered his resignation last week, effective June 4, saying that he and the commissioner “don’t see eye to eye.”
“This to me was a decision in search of justification,” Oliveira said. “What I mean by that is she came here with an agenda to increase accountability for charter schools. She wants to do this as a policy stand, to send a message about how tough we’re going to get.”
The Regents also expressed concerns about Gist’s recommendation at their last meeting and requested a special work session to discuss the topic at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Highlander is in high demand; more than 850 students applied last year for 33 open spots. Recent reports from the state Department of Education praise the school for its strong relationships with students’ families and community partnerships, including CityArts!, a youth art program that shares its South Providence building. (...)
Gist, however, has said repeatedly that having a charter is a privilege and that charters should be held to even higher standards than other public schools because they have more flexibility. For example, many of the state’s charter schools have uniforms, longer school days and requirements that parents sign homework. Many also require teachers to work longer hours and attend summer training sessions.
Gist argues that one or two other charters that also serve high numbers of low-income students perform at or higher than the state average, proof that their methods are effective, she says.
“We cannot have charter schools — whose whole purpose for existence is to demonstrate innovation that shows significant results — with performance levels that are lower than other schools that don’t have the kind of autonomy and flexibility that charters have,” Gist said. “If their performance isn’t where it should be, it’s an indication that the model they are using didn’t work.”
Kudos to Oliveira for standing up for what he believes in.
I'm anxiously awaiting the gushing approval from Flypaper, Eduwonk and the rest of the ed reform media of Gist's new minimum standard for renewing a charter: must have higher achievement than all non-charters.