Monday, January 14, 2013

Unity of Command

There definitely seems to be a lack of... enthusiasm about getting the word out about the forthcoming Achievement First Mayoral Academy in Providence. Kindergarten registration has already started in Providence, there are only six weeks to enroll in the AF lottery, and essentially no public information has been released about the school.

Let's look at each of the major players here:

  • Mayor Taveras: He'd certainly like to be able to take the credit for AF in the long run, particularly in an upcoming gubernatorial campaign. On the other hand, he's in the uniquely awkward position of asserting his role in leading the school district (via his appointed board), including the recent closures and subsequent revelation that enrollment is now expected to go up in coming years, and he is the founder and chair of the board of the AF schools.

    So any public campaign to raise support for AF by him is likely to be met by some still very bitter parents (including white parents, btw) bringing up those closures and generally venting on his parade. Not to mention the teachers who still remember being (temporarily) fired by him a few years ago. Despite that, he may actually be the more appealing of the two Democratic front-runners for governor, if Chafee runs for re-election as a independent. So

  • The mayors of Cranston, Warwick and North Providence: They all picked up a nice resume line and maybe someone owes them a favor, but they have no reason whatsoever to actually encourage anyone from their suburban city to attend a high poverty inner city school. Especially if there is no public information about the location, etc., etc. They'd just sound crazy.
  • RIMA: The actual charter holders currently have one sentence about their new network of schools on their website (with no link):

    An Achievement First Mayoral Academy, serving Providence, Cranston, North Providence and Warwick is planned to open in 2013.


    Blackstone Valley Prep is their baby. They have no interest in coming down here and engaging with the community in Providence in an open forum. They haven't yet through this whole process, and they probably never will. I think they'd rather see this whole thing fail than deign to admit that the opinions of people who actually live in the city are even relevant.

    That makes outreach a little difficult.

  • Achievement First: I don't really know but I wonder how excited they are about Rhode Island at this point. Five schools wouldn't be chicken feed, but they practically run Connecticut now. They've never had any interest at all in running the kind of urban/suburban school called for in the kludgey mayoral academy model. They've also never come and talked to us at all, but at least I don't think it is because they are literally afraid of us (unlike say, RIMA).

    Everyone has pretty much dumped this on their lap, so I guess we'll see how interested they are.

  • RIDE: I'm probably reading too much into everyone's websites (since that's what I'm looking at), but RIDE is sufficiently unconcerned about the whole thing to list any information about AF on RIDE's site, including in their directory of existing charters and of those in the application process. I'm sure they assume (correctly) that nothing will stop this since it is backed by Race to the Top, so whatever.
  • The New State Governing Board for Education: I don't know what it is called, but the Governor just nominated the whole slate, so they're likely to be friendly to his interests. This probably does not extend to blocking AF outright, since it would be a big federal case, but on the other hand, the main political beneficiary of the school is probably his toughest opponent in the re-election campaign, so they'd have some incentive for tweaking them about some of the rather obvious deficiencies thus far.
  • PPSD: Oddly, at this point, everyone seems to be relying on the PPSD's registration form to generate applications for this school, since AF has been given a checkbox (or whatever) on the standard PPSD form. How many people check that box will be heavily influenced by the advice given by the employees of the registration center. Meanwhile, none of the suburban systems will undertake their registration process before the AF lottery deadline, so expect the overwhelming number of applicants to be from Providence.

So... at least for kindergarten, they should have no problem getting their 88 students. First grade might take a little extra effort. But on the whole, the decision seems to be to just keep things quiet. Or maybe they're just disorganized. I do think many of the people advocating for this school had an overly strong reaction to the opposition to the school and the very moderate amount of work they had to do to push it through. They really don't like people talking back to them.

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