Ms. Deborah A. Gist
Commissioner of Education
Rhode Island Department of Education
255 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02903
Dear Commissioner Gist,
I am a resident of Providence and the parent of two daughters, aged six and three. My elder daughter is an applicant to the first grade class in Achivement First Providence Mayoral Academy (AFPMA), and my younger daughter will be eligible to apply for next year's kindergarten class.
I am writing to request a hearing concerning the conduct of AFPMA's upcoming admissions lottery, specifically its compliance with R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-1.(a), which has in the past been interpreted and implemented as a requirement that an equal number of enrollments be offered to students from each city or town.
Based on the regulations posted to the RIDE website, RIDE has not created any regulations addressing the specific enrollment requirements of mayoral academies. As of December 16, 2011, then-Chief Transformation Officer Jennifer Smith indicated via email that RIDE did not have a legal opinion about the interpretation of R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-1. If that has been clarified internally by RIDE since then, I am not aware of it.
In the meantime, I have been offered no alternative interpretation of R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-1. that takes into account its specific syntax and the intent of the mayoral academy concept.
I contacted AFPMA Director of Operations Benjamin Smith on January 15, 2013 seeking a precise description and explanation of their planned enrollment process, on which their charter application provided little detail. On January 23, after further prompting, Mr. Smith would only offer :
To your question about lottery process – we continue to work with RIDE to ensure that our lottery is consistent with both our approved charter application and state charter law. We do plan to weight applications with the goal of enrolling low-income students in numbers representative of our host districts.
The January 31 agenda of the AFPMA Board of Directors did not offer an opportunity for public comment. I expressed my concerns on this matter to the Chair of the Board, Mayor Angel Taveras, Mr. Smith and the Mayor's Senior Advisor on Education, Angela Romans, but received no response from any. The next AFPMA Board of Director's meeting is scheduled for March 28, well after the planned AFPMA enrollment lottery selection date of March 1.
I did meet face to face with Mr. Smith on February 6th at a AFPMA information session, where he confirmed that AFPMA does not intend to offer an equal number of enrollments to students from each participating city or town. He also made clear that the AFPMA would not consider changing their policy at this point.
An incorrectly conducted lottery may harm my daughters in this or future school years by lessening their probability of selection for AFPMA. It definitely will harm many children every time the lottery is conducted, although exactly which would depend on the makeup of the application pool.
Regarding the hearing itself, I have all the information I need and can proceed as quickly as possible. It obviously would be best to resolve this prior to the lottery selection itself, and if the matter cannot be resolved before the scheduled lottery date, I would ask that RIDE request a delay in the process pending a decision.
I would also note that compliance with R.I.G.L. 16-77.4-1. (a) would not require any changes in AFPMA's enrollment or lottery process, including weighting for students from low-income census tracts, except for conducting lotteries for each city separately as needed.
Thomas E. Hoffman