Wednesday, August 05, 2015

South Providence Superintendent Forum

OK, I skated over to the the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex yesterday to a forum with PPSD Interim Superintendent Chris Maher.

My capsule summary is that nothing came out of his mouth that was nearly as stupid as that shit I was reading yesterday on the Mass Insight website. At Mass Insight he was president of a craven, opportunistic, sloppy, overstretched educational consulting firm. I say that based on my reading of their published work, which is crap.

Anyhow, if it was 10-15 years ago, and he was just an urban district administrator from somewhere, I'd think he seemed like a great choice. In 2015, you never know what kind of privatizing fifth columnist you might be dealing with, regardless of what comes out of his mouth in public.

Nonetheless, I couldn't quibble with anything Maher said or did yesterday (and you know I'm good at quibbling), starting with saying "this is a listening forum" and then shutting his mouth and demonstrating his understanding of the teacher's concept of "wait time" with the small (25-ish) and reticent assembled group. I talked a bit about our "vibrant and disorganized" neighborhood, the sheer number of schools and kids in the area, our lack of political strength to resist any of the reform plans that have rolled down the hill in the past 15 years, and some of the damage that has been wrought by that. I think there were three actual parents who said something or asked a question a the event (plus a few teachers, students, politicians, public meeting enthusiasts, etc) out of the thousands of parents in the area, which should have reinforced my point.

I still have borderline PTSD from too many Tom Brady era PPSD forums that we all knew were going to be completely disregarded. I didn't go to any Lusi-era events because I trusted her enough to not deal with the fight/flight response any district event triggered. I must admit I was a massive dick to the nice ladies manning the door at last night's event for no particular reason.

Let me just pause and say that the era Tom Brady/Deb Gist/Arne Duncan was really horrible, particularly for Providence high schools. We were set back so far, so quickly, for no apparent reason other than imposing uniformity and control. The whole process killed something inside me.

Anyhow, Maher doesn't seem to be a malign soldier like Tom Brady, or an overmatched Donnie Evans, or just weird in the way Deb Gist was weird. He has been a principal, which is pretty damn important to being a superintendent if you ask me. He is at worst an A-list reformer, which believe me, is better than getting a B or C lister. I can almost convince myself he left Mass Insight to work directly in a school district because he knows their consulting work is a charade.

One interesting sign is that new state Commissioner Ken Wagner spent his first official day touring Providence summer programs with Maher. If I was RI education commissioner, I'd see Providence as the key to improving education in the state. Deb Gist never seemed particularly interested in understanding Providence schools -- considering the size of the state she could have known many of them well -- and was content to bomb them from 50,000 feet as if she was commissioner of Texas or California. From the outside, figuring out what was going on in the relationship (friendly, ambivalent, hostile? pretending to be one but really the other?) between PPSD and RIDE was basically impossible. Everyone suspects that Wagner will push the crap-tastic EngageNY curriculum on Rhode Island, which would conflict with Maher's stated desire to give schools more autonomy. If these two guys can have a productive relationship, and Maher can diplomatically protect us from RIDE's bad ideas, that would be an improvement.

1 comment:

Jill Davidson said...

Thanks for the report. I can't go to the same-format meeting at Nathan Bishop tomorrow night because of kid baseball happenings (I have my priorities!) so good to have a sense of how one of these went.