The Providence School Committee unanimously voted to disempower itself at last night’s meeting, giving their rubber stamp of approval to the proposed Achievement First Mayoral Academy that would, upon full implementation, take 900 students each from Cranston and Providence. Once again, the appointed Providence School Committee ignored the voices of opposition from parents, teachers and community members–quite in contrast to the election Cranston School Committee, which has consistently opposed this corporate takeover.
In this series, I’m giving the floor to voices of those opposed to the charter school expansion. To read the ProJo coverage, you’d think we barely exist. Quite the contrary…
Also, if you’d like to oppose Achievement First (students last), plase come to the rally in Cranston tomorrow.
Now, our first contribution from Brown University student Zack Mezera, who prepared this statement for the School Committee meeting last night.
My name’s Zack Mezera. I’m a student at Brown University, but I come here tonight as a “concerned citizen.”
First, hello Superintendent Lusi. I wish you the best of luck while Providence students are on your watch.
I am here against the Achievement First proposal. I think most people tonight will make the economic argument, and that’s fine, I’ve made that argument myself already. But I have other strong concerns.
1: Discipline. I know taking a hard line against students is in vogue nowadays, but these Charter Management Organizations cross the line. At Achievement First specifically, I’ve seen figures saying 16-22% of students are in detention daily, for benign infractions like dropping pencils or not facing forward in line. This does not prepare students for real life. Would you subject your children to this environment? Word on the street is, neither would official(s) in the Taveras administration.
2: Governance. Look at the proposal. Did you read it? AF, with Fung, chooses the governing board. This governing board, with AF, then chooses the members of the Board of Directors, which Fung chairs. Look at this procedure. It’s very similar to how you yourselves are nominated to the school board. EXCEPT here you’re approved by a democratic body, the City Council. With AF, you would be approved by a corporation looking for profits and self-preservation. And we’ve seen how dissatisfied the Providence School Board is with its own structure; hell, two of you have resigned over it. Yet 1) this is even worse, and 2) Taveras is telling you, again, that you have and should have no power. Now he wants you to willingly relinquish responsibility for up to 900 students?! If you’re supposed to keep watch over our students, voting for this is like handing the watch to a group (Achievement First) you do not fully understand. Or, as Tom Hoffman put it, voting for Achievement First is a vote of no confidence in your own abilities as a board. Supporting this, Sup. Lusi, amounts to an admission of no confidence in your own abilities, even before you’ve really started the job.
3: The only elected member of this proposed Board is Mayor Fung. (See exhibit 10, Achievement First proposal:) If a group of parents have a complaint, they will have to go through AF school administration, the vice-principal, the principal, then the something-like-a regional director, then the Board, which as we have seen by the nomination procedure is non-elected and will have no real incentive to condemn AF’s actions. Parents will then have to turn to RIDE, the Board of Regents, and finally Governor Chafee… We talk a lot nowadays about accountability for students and teachers, but how will the community hold this Board accountable, when the only uninvested elected official who can influence the Board is the Governor? And he’s already come out against AF. In short, this proposed Board will be near uncontrollable. Where are the checks and balances? If, like Councilman Zurier said on July 19, removing contract negotiation abilities from your power as Providence school board is a loss of checks and balances, how much more undemocratic is this proposal?
4. Again, look at the proposal, please. From the page on governance:
“The Board of Directors for Achievement First Mayoral Academies will have the responsibility of ensuring that each school is a high-functioning organization, that the school is an academic success, and that it is fiscally responsible. To ensure these criteria are met, the Board of Directors will
•Evaluate and monitor the school’s academic program;
•Provide financial oversight to ensure fiscal integrity;
•Engage in risk management to prevent charter termination and seek charter renewal;
•Provide legal and ethical oversight – adhering to law, policies, and procedures in place to protect Directors, officers, and employees; and
•Evaluate the principal and Achievement First by conducting an annual performance review.”
Point 3: What does “risk management to prevent charter termination” mean? Because that sounds to me like image control, like Achievement First’s board is supposed to be as concerned about its self-preservation as it is about student achievement. This is little different any corporation, whose primary responsibility is to achieve the highest profits for its shareholders. Achievement First, indeed.
Point 4: “protect Directors, officers, and employees” …Perhaps that’s why Achievement First defended the allegedly abusive Chi Tsang–who was allegedly too abusive for KIPP and was brought on at Achievement first instead. But Achievement First said Tschang “never hurt a single child”. I leave it to Achievement First to answer these allegations, but it shows extraordinarily poor judgment on their part. And again, if parents had a complaint about an administrator, the Board of Directors is obligated to “protect…employees”.
Again, it is not my job to provide further description on these issues,–although I am willing to provide what little more I can, and don’t hesitate to contact me. Instead, it’s your job as a board member to demand answers to these issues I have raised. If you do not, you have failed your civic duties.