To address a four-year graduation rate of 48 percent, the school board in Central Falls, R.I., voted to fire the entire faculty of the city’s only public high school. Central Falls is the smallest and poorest city in Rhode Island.
Superintendent Frances Gallo proposed dismissing the entire Central Falls teaching staff after the local union balked at Gallo’s proposal to raise achievement at the school—a plan that involved increased hours not necessarily matched by increased pay.
Gallo’s decision was selected from one of four federally approved strategies to turn around chronically low-performing schools: closure, takeover (by a charter management organization), transformation (longer school day, etc.), or turnaround (fire entire teaching staff, no more than 50 percent of which can be rehired). Initially, Central Falls pursued the transformation model, but union and district negotiations broke down over transformation conditions.
Central Falls is just one of the six persistently lowest-performing schools identified by Rhode Isand’s state education commissioner. The remaining five schools have until mid-March to choose between closure, takeover, transformation, or turnaround.
Coincidentally, this morning, President Obama announced a $900 million dollar fund to fix the nation’s 5,000 lowest-performing schools in the next five years.
As Obama discussed his four turnaround strategies, he noted that, “Replacing a school staff should only be done as a last resort.” But, directly referencing the situation in Central Falls, Obama added, “there’s got to be accountability . . . students only get one chance.”
Federal pressure and funding have many in education speculating that Central Falls is just the first of many axes to fall in the nation’s chronically struggling schools. It remains to be seen if other schools, and their representing unions, will be able to make the transformation improvement model stick.