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74 teachers fired for disagreeing with superintendent

The teachers didn’t blink.

Under threat of losing their jobs if they didn’t go along with extra work for not a lot of extra pay, the Central Falls Teachers’ Union refused Friday morning to accept a reform plan for one of the worst-performing high schools in the state.

The superintendent didn’t blink either.

After learning of the union’s position, School Supt. Frances Gallo notified the state that she was switching to an alternative she was hoping to avoid: firing the entire staff at Central Falls High School. In total, about 100 teachers, administrators and assistants will lose their jobs.

Gallo blamed the union’s “callous disregard” for the situation, saying union leaders “knew full well what would happen” if they rejected the six conditions Gallo said were crucial to improving the school. The conditions are adding 25 minutes to the school day, providing tutoring on a rotating schedule before and after school, eating lunch with students once a week, submitting to more rigorous evaluations, attending weekly after-school planning sessions with other teachers and participating in two weeks of training in the summer.

The high school’s 74 teachers will receive letters during school vacation advising them to attend a Feb. 22 meeting where each will be handed a termination notice that takes effect for the 2010-’11 school year, Gallo said.

Gallo said she was devastated and that she had thought the union would agree to her conditions, even though she did not offer to pay the teachers more for most of the additional responsibilities.

A month ago, Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist mandated that the district adopt one of four models to fix the troubled school, which has some of the lowest graduation rates and test scores in the state.

Gallo’s first choice, the “transformation” model, was consistent with her conditions on how to improve the high school. But if the teachers would not agree, the superintendent said she would select her second choice, the “turnaround” model, which requires the removal of the entire staff of the school. The turnaround model allows the district to hire back no more than 50 percent of the old staff.

“I am saddened and shaken at the core by the enormous ramifications of my responsibilities,” Gallo said. “The only solace I have is that I know I provided every opportunity possible, in fully public and transparent ways, the means to avoid this.”

Union officials say they, too, want to improve the high school but are unwilling to sign off on the six conditions, especially without receiving additional pay. In a letter, union officials said they do not think Gallo has the authority to fire the teachers and she must negotiate the terms of the reforms.

In an interview, Jane M. Sessums, union president, said the union intends to fight the terminations, although she was not ready to say how.

Students Friday expressed sadness, frustration and dismay at learning that their teachers would be fired en masse. Most had no idea why their teachers were being let go.

“They are very sweet,” said André Monteiro, 19, a senior. “They help us out and get the job done. They treat us with respect.”

“It’s sad,” said Jessica Lemur, another senior. “They stay when we need help. They love us. I was shocked when I heard the rumors.”

A couple of parents said they were stunned by the announcement and said they blamed students, not teachers, for the high school’s consistently poor performance.

“It’s not fair,” said Angela Perez, who has a daughter at the high school. “They shouldn’t be punished because the students are lazy.”

“The teachers care so much,” said Perez’s daughter, Ivannah Perez, a recent Central Falls graduate. “I’ve seen them stay after school. I’ve seen them struggle. It’s the students. They don’t want to learn.”

Most teachers declined to talk as they left school yesterday. But a couple of teachers paused long enough to share their thoughts.

Sheila Lawless-Burke, an English-as-a-Second Language teacher, said teachers are not opposed to working harder — or longer; they simply want the opportunity to negotiate the details of their contract, not have it imposed from above.

“It’s all about the politics,” she said, “about making Fran Gallo look good. The issue is having the right to negotiate. Once we allow the superintendent to get her foot in the door, where will it stop?”

Gist, who has 10 days to review Gallo’s proposal, said she expects to make a decision early next week.

“We know she is moving forward urgently and we want to support that,” Gist said.

Gallo and Gist say they have the authority to make these changes, based on federal education regulations and on state law that allows the state to intervene in chronically failing schools and districts.

“We’re very confident we are following both state and federal laws very carefully,” Gist said, “and, in fact, it’s the expectation both in state and federal law that we take these steps.”

TIMELINE Showdown over Central Falls HS

March 17, 2007: Frances A. Gallo, veteran educator and former deputy superintendent of Providence schools, is chosen as Central Falls school superintendent.

2008-2009: Test scores remain a problem at Central Falls High School as only 3 percent of 11th graders are proficient in math in 2008 and 7 percent in 2009.

November 2009: Gallo begins talks with teachers on her plans to reform the high school.

Jan. 11, 2010: State Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist names the high school as one of the state’s worst schools and in need of closure or complete overhaul. Gallo says she already has a plan ready to implement in the fall. The plan would include a longer school day, more training, more tutoring.

Feb. 1-5, 2010: Gallo and union leaders are unable to reach an agreement on pay issues for the extra work. She says the failure is forcing her to switch to a reform model that calls for firing all teachers at the high school.

Feb. 9, 2010: During a packed meeting, Gallo gives the teachers’ union more time to agree on her original plan.

Feb. 12, 2010 Talks fail; Gallo proceeds with across-the-board firing plan.

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Posted in: News by SoulRiser on March 1, 2010 @ 8:30 PM

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