You are a reform-minded superintendent under state edict to improve a chronically low-performing high school. The teachers refuse all six conditions that you deem essential to change the school. Next option? Fire them all.
That was the dramatic response last week of a Rhode Island superintendent. Frances Gallo of the Central Falls district was under state mandate to improve Central Falls High, where only 3 percent of 11th graders scored proficient in math in 2008 and 7 percent in 2009. Half the students are failing every subject.
According to the Providence Journal:
Gallo wanted the union to sign off on six conditions that required teachers to spend more time helping students and with colleagues in professional training sessions. Gallo said she could only afford to pay teachers $30 per hour for some of the extra responsibilities — $1,800 for two weeks of training in the summer, and potentially $1,620 for weekly 90-minute afterschool sessions, if she could secure grant money. Teachers, Gallo said, would not be compensated for the other changes: lengthening the school day by 25 minutes; formalizing a tutoring schedule; eating lunch with students once a week; and submitting to more rigorous evaluations starting March 1.
Union officials said they wanted to be paid for more of the duties and wanted to receive a higher pay rate –– $90 per hour.
So, Gallo moved to Plan B, the total restructuring of the school. About 100 teachers, administrators and assistants will lose their jobs. (The Providence paper reports that the average base salary of the teachers is $72,000 to $78,000, not counting benefits. The median income for a household in the town of Central Falls is $22,628.)
Gallo fired the teachers under the turn-around plan developed by the U.S. Department of Education to improve the nation’s worst schools. The plan allows the staff to be fired to revitalize the school. “Adults will leave and children will stay, ” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, explaining the plan to reporters last year. During his tenure as CEO of Chicago public schools, Duncan credited such staff shifts for changing the culture and achievement levels at failing schools.
“We replaced leaders, we replaced teachers, ” he says. “And we saw some extraordinary results.”
The Rhode Island saga will be interesting to watch. The teachers’ union vows to fight the action, but the superintendent and the state education commissioner say they have the legal authority to act under the law because the school was so clearly failing and had been failing for so long.