East Side Stories

Nathan Bishop Resolved its Graduation Issues

Growing middle school classes lead to more challenging logistics.

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Despite reports to the contrary, Nathan Bishop did in fact hold its graduation ceremonies in June, and apparently all went well. 

Here’s how things got confusing. Initially, it was reported on GoLocalProv.com that the school was planning to replace traditional graduation ceremonies with what was to be called a “Celebration Day.” All eighth graders who achieved agreed upon benchmarks for academic, social and behavioral performance would be invited to this new cookout and activities day, which would replace the traditional graduation event. The problem was that almost a third of the class failed to meet the standards and hence were sent a letter telling their parents that while their children would be moving on to high school next year, they would not be part of the celebration. 

Nathan Bishop principal Kimberly Luca was quite frank in admitting that there was probably a better way to communicate her new plan, which met with almost immediate pushback from at least some of the parents. “Though our intentions were good, clearly it would have been much wiser to have gotten more parental input first before we went public with our proposal. And it’s now also clear to us that graduation is an important rite of passage for many families.” 

Unfortunately the perception painted in the GoLocalProv report implied the reasons were behavioral in nature. “I can understand why East Side residents, after seeing that over $35 million was spent to refocus and redesign the old school, were concerned that things were slipping back to where they had been [before the 2009 reopening],” said Luca. “I’m happy to report this is definitely not the case. Attendance levels rose to 92% this year and our achievement test results have improved substantially.” 

Christina O’Reilly, Director of Communications for Providence Public Schools, explained the reality of the current middle school numbers in Providence. “We are currently in the midst of a bulge in the number of students entering middle schools throughout the city. Regulations require that middle schools fill their space with children from the immediate neighborhood first… which the School Department defines as families living within 1.5 miles of the school,” he explains. “Here at Bishop, the current percentage of neighborhood children that fall within that definition constitutes only 28% of the school, which requires busing to fill the school. That said, we are committed to ensuring all our middle school students are receiving the kind of education that will prepare them for their next educational level be it at Classical, Hope, vocational or any other city high school.” 

She was particularly excited about a new program that will be starting in September in both Mount Pleasant and Hope High Schools. Called Opportunity by Design, it is funded by an innovative three year, $3 million Carnegie Corporation of New York grant, and will be aimed at students interested in having more of a say in their education. The number of students would be limited to 100 per class in each school. The hope is by creating small classes in a blended learning environment and accessing state of the art technology, superior results can be achieved for children prepared to make the commitment. O’Reilly stated that of the 200 available spots, 170 are already filled for the new program that will begin this fall. 

But now that graduation 2015 is behind them, the administrators at all the middle schools, not just Bishop, are going to have to deal with a citywide problem of an increasing number of middle schooners that is putting pressure on the limited amount of available space within the schools themselves. It is a problem Luca had hoped to alleviate at Bishop. 

“Given the growing class sizes, we won’t be able to offer two tickets per student for the graduations much longer and still hold it within the school. 

Additionally, graduations are expensive for many parents and unfortunately can become competitions to see who’s wearing what or who got the biggest bouquet,” explained Luca. 

“Going forward it would appear we have two choices. Either look for larger venues outside of the school to hold the event or come up with another way to celebrate the passage out of middle school into high school.” 

Clearly some lessons have been learned. But the East Side can be a little more comfortable that Principal Luca and her staff seem to have things under control. We spoke to several parents who expressed their confidence in the direction things seem to be going. While there is a wish that there were more resources available for their children – specifically there was a consensus that there should be more AP courses at Bishop – the mood at the school remains positive. Perhaps City Councilman Sam Zurier, whose son graduated from Classical this year, said it best. “There is a difference between a stumble and a fall. Nathan Bishop has a number of wonderful assets, a very capable facility, an enthusiastic PTO, a strong network of parents. I get the sense that the parents want to preserve that.”

And so too does Principal Luca. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I love my job. I’ve visited most of the schools in Providence and understand that middle schools remain one of the last opportunities for the constructive nurturing of our children,” Luca explains. “The letters that were sent to those students who fell short of meeting the requirements the parents and we had agreed to, were told in detail where the deficiencies were in hopes of producing improvement in the future. I remain committed to the need to teach all kids to be academically, socially and emotionally prepared to move forward as they approach high school. Come in and check any of our classes. It’s what we do here at Nathan Bishop every day.”