Dr. Susan F. Lusi’s recent resignation as superintendent of Providence Public Schools caught most by surprise. Midway through a one-year contract extension, Lusi was navigating the challenges of her work with characteristic skill and grace. Lusi, who did not provide a specific reason for her departure, led the district for four years, serving a year as interim superintendent before Mayor Taveras appointed her in 2012. During her tenure, Lusi proved to be an ally to the Providence Student Union and the Parent Advisory Council.
She joined forces with community leaders to produce a Code of Conduct that promotes equitable and accountable school discipline. The school department and city negotiated a contract with the Providence Teachers Union that supports increased autonomy and flexibility at the school level, and Lusi initiated the “On the Move” strategic plan. The district’s graduation rate increased from [61 to 75 percent] – impressive, though obviously not optimal. Test scores rose, absenteeism declined and innovative new schools are opening in the district. We can thank Dr. Lusi for more than the usual amount of progress during her time at the helm. In other ways, Lusi’s tenure was par for the course in Providence, which has seen three superintendents within ten years, and was on average for most urban districts. The Council of Great City Schools (CGCS), to which Providence belongs, recently released its annual report, “Urban School Superintendents: Characteristics, Tenure and Salary,” which states that the tenure of current CGCS superintendents averages 3.18 years. This relentless upheaval creates poor conditions for school improvement, which requires strategic, long-term implementation of educational programs to yield meaningful results.
While we hope that our politicians have the best interests of our children foremost in mind, short-term political and financial battles drive their decision-making – not great for continuity over the long haul. Yet Mayor Elorza is responsible for appointing school board members, who then choose the superintendent. This indicates that in due course, we may want to think through the pros and cons of Providence’s approach to school governance.
Families, students, teachers, school leaders and others invested in Providence’s schools are best positioned to hold the long-term vision of an enduringly great school system.
Organizations such as the Providence Student Union (PSU) demonstrate that grassroots organizing and coalition-building may successfully impact politics, as evidenced by PSU’s current push to hold Mayor Elorza accountable to his promise to reduce high schoolers’ long walks to school. As we embark on a new superintendent search, we need to reach out widely to our city’s communities and ask ourselves what qualities we seek in a superintendent in order to establish clear criteria against which candidates are assessed to determine their ability to sustain and build on the gains that we’ve seen since 2012. We also need to find ways to talk with each other and our elected and appointed officials to create and sustain a common vision of a school system that effectively serves all of our children. We know that mayors and their appointees come and go. We’re the ones who can hold our leaders accountable to a longterm plan for our schools.
The national data and our city’s experience tell us to view changes at the top of our school system as standard operating procedure. We have looked for a new district leader every three to four years. We know what works best: searches conducted according to clear, publicly developed criteria with ample opportunities for and multiple modes of public input. We must also identify a superintendent who can outlast false crises of political change so that finding a replacement every few years is no longer the norm. This may demand that we change governance, finance and other factors in order to create the right conditions for our next school leader to stick around, forge alliances, work through challenges and create lasting change for our public schools. So let’s proceed with the task of selecting our next superintendent calmly and thoughtfully, with sufficient, meaningful public participation and with attention to long-term, strategic commitments. We can do this, and if we do it right, we may not need to use our well-developed superintendent selection skills for years to come.
Hope Dollars for Scholars Awards Nearly $25,000 to Hope Students
At its second annual awards dinner on May 12, Hope High Dollars for Scholars, an affiliate of Scholarship America, presented 11 Hope High School seniors with scholarships totaling $24,500. This year’s scholarship recipients are: Kathleen Bonne-Annee, Alanis Concepcion, Justin Crespo, Jazmin Deleon, Daniella Habib, Shiva Karki, Jeremiah Monteiro, Steve Poueriet, Nathalie Rosado, Loriane Rodrigues and Pascaline Uwasa. The Hope High Dollars for Scholars chapter is funded by Hope alumni and supporters to recognize high achievement among graduating Hope High School students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. You can find out more about the Hope Dollars for Scholars chapter at www. hopehigh.dollarsforscholars.org.
Kudos to MLK Elementary Basketball Team – Champs for Second Year Running
For a second year in a row, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. basketball team won the city elementary school championships. Coached by King teachers Matthew Russo and Richard Nawrocki, the undefeated King team met Veazie Street Elementary School’s squad at Providence Career and Technical Academy on May 18. Kudos to the fourth and fifth graders who demonstrated hard work, talent, sportsmanship and teamwork!
Chez Innovation Camp Teaches RI Food Industry Ways to High School Students
A collaboration of Moses Brown School and Roosevelt International Academy, Chez Innovation is a tenday overnight camp that will provide 14- to 18-year-old students an intensive learning experience focused on Rhode Island’s food industry and related enterprises such as tourism and journalism. Running from July 11-19, Chez Innovation will bring campers to places of food production, processing, distribution, retail and philanthropy. Campers will take daily classes on business fundamentals and will develop their own ideas into business plans that they will pitch to a panel of experts from Johnson & Wales, Hope & Main and more. Wheeler School teacher David Ahlborn will serve as camp director. Students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible for spots. Chez Innovation’s tuition is subsidized, so it’s free for all. Find out more and apply for a spot at this new program for budding foodie moguls at www.chezinnovation.org.