Supporters Rally To Protest Central Falls Teacher Firings

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Teachers, parents and students as well as community, political and union leaders protested the mass teacher firings at Central Falls (R.I.) High School at a Feb. 23 rally, saying there are proven, more promising ways to improve student achievement other than solely blaming the teachers.

"The teachers have been unfairly targeted, and we will fight to have them reinstated," said Jane Sessums, president of the Central Falls Teachers Union. "Instead of trying to fix the system with a successful model, the administration has decided to scapegoat the teachers. We want genuine reforms, not quick fixes that do nothing but create a wedge between teachers, our school and our community."

Sessums continued, "Simply look at the records of reform. Teachers have agreed to numerous solutions and reforms, including working with the administration to develop a teacher evaluation system, schedule changes that benefit the students, ongoing common planning time throughout the year, and many research-based programs, including America's Choice and the Skills Commission Task Development program. The administration's only solution is to fire every teacher."

Sessums has called on the state education commissioner to bring the parties back to the table so they can work toward a solution together. The union also is asking supporters to sign a petition calling on the superintendent to work with the teachers.

AFT president Randi Weingarten said that everyone involved with the high school, including teachers, has a responsibility to improve the quality of education. "We are surprised that Superintendent Frances Gallo, who wants to fire every school employee, has not accepted any responsibility herself, especially since she has been at the helm for three years," she said. "We also are disappointed that Gallo and the state education commissioner have rejected my overtures to meet and discuss what is best for the students of Central Falls and also have said no to former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chaffee's proposal for mediation. It is simply wrong to say no to kids and to parents who want to improve their children's school."

In addition, Weingarten added, "we are disappointed that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan didn't get all the facts—or even speak with teachers—before weighing in on the mass firing at Central Falls High School."

The Central Falls school board voted later in the day to send termination notices to all 74 Central Falls High School teachers, despite some recent achievement improvements, including reading scores that have gone up 21 percent. Sessums agreed that the school's reform plan must be changed, but said the administration and the teachers union should work together to get the right resources into the school.

"The teachers at Central Falls care deeply about their students and their success, and we are adamant that they deserve better than what the administration has proposed," said Hope Evanoff, a French teacher at the school.

Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals and an AFT vice president, said the union has invited Central Falls and other districts to join them in a collaboration to develop a rigorous teacher evaluation and support system.

"Instead of firing teachers, the district needs to figure out how to help teachers become better by giving them the feedback, support and resources they need to be successful," Reback said.

Fausto Barbosa, parent of a Central Falls High School student, said, "Our kids have developed a bond with their teachers. They have great relationships with them and they trust them. To separate them from their teachers now, just as test scores and student performance is improving, is unconscionable. The whole process has been devastating—not just to our kids, but to the entire Central Falls community."

More information is available online at www.CentralFallsKidsDeserveBetter.com. [AFT press release]

February 24, 2010

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