February 27 2010
"Spirit of Central Falls" Trumps Special Interests
Vicki E. Alger, Ph.D
Thankfully, not all local public-schooling officials are like the ones o the Los Angeles Board of Education. In fact, a growing number local officials and parents seem to have had enough of special-interests shortchanging students.
Last week Central Falls, Rhode Island, School Superintendent Frances Gallo fired her entire high-school teaching staff when they refused to implement essential reforms to turn around the failing school. Little did Dr. Gallo know that hers would be the pink slips shot ‘round the world-beginning with a billboard in the middle of town hailing her.
Even U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has weighed in, telling the Providence Journal, "I applaud Commissioner Gist and Superintendent Gallo for showing courage and doing the right thing for kids."
"The entitlement mentality and the notion that teachers unions have the right to obstruct critical reforms that will benefit children has got to come to an end," said Education Action Group Foundation (EAGF) Vice President Kyle Olson, whose group rented the billboard. "Hopefully Gallo's brave stand will serve as a flash point for other underperforming schools across America." Below are portions of EAGF's interview with Dr. Gallo from its publication Ed Reform Radar.
That's how they roll in Rhode Island--Courageous superintendent fires entire teaching staff February 25, 2010
..."I think the whole state of Rhode Island is behind what is going on, with the exception of union teachers," Gallo told the Radar. "I was quite naïve (about the national implications) when the decision was made, but after hearing and seeing and being part of this national media, I would say it's a watershed case, for sure."
The Central Falls school district was recently designated by the state as one of six "persistently lowest-performing" schools. Less than half of Central Falls students typically graduate, and only seven percent are proficient in math, according to state data.
The state's education commissioner, noted reformer Deborah Gist, gave each of the schools until March 17 to come up with a plan for significant improvement.
Gallo responded by asking the high school teaching staff to work an extra 25 minutes per day, eat lunch at least once a week with the students, submit to more rigorous evaluations, accept a formal tutoring schedule and participate in extra training over the summer. Gallo offered them $30 per hour to meet those requests, and asked them to volunteer some time to fulfill the rest.
The teachers union responded by demanding $90 per hour for extra duties. Gallo responded with termination letters from the entire staff, and the school board approved the move by a 5-2 vote. "This is a horrible economy," Gallo said. "To have well paid teachers - and I think $70,000 to $80,000 per year is well paid - balk over working an extra half hour a day, and hold out for $90 an hour, is ridiculous. And I think the whole state sees that."
...Gallo said she has been meeting since September with groups of teachers to gain their support for reform efforts. She said individual teachers generally approved of her ideas.
But when the Central Falls Teachers' Union (AFT) became involved, she said she encountered nothing but resistance. "Immediately they went into negotiation mode and said ‘How much are you willing to pay?'" Gallo said.
The district offered to protect 80 percent of the teaching staff from possible layoffs, if the union agreed to cooperate with reforms. The union refused. The offer was increased to 90 percent, then 100 percent job security, but it still wasn't good enough.
...Gallo's recommendation to terminate the entire staff led to a tidal wave of protests from the union and its supporters...Her telephone predictably rang off the hook, but the messages she received ran "eighty to one in my favor," Gallo said.