Rhode Island · School Talk

2016: The Good Stuff

There is rare consensus that 2016 was no ordinary year and there’s no doubt that in the minds of many, 2017 couldn’t have come fast enough. The political rhetoric and division was at full tilt for what felt like forever, hugely influential and beloved icons like Prince, George Michael, and Carrie Fisher passed away suddenly, trailblazing familiar faces like Mohammed Ali and Gwen Ifill lost their battles with illness, and we were shaken by terror and violence here at home in Orlando and San Bernardino while we watched tragic attacks unfold across the globe.

But there was also a lot of good that we saw in 2016 and since Good School Hunting has an education focus, so does our 2016 round-up and we are focusing on the positive, seeing the glass half-full, and sharing our favorite education stories of 2016.

Here We Go

Early in the year, the parents of a special needs child shared their story of a school that went above and beyond for their son.

Until a month before Kindergarten, our son was on track in every way for a successful kindergarten year.  He had been healthy for four years with barely a cold, breezed through preschool with no issues and then, all of a sudden, our lives were turned upside down.

To read more of We Will Do Whatever it Takes about Blackstone Valley Prep, click here.

In March, we shared a piece about a little known elementary school in Johnston that was only one of two schools with more than 40 percent low income students to outperform state averages in reading and math. The school is Thornton Elementary and we paid a visit to congratulate them and learn more about what they were doing.

Principal Louise Denham bestows the greatest of compliments on the school she has led in Johnston, Rhode Island since 2008. She is unequivocal in her confidence and love for Thornton Elementary School, a full Title 1 school where over 70 percent of students are classified as low income. And while Principal Denham will be the first one tell you there is always more work to do and that she wishes she could do more for her teachers and her students, something exciting has happened under her watch this past year that deserves our attention, praise and efforts to replicate.

To read more of There’s Something Special Happening Here, click here.

In April, we celebrated a huge decrease in suspensions in Pawtucket, a city where even the Superintendent discovered — and admitted — that they had been misused as a disciplinary tool.

Superintendent Patti DiCenso made a commitment to changing the way her district of Pawtucket, Rhode Island does discipline; more specifically, the out of school suspensions for non egregious actions needed to stop.

“Suspensions Became The Tool” – Patti DiCenso, Superintendent

DiCenso is open about how bad the numbers were and while the data concerned her at all levels, she believes the problem was greatest at the elementary level.  During the 2014-2015 school year from September to February, there were 259 suspensions at the elementary school level a number that, just one year later, has dropped 97 percent to just 9. (Pawtucket Schools serve 9,022 students throughout sixteen schools.)

To read more of Pawtucket Supe Sees Major Results in Commitment to Decreasing Suspensions and Getting Discipline Right, click here.

Over at West Broadway Middle School in Providence, we did a short feature on Principal Bill Black, winner of the First Year Principal of the Year award.

Accolades for Black abound from all stakeholder groups; his impact is palpable and even I, as a mere follower of his on Twitter, have been in awe of his enthusiasm and love of the work. His words, photos, and videos tell the story of something unique and special happening at West Broadway Middle School.

To read more of Mr. Black Has Got Their Back, click here. 

During graduation season, we wrote a short blurb about a Boston Globe Story highlighting the unprecedented diversity of Boston’s high school valedictorians.

Boston Public Schools boasts thirty seven high school valedictorians this year and that is awesome. But what makes it even more awesome, and noteworthy, is that these superstar students represent twelve countries.

To read more of 37 graduates representing 12 countries are Boston’s 2016 Valedictorians, click here.

In June in the early days of the Question 2 charter school battle in Massachusetts, a mother of four penned a piece about how Kipp Academy had embraced her son, Elijah, who has autism.

I have four children and as with all children, their needs are not the same. They need different things at home and the same is true in school.  As a charter mom of a child with autism, it is very upsetting to hear the local media and others repeatedly make the false claim that charter schools don’t take kids with special needs. Each time they say that, they deny and even work to erase the story of my son, Elijah.

To read Mom Natasha Megie-Maddrey’s full piece about her son Elijah, click here.

In early fall, we finally paid a long overdue visit to West Broadway Middle School to see Principal Black’s team (and tweets!) in action.

West Broadway Middle School is a window into the promise of urban public schools when they have strong and positive leaders who are able to hire and build their own teams and then empower them with the freedom and flexibility they need to excel as teachers. It is proof of the crucial role that strong relationships play in student learning, academic achievement, and family engagement. Even more, it offers a window into what our educators and school leaders can do when given a real chance.

To read more of West Broadway Middle School: A Window Into How an Urban District School Can Be Totally Awesome, click here. 

Later the same month, Rhode Island announced it’s Teacher of the Year: Nikos Giannopoulos, a special educator at Beacon Charter School.

Mr. Giannopoulos seems to pay no mind to the false assertions about special education and the charter sector. His focus is clearly on kids, especially those who have struggled in a traditional school setting. Part of why kids love him so much is because they feel like he really “gets them.”

To read more of Rhode Island 2017 Teacher of the Year Dispels Myth That Charter Schools Don’t Serve Kids With Special Needs, click here.

During a year where police found themselves under a cloud of suspicion and even hostility because of police shootings of unarmed black men, it was refreshing to see Rhode Island law enforcement building relationships with youth through basketball. It was particularly special that the first game of the season happened the same week as the abhorrent attacks on police in Dallas.

During this week of horrific loss it is really hard to find anything to celebrate. But there is something in my tiny little state of Rhode Island that that has me grateful and relieved and even cautiously optimistic.

Midnight Basketball.

To read more of Midnight Basketball in Rhode Island Brings Kids and Police Together, click here.

2016 also saw the piloting of an advanced work program for 6th graders on the south side of Providence at Roger Williams Middle School.

The pilot program at Roger Williams Middle School is a start. And worthy of celebration. But the reality is, Providence serves over 23,000 students and common sense tells us that so many of those kids are capable of much higher level work than they are getting. The sixth graders now doing advanced coursework on the south side are shattering stereotypes and helping to push back against a generations old deficit mentality when it comes to poor kids of color in America’s schools.

To read more of Gifted on the South Side and Finally Getting the Chance to Show It, click here. 

Annavonh Phasouvor, Central High School senior

And who could forget our post by Central High School senior Annavonh Phasouvor about the school’s Unity Day just two days after the presidential election?!

Central High School in Providence, Rhode Island came together two days after the election in a moment of unity. The idea for “United As One” was hatched as election results poured in and it spread through the school community on Twitter. The goal was to spread the message of togetherness and unity during a time that was very difficult for so many in our school family.  Students, teachers, the Superintendent and even our city mayor attended the peaceful act at 2:30 to link arms and hold hands to show that “We are Central Strong.”

To read more of Student Voice: How Her School Came Together in Unity on the Heels of Election ’16, click here.

So in this year that has folks declaring it the worst year ever, I submit to you that it wasn’t even close to that. And while there are countless other remarkable stories from our teachers and students this year, this quick recap should have all of us excited and optimistic about the year ahead.

Happy first day back everyone; keep up the great work.

(I apologize for the formatting issues; some of these pieces were written on a different blog platform and aren’t cooperating when cut and pasted.)


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