Rhode Island · School Talk

With a Waitlist of over 3,000, Elorza Can Finally Lead By Opening Up Additional Seats at Achievement First

Jorge Elorza is probably the only Mayor in the country who has direct access to one of the best and one of the worst performing school systems in the state in their own city — and yet he has made the calculated decision not to lead on connecting and collaborating to maximize the impact of his unique position.

Elorza is in charge of the Providence School System and also chairs the board of Achievement First Rhode Island, a small network of charter schools in Providence that falls under the umbrella of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies. It is true that in the wake of the Johns Hopkins report, the state has been approved to take over the Providence Schools—but that can’t happen for at least 90 days so Elorza still has work to do. His schools are and have been in crisis—it’s time he finally starts acting like it.  

The Johns Hopkins report explicitly cites a lack of quality curriculum as one of its primary findings. Why isn’t Mayor Elorza capitalizing on his access to Achievement First by working to  partner with them to leverage the success of their nationally recognized —and open source—curriculum? 

Elorza holds the keys to unlocking additional seats for Achievement First in Providence but he has continually bowed to pressure from his fellow progressives to block the planned expansion. 3,160 students applied for 190 open seats at Achievement First for the upcoming school year. And it’s no surprise that in the wake of the Hopkins report, hundreds of Providence parents have called the school, begging for the charter school to take their children in September. 

In 2016, Achievement First was approved by RIDE to grow to high school and add an additional K-8, giving the school the potential to serve 3,112 students. Elorza, as board chair, reserved the right to approve the third K-8 building due to concerns over the ‘financial impact on Providence Public Schools.’ 

Well, Mr. Mayor, let’s talk about the financial impact of your inaction. Have you calculated the financial impact of a 14 percent proficiency rate in reading and a 10 percent proficiency in math? The link between literacy and incarceration is well-established—85 percent of juvenile offenders are functionally illiterate. What will it cost Providence and our state to potentially incarcerate the students who have been allowed to fail—for generations—on our watch?” And how should RI taxpayers feel about the fact they spend almost 20K per child in Providence only to hear the new commissioner confirm that Providence diplomas aren’t worth the ink used to print them? 

One of the biggest reasons Achievement First has not been more vocal about opening the third K-8 is due to a lack of suitable facilities in Providence. But the Windmill building has been vacant since it closed about 7 years ago and it is not part of the Providence master facility plan. So, Mr. Mayor, why doesn’t the city give the building to Achievement First and finally allow some of the 3,000 kids currently sitting on their waiting list to go to a school with a proven track record of teaching children—all children— to read and do math and make their way to college. 

The Achievement First schools in Providence scored an average of whopping 40 percentage points higher than the Providence school district did. And the Achievement First Iluminar campus ranks highest in the entire state—80 percent of students are proficient in reading and writing and 76 percent are proficient in math. The school — where 87 percent of students qualify for free/reduced lunch—outperforms the wealthiest districts in the state.

Let’s pause here. There are schools in Providence that are succeeding and the Mayor, who is the chair of the board of those very schools, stands in the way of their expansion. 

Jorge Elorza needs to stop reading bland statements written by his communications staff and instead lead with the urgency his students and families deserve.  He should announce immediately that he is working to open up seats at Achievement First to at least help as many children as he can in the short term. 

What do you think?

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