Mediator to lead talks between Central Falls and its fired teachers

By Ray Henry
Associated Press / March 12, 2010

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PROVIDENCE — A mediator will lead negotiations meant to avert the mass firing of all teachers from long-troubled Central Falls High School as part of a plan to improve student performance, Superintendent Frances Gallo said yesterday.

Gallo announced her decision after a closed-door meeting that included representatives of the Central Falls Teachers’ Union, state education officials, and consultants. It was the first session between Gallo and the union since the school board voted last month to fire 93 teachers and other staff from its high school.

President Obama, in a recent speech, called the firings an example of holding failing schools accountable. Two days later, Gallo said she wanted to restart talks with the union in hope they could choose a reform plan and avoid mass job losses.

“I just have hopes, high hopes, for the very best possible school that we can build for all of our students,’’ Gallo said after the meeting. “I don’t care what model it is.’’

Jane Sessums, president of the Central Falls Teachers’ Union, described the meeting as a good start, although its focus was on the qualities needed in the school’s new leadership team, including a new principal.

Sessums said she wants negotiations between officials and the union to start as soon as possible. “As long as we’re talking, we can solve this,’’ she said.

The firings came after state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist identified Central Falls as among the six worst-performing in the state. Just 7 percent of 11th-graders tested in the fall were proficient in math. Only 33 percent were proficient in writing, and just 55 percent were proficient in reading. In 2009, more than half of students failed to graduate in four years.

Gallo said she initially asked the union to accept changes, including a longer school day, a formalized tutoring schedule, additional professional training, and implementation of a program in which teachers would eat lunch with students once a week. The superintendent said she had the money to pay teachers for some, but not all, of the extra work.