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School makeovers

As Fort Wayne Community Schools works its way through the painful process of staffing its schools next year, the challenge of staffing 11 schools identified as underperformers is proving difficult. At a meeting last week, board President Mark GiaQuinta defended the shake-up by noting that the district was serious about changing the culture in each of the 11 LEAD schools. He contrasted the process with Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, which captured headlines this year when the school board voted to lay off all the faculty and staff. GiaQuinta said that in the end, the board had relented and hired everyone back.

That's not entirely the case, as this Education Week commentary from the Rhode Island commissioner of education makes clear.

The teachers agreed to some very substantial changes:

• A longer school day

• Five to 10 days of targeted professional development every summer

• Ninety minutes a week of focused common-planning time, which will take place after school, thereby also increasing the students' instructional day

• Personalization initiatives, including having lunch with students at least one day a week

• At least one hour of weekly scheduled tutoring for students required of every teacher

• A pledge to develop a streamlined collective bargaining agreement that will give the principal greater flexibility to implement education reforms

• A screening process for all faculty members who wish to be rehired for the next school year

• A new staffing policy that eliminates "bumping" and seniority-based teacher placement and restricts grievances regarding staffing decisions

• A rigorous evaluation system to be in place during the next school year.

Many of the changes are similar to what the Fort Wayne teachers agreed to accept in their master contract this spring. Teachers don't have a great deal of negotiating power right now, so administrators and school boards are holding most of the cards. Given the authority to make sweeping changes in schools, it will be interesting to watch what happens at Central Falls and the Fort Wayne LEAD schools.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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