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Sue Cranston of the Proficiency Based Graduation Program at Central Falls High School, is applauded as she is introduced at the Central Falls Education Summit last week. Top, Juan C. Villar, center, and other Central Falls High School dancers are applauded after a performance before state and local education officials.

Photo by Bob Thayer

Educators visit Central Falls

01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, January 30, 2008
By Tatiana Pina
Providence Journal Staff Writer

CENTRAL FALLS – Educators from across the state, including the commissioner of education, boarded school buses and became students last week as they visited schools in the city to observe teaching and learning in the classrooms.

About 45 representatives from the University of Rhode Island, Johnson & Wales, Community College of Rhode Island, the Education Department and community leaders participated in the Central Falls school district’s first Education Summit last Friday. Schools Supt. Frances Gallo and the Board of Trustees invited educators to see the progress of the schools and to invite input for making improvements.

At Calcutt Middle School, principal Liz Legault led one busload of educators to the cafeteria where students were waiting. Students are placed in teams that have the names of colleges like the Temple Owls, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, URI, University of Connecticut. Legault explained that the school is now moderately improving. “I think you are going to be impressed,” she said before turning them over to the students.

Antoinette Kou, 13, Denise Texeira, 15 and Marylissa Barbosa 13, led a handful of educators to a math class. Kou explained that the class starts with a warm-up exercise of a problem the students have done in the past to refresh their memories. “We can go on the computer and play math games for extra credit,” she said. Kou, who is president of the student council, said she likes math. She said that now students have more gym time and teachers have more professional time.

Commissioner Peter McWalters said that since the No Child Left Behind Act, the state has become more aggressive toward the school district. He said that since Legault arrived, the school has taken off. With students at the middle school doing better, “We have every confidence the high school will take off,” he said.

He asked the girls if they remembered taking the state (NECAP) test. “Was it hard?” he asked. “We understood what was on it,” Kou answered.

URI President Robert Carothers said that, as he observed classes, he thought about how the university might be able to work with students.

Mario Andrade, the principal of Central Falls High School, said that the district must focus on retaining the 9th and 10th graders who come to the high school.

The group took a short trip to Calcutt Too on Cowden Street, where the sixth graders are housed. Bryan Dejesus had prepared a letter that he wanted the visitors to read. “This is a wonderful school for sixth graders” where students can learn “for example, to read, how to write, fractions, science….,” he wrote. His favorite teacher is Jessica Gauthier. “She makes funny faces. She acts out the stories,” he said.

Patricia Morris, the director of the English as a Second Language program, introduced DeJesus to McWalters and gave him what DeJesus had written. “This is the commissioner of education. He is the commissioner of education for everyone. He is even Dr. [Frances] Gallo’s boss.”

“Tell him what made you write this,” Morris urged. “It is in my heart,” DeJesus said.

The group went to Central Falls High. The high school this year entered into partnership with the University of Rhode Island as part of the school’s reorganization mandated by the state.

In the auditorium a group of students dressed in red shirts and slacks and black sneakers waited on stage. They are the high school’s new step team. The team formed after a high school rally when students caught up in the spirit of the moment started to dance. The step group, which included one girl who danced with a cast on, performed a number of choreographed pieces for the applauding educators.

Afterward, members of the National Honor Society talked with the group.

Asked about the biggest change they had seen in the school, one student answered that the school was calmer. “There is order. Everybody was everywhere,” she said.

Another educator asked about the porfolios that students must present to show proficiency to graduate. Senior Sophy Paulino said it has a lot to do with organization. “I just finished mine. It’s a little hard in certain areas. You have to be on top of the work. No one can do it for you,” she said.

David Hayes, of the Academic Enhancement Center at URI, asked what piece of advice students would give the educators to help the high school. One student said the high school needed more tutors. “We have a lot of math tutors but we could use English tutors,” the student said. Hayes was already planning to meet with department heads to discuss adding tutors, Andrade said. He visited the high school yesterday.

Asked what they would change in their school, one student said students’ attitudes. “Some people will fight over anything. We need more programs, more involvement. There is a lack of interest with students. They don’t have anything to do. They don’t want to participate. I like to keep myself active to keep a clean mind.”

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