PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Superintendent Harrison Peters is sending a message to teachers for the upcoming school year, telling educators in a letter Friday they will be expected to attend school functions and tend to other duties outside of their normal school day.
In the letter, Peters said teachers will be expected to “devote whatever time is necessary” to help students succeed, including participating in activities outside the school day such as parent conferences and graduation ceremonies, and following a new protocol for lesson planning.
“It means calling homes and sending regular updates to engage parents and build trust,” Peters wrote. “The simplest and most effective way to show our commitment to our community is to be present for our families.”
He acknowledged that the edicts may challenge “established practices” in the district.
“While many of you go above and beyond to meet your professional obligations—and I thank you for your dedication—this will now be the norm,” Peters wrote. “I want to make clear that our students deserve high-quality learning that values their experience, home language, culture, and individual needs. This can only take place if we as educators engage in daily, intentional lesson planning and development. To assist with the planning process this fall, we will memorialize a protocol for preparing and refining lessons.”
The letter also says Providence teachers will have two additional professional development days, on Sept. 2 and 3. Teachers were already slated to start the year on Sept. 9, with three professional days before students start on Sept. 14.
Peters — who was appointed by State Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green earlier this year — said in an interview he was surprised when he arrived in Providence to learn that not all teachers attend parent conferences.
“As a 4th and 5th grade teacher I remember I coached basketball, I tutored after school, I worked with teachers and developed lesson plans and did everything I was asked to do,” Peters said. “Attended parent conferences and open houses. Those were things I thought were just a regular part of the routine of a teacher.”
He added that many great teachers are already doing these things, but that it needed to be “codified” as standard practice.
In a text message, Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro said the union did not agree to the new requirements Peters laid out, other than the professional development days.
“Providence teachers go above and beyond every day and in more ways than teaching and I think we proved that during distance learning as a union,” Calabro said. “We have not only acknowledged the urgency and need for change, we have asked to be collaborative partners in making lasting change for the schools our children deserve!”
She declined to comment further on the specifics, citing the ground rules for the ongoing contract negotiations between the union and the administration.
The letter comes as some tension has been bubbling between the union and the district administration, as the union seeks to start school with full distance learning for safety reasons because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The district is still currently planning for multiple scenarios, which include full in-person, hybrid and distance learning options. (As of Wednesday, the city of Providence’s virus rate was too high to reopen in person.)
If the district meets all the metrics — including that municipal virus rate — in time for the Aug. 31 decision date for reopening school, Peters said his preference is to have students in the classroom.
“In-person learning matters,” Peters said. “I am totally in support of bringing as many students back safely as we can. No question.”
Regardless of which scenario is chosen, the district will separately operate a Virtual Learning Academy which already has roughly 5,000 students enrolled.
Calabro spoke in opposition to the current plans for the academy at a School Board meeting earlier this week, out of concern that the academy would not be connecting students with teachers from their own school and would not involve as much direct connection between students and their teachers and peers.
“We have to be very careful with allowing adult interests to supersede what’s right for students,” Peters said in response.
The Providence Teachers Union contract ends Aug. 31, and the union has been meeting regularly with district and R.I. Department of Education officials to negotiate a new deal for several months. The state takeover over the school district gave RIDE authority over the contract.
“Both sides are definitely conversing in good faith,” Peters said. “But also I’m getting a little panicked. School’s about to start … and whether we’ve agreed on a contract or not, we want to agree on great behaviors that’s going to help lift instruction.”