PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state-run Providence Public School District says they notified 270 teachers and staff Friday that they may not have their job next school year, as part of annual notice to union members.
The displacement notices this year went not just to teachers and staff whose jobs are potentially being eliminated, but also to teachers who are not certified in English as a Second Language, as the district seeks to both comply with a Department of Justice settlement and also meet a goal of the state’s turnaround plan to have 52% of teachers ESL certified by 2024.
The number of teachers who received the notices specifically because of a lack of ESL certification was not immediately available. But spokesperson Audrey Lucas said those notices were sent either because a teacher’s position requires ESL certification and they failed to renew or acquire the certification, or because the district is now turning their classroom position into one that requires ESL certification.
“These specific changes were made to ensure that PPSD is in compliance with the terms of our DOJ settlement and to best meet the needs of our students,” Lucas said. “If these individuals committed to getting the ESL certification (and receiving the reimbursement), they were not displaced.”
Multiple teachers quickly disputed that assertion. Nicole Marcone, who teaches 9th and 11th grade English language arts including an AP course at Alvarez High School, said she committed to getting certified and was still sent a displacement notice.
“We were told that our positions were being converted to ESL instead of ELA,” Marcone said in an email to 12 News, adding that she’s been with the district for 21 years. “I completed the form I was told to complete indicating that I would do the [certification].”
A screenshot of the form she referenced said that if she did not agree to become certified, she may be displaced from her school. Marcone said she signed the form last month.
The state is reimbursing teachers for $3,200 of the certification costs, which teachers have complained does not cover the entire cost of the mandatory courses, especially at certain colleges.
Other staff members were displaced because their jobs are being consolidated or changed, according to the district. The district did not provide a full list of the job titles being eliminated, but said 188 of the 270 were teachers, including 158 in secondary schools and 109 in elementary schools.
Maribeth Calabro, the president of the Providence Teachers Union, called the higher-than-usual number of displacement notices “disheartening and demoralizing.”
“These are more displacements than we’ve ever had before,” she said Friday afternoon.
The job notices come at a time when tensions between the union and the state-controlled administrators have been high for months. The two sides have been attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement for more than a year.
Calabro said the displacements included all of the instructional coaches, who help other teachers in a variety of subject matters including teaching multilingual learners (MLLs).
The district is subsequently creating 32 new coaching positions that with both specialize in MLL supports and specific content areas such as math and English language arts, different from the current requirements for coaches. The displaced coaches will be able to apply for the new positions.
At one school nearly the entire English department was given notices, according to Calabro, other than those who had ESL certification.
“I think that we all know and realize that we do need more teachers who are certified in ELL instruction,” Calabro said. “That’s not at dispute. What is at dispute is that if we all need to have that, then the district should have found a way to get us all certified.”
She said in addition to the tuition costs, teachers have to be accepted to programs at colleges with limited seats in order to get the now-mandated certification.
The district is planning to address the problem in the future, according to an announcement earlier this week. The school department is working on creating on-site ESL certification “to better prepare teachers and reduce certification costs,” according to a press release. The program is still being developed.
About a third of Providence’s students are considered multilingual learners.
Other new jobs being added next fall include 22 elementary guidance counselors and 36 community liaisons, the latter of which will “perform outreach to families and provide critical mentorship to students,” according to the district.
The displaced employees can apply to the new positions in addition to other job vacancies within the school district.