Troubled R.I. school hits bumps on road to education reform

Administrators are considering closing the school or re-firing all teachers.

The teachers at Central Falls High School in Central Falls, R.I., struck a deal to get their jobs back last year after the entire staff was fired in a radical, last-ditch attempt to raise student performance. But if the administrators thought the teachers would be grateful for a second chance, they were wrong.

Many teachers aren’t showing up for work, often calling out sick. Several abruptly quit within the first few weeks of the school year. Administrators have had to scramble to find qualified substitutes and have withheld hundreds of student grades because of the teacher absences.

The progress that the city’s school board–and the Obama administration–had hoped for seems increasingly, and alarmingly, elusive.

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The problems come despite a labor agreement that union leaders and administrators in this poor, heavily immigrant city trumpeted as a breakthrough at Central Falls High School, a struggling school of roughly 840 students where just 7 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in math in 2009.

“I expected when everyone came to the school that there would be more of a shared focus on making sure that everything was successful,” said state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. “At this point, we’re concerned about whether or not people are going to be able to let go of the past and work together toward moving forward.”

Exactly what’s causing all the problems is unclear, but both sides acknowledge lingering discontent over the firings and the changes that followed.

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