September 5, 2008

Superintendent Brings Special Guest on School Tour

By Linda Borg

PROVIDENCE -- The Charles N. Fortes Academy is a piece of living history, its hallways lined with photographs and stories that describe the consecutive wave of immigrants who settled in Providence, worked in its mills and created its ethnic enclaves.

Yesterday, Supt. Tom Brady invited U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin to tour the school, in a renovated factory on Daboll Street in the West End, as part of their first official meeting, one of many that the new superintendent has been holding with parents, teachers and elected officials.

Brady told Langevin that he has already settled into his new job and that the real work has begun. An independent audit commissioned by former Supt. Donnie Evans last month provided the district with a brutally honest critique of what's wrong with the system, including a finding that instructional shortcomings in reading and math have a serious impact on minority students, who represent more than 70 percent of public school enrollment, and the lack of a core curriculum at the middle and high school levels.

According to Brady, the report has also provided the School Department with a 200-page blueprint on how to move forward.

Brady, who has already visited 41 schools, said that the elementary schools are on track in terms of uniform literacy and math curricula, but said that the middle schools need a lot of work. The School Department is working on developing a standard curriculum for middle school students.

Langevin asked what Brady thought of a controversial new state regulation that, starting in 2012, makes state achievement tests count for a third of a student's graduation requirements in English and math.

"It's going to be a challenge," Brady said. "It's difficult when you have multiple high schools doing different things, but we've identified the problem."

Langevin mentioned that the federal No Child Left Behind law is up for reauthorization by Congress this year and added that the law, which has not been popular with many Democrats, needs some fine- tuning. Brady agreed.

"I like the law's accountability," Brady said yesterday. "But reaching 100 percent [proficiency] is not a standard. It's distressing to see a school miss [making adequate yearly progress] because six children were absent. Suddenly, it becomes a failing school. That troubles me."

During a brief tour of the school complex, which includes the Alfred Lima Elementary School, Langevin visited a second-grade bilingual education class and was told how difficult it is to find qualified bilingual education teachers.

He spent some time in a sixth-grade class where the students were learning about plate tectonics and the evolution of the continents from a single land mass into separate bodies.

Rep. James Langevin, center, Supt. Thomas Brady, left, and Mayor David N. Cicilline visited the Charles N. Fortes Academy and Lima Elementary School. The Providence Journal / Steve Szydlowski [email protected] / (401) 277-7823

Originally published by Linda Borg, Journal Staff Writer.

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