Charter School Eyes Opening in Providence’s West End as Area Schools Underperform in Testing

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

 

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Parents in the transitioning West End of Providence are looking to start a new charter school in the home of the John Hope Settlement House and the performance of local elementary schools may be a driving force. 

In the recent RICAS assessments, for English Language Arts, only 19.39% of Asa Messer Elementary School students, located on Westminster Street, were meeting and exceeding expectations -- and Carl Lauro Elementary School, off of Broadway, saw only 5.26% of students meeting and exceeding expectations.

Historically, the West End of Providence was an African-American neighborhood and over the years has transitioned to be a mixed neighborhood as Asians emigrated and as a growing Latino population moved into the city. It is a neighborhood that is changing and gentrifying both racially and economically as housing prices on Providence's East Side preclude many from being able to afford the tony neighborhood.

Now, a faculty member at the $32,000 a year private prep school The Gordon School and a founding member of the non-profit “West Side Play Space” are slated to lead the proposed Wangari Maathai public charter school in the West End of Providence — which is looking to use the John Hope Settlement House as its location when it plans to open its doors in the fall. 

The school received preliminary approval from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) in 2017.

New School, Historic Location 

A public meeting notice has been posted at John Hope Settlement House for Friday, March 29 for the “siting” of the proposed school. GoLocalProv reported a series about the financial struggles of the John Hope Settlement House. (SEE BELOW)

John Hope, the historic community-based organization in the West End of Providence which grew from a vision of “public-spirited African American leaders to serve their neighbors in the late 1920s” — was closing, as GoLocal was first to report. A series of GoLocal stories unveiled the financial decline and charges of financial malfeasance

Siobhan Callahan — who is slated to be Wangari Maathai's Executive Director — co-founded “West Side Play Space” and has a Bachelor’s from Smith College and a Master’s from Duke University; according to the school’s website, Luke Anderson, who teaches humanities at the private Gordon School in East Providence, is slated to be the school’s principal.  The board is comprised of community leaders -- as well as West End residents seeking an alternative public education model. 

Now, Wangari Maathai — which recently participated in the public charter school lottery earlier in March — is seeking to finalize a location in order to receive final approval.

The school is named after Wangari Muta Maathai (1940-2011), who was born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya where she grew up “deeply connected to the land."

“After reading the children’s book, ‘Wangari’s Trees of Peace,’ we were moved to name our school after Wangari Maathai," states the charter school in its mission. "She is an inspirational example of the power of an ordinary individual to initiate powerful change by acting from a sense of passion for and connection to community and place.”

Latest for School — and John Hope

“The school received preliminary approval in accordance with statute in December 2017,” said Meg Geoghegan with RIDE on Monday. 

“The recommendation was clear that full approval was contingent on securing a facility. Wangari was able to conduct a lottery as long as they were explicit and notified families that they do not yet have final approval and were still looking at location options. In the charter school regulations (section 2.2.4), identification of a facility is a requirement to obtain final approval. The last charter to open – Charette in the fall of 2018 – received final approval from the Council in late spring that year, and the school opened in the fall. The school secured a lease in mid-May in that case,” said Geoghegan. 

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"Concerned Citizens for John Hope" rally outside of John Hope in 2014, when there were leadership issues at the nonprofit prompting community concern.

“Given the facility they’re currently exploring, they have scaled back their initial enrollment to 124 total – 20 each in grades K and 1, 40 in grade 5, and 42 in grade 6. We’re in the process now of collecting the lottery data for all charters, so I don’t have [applicant information] at this time," said Geoghegan. 

School spokesperson Callahan spoke to the amended class sizes — and the lottery for the upcoming school year being for grades K, 1, 5, and 6. 

“We have revised our enrollment plan for our first 5-year charter due to anticipated limitations of space.  We plan to enroll 124 students in Year 1: 1 class of 20 in K, 1 class of 20 in 1st, 2 classes of 20 each in 5th, 2 classes of 22 each in 6th,” said Callahan.  “We held a lottery for Kindergarten only and had 43 applicants for 20 spots as of our Feb. 22 application deadline. We are filling spots in the remaining grades on a rolling basis per our enrollment policy. As of now, we have 27 families on the Kindergarten waiting list; we have received applications for all 20 1st grade spots; we have received 16 applications for 40 5th grade spots; and 39 applications for 44 6th grade spots. We have not yet received back acceptances from families for all these spots.”

Callahan noted that the school received student applications from three board and founding members — 2 in Kindergarten and one in the first grade. 

“I don't have zip codes broken out in my spreadsheet at the moment but can say we have received applications from 02905, 02906, 02907, 02908, and 02909,” said Callahan. 

The board includes Seth Zeren, a West End resident and Director of Development at Armory Management Company, a full-service real estate company "operating on Providence’s West Side."

Board members include other founding members of West Side Play Space including RISD Professor Ayako Takase and Bryant University Professor Amber Day.

The group also includes such education land community leaders as Jill Davidson, who graduated from Brown and has an M.Ed from the Harvard Graduate School of Education who has served as a consultant to Big Picture Learning and the Rhode Island Afterschool Leadership Circle, and Vilma Peguero, who is the EEO Programming Services Officer for the State of Rhode Island Equal Opportunity Office, who as featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine and Latina Magazine for her work with Black Latina Negra Bella. 

Public Charter’s Interest on Former Community Anchor Location

The school’s interest in the John Hope location was outlined as follows. 

Wangari will begin serving students as a public charter school in Rhode Island during the 2019- 2020 school year. Wangari has been diligently searching for a place to house its students in Providence, Rhode Island. While 15 properties have been considered by Wangari, each of these properties has been determined unsuitable for Wangari at this time either due to cost-prohibitive acquisition costs, the extensive nature of renovations required, unsuitable geographic location and/or the necessity of significant and costly environmental remediation. 

The Site is preferred by Wangari because of its location and accessibility, the suitability of the existing building for educational purposes, including the size and layout of the building and the surrounding improvements and land, and the fact that the Site does not require any environmental remediation to be used as a School. Specifically, Wangari has selected this site because of its prominent location at the crossroads of the West End, Federal Hill and Upper South Providence neighborhoods of Providence. It is easily accessible by both car and bus, and a city bus stop is directly in front of the building. 

There is ample parking for both employees and visitors and has plenty of room for a school bus to pull in and out safely to pick-up and drop-off students. The grounds of the Site provide an enclosed play area for Wangari’s youngest students (Kindergarten & 1st grade), a wide open space for our older students, and has existing garden beds that can be incorporated into Wangari’s hands-on learning approach to science.

 

Related Slideshow: 2017-2018 RICAS ELA Rankings for “Meeting or Exceeding Expectations”

The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) released performance results on November 29, 2018 for students in grades 3 through 8 on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System, or RICAS. The 2017-2018 school year was the first year of implementation for the RICAS, which is the Rhode Island administration of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), the assessment tool of the nation’s highest-performing state for public education.

Data was suppressed to "ensure confidentiality" for Urban Collaborative and the RI School for the Deaf because greater than 95% of students did not meet expectations; data was suppressed to "ensure confidentiality" for DCYF because the minimum reporting size of ten was not met. 

Below are the rankings of school districts -- and charter schools -- with the data provided by RIDE.

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#49

Central Falls

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

9.66%

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#48

Woonsocket

Students meeting or exceeding expectations:

12.52%

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#47

Providence

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

13.71%

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#46

Highlander Charter School

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

15.06%

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#45

Trinity Academy for Performing Arts

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

15.38%

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#44

Paul Cuffee Charter School

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

15.7%

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#43

Beacon Charter School 

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

19.23%

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#42

Pawtucket

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

20.48%

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#41

Newport

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

22.6%

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#40

Southside Charter School

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

22.73%

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#39

Burrillville

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

24.92%

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#38

West Warwick

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

25.64%

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#37

Segue Institute for Learning

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

27.23%

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#36

Johnston

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

27.55%

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#35

North Providence

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

29.05%

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#34

East Providence

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

31.58%

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#33

International Charter School

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

32.1%

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#32

Middletown

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

34.43%

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#31

Cranston

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

35.45%

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#30

Foster

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

35.57%

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#29

Warwick 

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

36.9%

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#28

Tiverton

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

38.34%

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#27

Scituate

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

38.55%

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#26

Learning Community

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

39.08%

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#25

Lincoln

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

39.94%

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#24

Westerly

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

40.41%

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#23

Exeter-West Greenwich

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

42.49%

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#22

Foster-Glocester

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

43%

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#21

Coventry

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

45.51%

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#20

South Kingstown

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

46.44%

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#19

Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

45.6%

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#18

The Hope Academy

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

47.22%

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#17

Portsmouth

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

50.24%

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#16

Bristol-Warren

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

51.29%

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#15

Smithfield

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

51.99%

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#14

Little Compton

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

52.8%

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#13

Narragansett

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

54.22%

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#12

North Kingstown

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

54.31%

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#11

The Compass School

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

55.08%

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#10

Cumberland

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

55.93%

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#9

East Greenwich

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

56.21%

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#8

Achievement First Rhode Island

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

56.5%

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#7

Chariho

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

56.85%

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#6

Jamestown

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

58.97%

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#5

Glocester

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

59.86%

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#4

North Smithfield

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

59.98%

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#3

Barrington

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

69.46%

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#2

New Shoreham

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

70%

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#1

Kingston Hill Academy

Students meeting or exceeding expectations: 

71.13%

 
 

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