Educator Autonomy Project kicks off with first Working Group meeting

The Educator Autonomy Project that Governor Lincoln D. Chafee announced this week got under way last night (December 3), as the 17-member Educator Autonomy Working Group held its initial meeting.

The working group, which Governor Chafee appointed, is charged with examining the issue of providing greater autonomy for educators, schools, and school districts across the state. The group will meet monthly in public sessions. In June, the working group will present Governor Chafee with a set of recommendations for action.

“Through this group, teachers will be empowered to improve the educational system and to enable the learning experience for students to be better and to increase their passion for learning,” Governor Chafee said. “This new working group will allow us to build on our policy decisions at the state level and bring about changes in the schools.”

The goals of the working group are to find and propose ways to:

  • allow educators and schools the flexibility to meet the specific needs of their students;
  • encourage innovation;
  • address concerns that governance is too centralized; and
  • strengthen autonomy and effectiveness.

The group will identify existing barriers that prevent effective and innovative teaching and learning, propose how to remove these barriers, and define what improvements in governance, school leadership, and decision-making would allow for more innovative teaching and learning.

“All too many times, I’ve had the notion that my hands are tied,” said Yanaiza Gallant, a Principal Intern at the Burrillville Middle School and co-chair of the working group. “I’m excited that we’re coming together here to start talking about how we can let those closest to students become innovative for kids.”

“I see in education right now a landscape that’s fertile for us to bring forth system changes in terms of autonomy,” said Patricia Page, an East Greenwich teacher and a co-chair of the working group. “The question is: How do we make autonomy meaningful and make certain it is sustainable in the education environment?”

“Direct autonomy is the best way to achieve success,” said Patrick A. Guida, representing the Board of Education on the working group. “Mixing autonomy with our protocols for collaboration is both challenging and necessary. We want to make certain that our work to encourage autonomy is perceived as support – and not as interference.” Measuring how we’re doing in this effort is also going to be important, Guida noted.

“When I was a teacher, I had a tremendous amount of autonomy in the classroom, and I treasured that,” said Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, also serving on the working group. “I hear from teachers all the time who share with me their frustrations about not having the ability to make decisions concerning students. If I’m accountable, I need to be able to make the decisions. At the policy level, we set what the expectations are. How it gets done should be left as close to the students as possible.”

The members of the Working Group are:

Christina Batastini, Policy and Legislative Analyst, Office of the Governor
Ron Beaupre, Pawtucket teacher and President, Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance
Karen Castagno, Interim Dean, Feinstein School of Education and Human Development, Rhode Island College
Susan Chin, Principal, Veazie Street Elementary School, Providence
Rob DeBlois, Director, Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program
Tim Duffy, Executive Director, Rhode Island Association of School Committees
Yanaiza Gallant, co-chair, Principal Intern at the Burrillville Middle School and the 2012 Rhode Island Milken Educator Award Winner
Deborah A. Gist, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education
Patrick A. Guida, Vice-Chair, Board of Education
Pierre LaPerriere, Vice President and Director of Human Resources, Gilbane, Inc.
Valerie Lawson, East Providence teacher and Vice President, National Education Association of Rhode Island
Robert O’Brien, Superintendent, Smithfield Public Schools
Patricia Page, co-chair, East Greenwich teacher and 2014 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year 
Rick M. Quiles, Pediatrician, Park Pediatrics, Cranston
Julian Santiago, Senior, Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, Providence
Carolyn Sheehan, Director, Blackstone Academy
Alan J. Tenreiro, Principal, Cumberland High School

The next meeting of the working group is scheduled for Monday, January 6, at 4:30 p.m., at the R.I. Department of Education, Room 501, 255 Westminster St./80 Washington St., Providence. All meetings of the working group will be open to the public.