Last week, I sat down with Providence Superintendent Sue Lusi to talk
reform and she unfurled a surprisingly radical vision for where the
city schools need to go.
America's traditional, centralized urban
districts are simply not working, she said. Look no further than
Providence, where 23 of the district's 37 schools have been identified
as in need of transformation.
Lusi's idea, still preliminary:
shrink the central office considerably and push the resources and decision-making
closer to the schools themselves.
How might that work? The
superintendent imagines outside entities - district partners expert in
education - overseeing clusters of three or four schools. They'd have
significant autonomy, a chance to experiment. One of the roles of a
slimmed-down central office might be to facilitate idea-sharing among
The idea raises all sorts of questions, of course. Starting with quality control.
But the district has a chance to try it out. Two of these outside entities are already operating in the
Providence schools: United Providence! (UP!), a first-in-the-nation
labor-management partnership overseeing three troubled schools, and a
joint effort by Dallas-based education consultant Cambium Learning Group
and Miami Lakes, Florida-based consultant National Academic Educational
Partners, overseeing another cluster of three schools.
two efforts are still getting off the ground. And they've had some
early struggles. A recent reshuffling of school principals sparked
teacher protest at one of the UP! schools.
How UP! and Cambium-NAEP perform in the long
run, and what lessons they teach the district about the cluster model
will, no doubt, have some bearing on whether Lusi's vision ever becomes
reality. But it's an intriguing possibility.