Teachers Speed-Date For Jobs In Rhode Island

Earlier this year, the city of Providence, R.I., fired all of its nearly 2,000 teachers, shut down five schools and consolidated some programs. Most of the fired teachers were rehired, but when the dust settled, 400 teachers were left without jobs. To give them a chance to apply for 270 positions elsewhere the district, Providence officials are using an unusual device. From member station WRNI, Elisabeth Harrison reports.

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Earlier this year the City of Providence Rhode Island fired all of its nearly 2,000 teachers. The district shut down five schools. In the end, most of the teachers were hired back; some 400 though were left without positions. To find them jobs, school officials are using speed dating. Elisabeth Harrison from member station WRNI reports.

ELISABETH HARRISON: Dozens of teachers lined up in a middle school gym, waiting for their chance to speak with principals who have openings on their staffs.

Margaret Madoian brought a tote bag stuffed with student work and lesson plans from her 30 years as an elementary school teacher.

M: I had to go through albums and albums and students' work, and I had to collect it. I put it in binders, and it took me maybe about six weeks to compile everything on my own time.

HARRISON: Some 400 Providence teachers are vying for fewer than 300 positions. Most of them were displaced simply because they work at a school that was chosen for closure.

At the end of one line, Principal Carolyn Johnston meets a special education teacher.

Ms. CAROLYN JOHNSTON (Principal, Providence, RI) Hi. How are you?

M: I'm Anne Charles. I am elementary ed specialist.

M: Why don't you sign in first?

M: OK. Sure.

HARRISON: This teacher will have just a few minutes to try to make an impression, then it's on to the next interview.

Sixth grade teacher Ed Jirmin says it seems unfair that his future employment hinges on such a brief meeting.

M: What's been going on? It's been demeaning to my profession. It hurts and I think it's sad.

HARRISON: Demeaning teachers is not what school officials say they are trying to do. Providence Public Schools spokeswoman Christina O'Reilly says the goal was to put all of the displaced teachers on an even playing field and give principals a chance to find a good fit.

M: We certainly recognize that teachers are not interchangeable. They are not widgets. They're people and they're professionals. And doing this sort of an open match hiring process gave a chance for each teacher to make their best case about their own professional credentials to a principal who's looking for someone to fill a position.

HARRISON: Teachers had a chance to browse openings before the job fair. The teachers and principals will rank their top choices, and a computer program will try to match everyone accordingly.

M: Fortunately, very little of this will be manual.

HARRISON: Carleton Jones is Chief Operating Officer for the Providence School District. He says the process was designed to fill a large number of vacancies in a short amount of time.

M: And the goal is to have mutual consent so that principals are receiving teachers that they have consented to and you don't get people going, oh, I ended up where I didn't wish to end up, and be ready for school to open in September.

HARRISON: School officials see this as a compromise - the teachers do not have to compete with candidates from outside the district. But many Providence teachers have deep misgivings. They say none of this addresses real problems, like how to get rid of bad teachers or how to reverse a long history of low test scores for thousands of students in this urban school district.

For NPR News, I'm Elisabeth Harrison in Providence.

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