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(NECN: Josh Brogadir, Central Falls, RI) - The Central Falls school board has voted in favor of firing the entire high school teaching staff. However, the teachers are not going quietly.
This has been an angry battle - a teachers union vs. a superintendent of a struggling school district where something had to change - in this case, perhaps the most drastic decision in Rhode Island education history.
One by one their names were read, as if it were classroom roll call.
But these were teachers - all 88 at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island will be fired, effective at the end of the school year.
"I'm after school every day, I'm always available. I'm heartbroken. I'd do anything for this school system, I've done everything I can," said teacher Frank Delbonis.
"It's not motivating me to come to school anymore," student Kelyn Salazar said through tears. "It's not going to change any student's mind of learning."
Teachers cried alongside their students after hearing the results of the state-appointed Board of Trustees vote.
They had hoped an afternoon rally attended by hundreds of Rhode Island union members including teachers from other districts would help save their jobs.
"I've been in Central Falls for 28 years and I've done nothing to deserve to be fired. Absolutely nothing. I give my heart and my soul to my job," athletic director and math teacher Kathy Luther said.
But how did it come to this unprecedented action in the state of Rhode Island and perhaps the nation?
At one square mile, Central Falls is the state's smallest and one of its poorest communities.
It has also ranked in the lowest 5 percent of districts in the state year after year meaning the federal government gave Superintendent Frances Gallo 4 choices:
- Shut the school
- have it taken over as a charter school
- follow a transformation model,
including longer school days and teachers eating lunch with students
- or what's called a turn around plan, fire all the teachers at the end of the year.
After the union didn't sign off on option three, she went with option four.
"I thought I moved substantially away from my initial design and request and apparently it wasn't good enough," Superintendent Dr. Frances Gallo said.
"We don't take lightly that our scores are low. Everyone acknowledges that we have work to do,"Central Falls Teachers' Union President Jane Sessums said.
But despite recent improvement, those numbers are alarming - only 7 percent of high school kids are proficient in math standards and 52 percent drop out before graduation.
"Yeah, we do have work to do. We do. But we have raised our reading scores 21 percent in two years," said French teacher Hope Evanoff.
In the end, that modest improvement was not good enough.
Rhode Island's Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist already signed off on this earlier today.
Some of these teachers might get their jobs back.
Part of the stipulation is that not more than 50 percent can get rehired, but all are able to apply.
The teachers who lose their jobs can also apply to other openings in the district.