The future principals of Providence’s new Opportunity by Design High Schools, scheduled to open this fall, joined with Mayor Jorge Elorza, members of the Providence School Board and school administrators to welcome incoming students and their families during a Welcome Event held on May 19 at the Providence Career and Technical Academy.
Donna Lucy, who will lead the school co-located within Mt, Pleasant High School, and Kerry Tuttlebee, who will head the school co-located within Hope High School, held separate breakout sessions with parents and incoming students after a brief program in the school auditorium.
“This has been a labor of love,” said Lucy to the assembled parents, students, teachers, School Board members and school administrators. “When we started this process, it was just a dream. Tonight, we see that dream become a reality.”
The student and family event presented an opportunity for members of the inaugural ninth-grade class to meet their principals, learn more about each school, meet other students and parents and share ideas for the high school they are still helping to create.
Members of the Student Steering Committee introduced guest speakers and showed a video that offered a behind-the-scenes look at the design process that has been underway all year.
During their welcome remarks, each speaker spoke of the excitement of a new school and urged students to share their ideas and their vision.
“We believe in student-centered learning and that is the heart of what these schools are going to be,” said Mayor Elorza. “You are going to have an opportunity to shape your school and establish the culture there. It’s exciting to be the first in the door. Please give your own vision, your own voice and your own ideas to your new schools. I look forward to working with you and I look forward to helping you.”
School and city leaders hope to replicate success at the new high schools among other schools in the district.
“The goal of student-centered learning is best achieved when decisions are made closest to where the students are,” said School Board President Keith Oliveira. “You have a voice as to what happens at your school. Take ownership, develop a culture of high expectations and design the school around that and build out.
“This is exciting for us as well,” Oliveira added as he offered students and parents the board’s support. “We are going to see what you design and how we can incorporate that into our other schools.”
Supt. Dr. Susan Lusi said designing the new high schools “is the beginning of a wonderful achievement. I am enormously proud of everyone in this room.
“In a high school environment, there is a broad spectrum of teaching and learning,” she said. “Some students come from behind and some come ahead. These schools are about starting with where students are and using technology to help students catch up and accelerate their learning.”
Cheikh Gaye, a senior at E-Cubed Academy and a member of the Student Steering Committee, who plans to attend Connecticut College, encouraged students to get involved in their new high schools. “It is your responsibility to take ownership of your education and speak up about the things that you think need to change. These two new Opportunity by Design Schools will empower you to be responsible students and ambassadors of education.”
Ideally, each school hopes to enroll a freshman class of approximately 100 students and add a class each year. While the schools will be located in a designated area within the existing high schools, they will share the cafeteria, laboratories and library. Students can participate in activities and sports at Hope and Mt. Pleasant, but the new schools will develop their own activities as well.
While each school will be different, they will share important elements; mastery learning will be student-centered and personalized, classes will be small and technology will be used to accelerate learning.
Much work remains as the schools finalize enrollment, hire teachers and create a name.
In the breakout sessions, students and their parents had fun with icebreaker activities and learned more about each high school. At the Mt. Pleasant session, Lucy and members of the Steering Committee talked about the school’s academics, technology, student-centered learning, career exploration, wellness and parent involvement.
“You are going to work hard,” said Lucy. “Your learning will be personalized and you will learn at your own pace. We will do this in a fun way. We will create an environment that allows creativity and helps you in exploring career options.”
At their request, students will have an opportunity to visit corporations in the area to learn about careers. “We encourage you to find a good fit so we can tailor your learning expectations for you,” said Lucy. “Based on your interests, you can chart your own path.”
Technology will be very innovative, she said, and each student will receive a Chromebook personalized for each student’s learning with instruction “from phenomenal teachers,” Lucy added. Each room will have a Smartboard and each student will also have their own advisor. “We’re going to be innovative in a way a lot of schools haven’t seen.”
The focus is not just on academics, but also in creating well-rounded individuals. Students will learn tools for stress management and be involved in community service. Discipline will focus on restorative justice practices involving parents, teachers and community leaders. “We’re all in this together in creating responsible citizens for our community,” said Lucy.
Parent involvement will also be stressed. The small enrollment will foster a strong sense of community, “one big, happy family,” said Lucy.
For a final exercise, parents and students blew up bright yellow balloons and wrote what they would like to see in the culture of the new school. Words ranged from “kindness, respect and reliable” to “equality, encouragement, caring and support.” Those words, said Lucy, will be written on the walls of the school as their cultural manifesto.
Meanwhile in the breakout session for Tuttlebee’s school, students and families gathered with design team members to discuss their vision for the future of the school, and took part in an icebreaker exercise, grouping and re-grouping themselves according to how they relax, how they use social media, how they feel about starting high school and more.
Tuttlebee and the design team then presented an overview of the school plans as they exist now, and asked parents to further contribute their thoughts and ideas.
“We’ve been designing our school for a year, but we’re just beginning to shape its future, and we’re so excited to welcome our students and families to do that with us,” said Tuttlebee.
They went on to conduct a “Portrait of a Graduate” exercise, talking about what a graduate of this new school’s Class of 2019 should know and be able to do upon graduation, and also a few years further down the road, in 2025. Finally, Tuttlebee shared info about summer programming options to help students prepare for the transition to high school.
Deidre Pritchett said she encouraged her daughter to enroll in the Opportunity by Design High School “to try something new. It’s a great opportunity for her. It’s going to help her with individuality in broadcasting her ideas in a smaller environment. It’s going to help her in decision making and in her future.”
Francy Lopez said she was very happy to enroll her daughter in the new school and said it was a good opportunity for her.
Students will have an opportunity to meet their teachers at a summer barbecue that will be followed by a three-day orientation from August 24-26.