Alvarez High School teachers feel ‘blindsided’ by new “Freshman Academy” plans

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Teachers at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School say they were left in the dark with the Providence Public School District’s plans for a special freshman academy for 9th graders.

On Wednesday, the district announced plans to pilot a special freshman academy for 9th graders to help ease the transition between middle and high schoolers. Those freshman students will attend school on Branch Avenue and transition to Alvarez High School for 10th through 12th grade.

Those plans also meant Alvarez High School would no longer have a 9th grade class leaving teachers confused about their futures.

“We were completely caught off guard,” Maya Chavez said.

Chavez has been a 9th grade civics teacher at Alvarez High School for the past seven years. She says teachers were told over Zoom about the major changes just hours before it was announced to the public.

“We were informed at that point that our 9th grade next year will be moved to a separate building, it’s seven miles away from our current location and that staff members will be displaced,” Chavez said.

The district says the new freshman academy will hold about 200 9th graders and will specialize in preparing students for high school success. Half of the students will be newcomer students who are new to the U.S. and had an interrupted education. The district announced several support initiatives to help those students succeed.

In an announcement to the public, Commissioner Infante-Green said “the Turnaround Action Plan, built by the community, explicitly calls out the need to increase the percentage of ninth graders on track for postsecondary success. This innovative program is a direct response to our student’s needs.”

Chavez says the plans were announced as what felt like a done deal and left a lot of people with a lot of questions.

“There were a lot of questions about logistics, a lot of questions about how this would impact our students,” Chavez said. “One of the gym teachers whose done great work with recreation leagues with kids was concerned about how it’ll impact student athletes.”

On top of confusion about logistics, there was confusion about if some teachers even had a job. Chavez says they were told they would either be moved to another school or split their time at both schools, but they would still have to re-apply for their jobs.

The district later confirmed to ABC6 that the teachers would have to reapply.

“Given the dedication that teachers have shown as teachers, as school staff working in person during the pandemic, I feel incredibly disrespected that we weren’t even given a voice about what’s going to happen with our jobs, with our lives and with our students going forward,” Chavez said.

The Providence School District told ABC6 that they had been deciding between all of the secondary schools in the district as a location for the Newcomer Academy.

Throughout the process, Alvarez High School was always linked to the freshman academy because of its “significant number of newcomers and multilingual learners enrolled in its programming.”

The district also told ABC6 that they have “delayed the running of its high school placement lottery by two weeks in order to run information sessions explicitly for 8th grade families who had expressed an interest in attending Alvarez.”

Those families will be given the opportunity to change their submitted choices if they want to.

Categories: News, Our Schools, Providence, Rhode Island