Clairelise Rodriguez is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

Welcome back to GreatBigBlog’s series, State of the CAN. Each week I chat with a different executive director from one of our CANs about the hot education issues in their state, what their CAN is currently working on and other updates from the front lines of the movement to give every kid in their state a great public school.

This week I interviewed Maryellen Butke, founding executive director of RI-CAN: The Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now.

RI-CAN’s first legislative campaign ended in June. How did you spend the summer?

RI-CAN’s Be a Superhero campaign ended, but our work to get great schools for all Rhode Island kids continued through the summer.  Most of our work focused on one goal: rallying support for the application that Achievement First Charter Network submitted to the Rhode Island Board of Regents to open a school for Providence and Cranston students. Achievement First has an impressive track record when it comes to student achievement and closing the achievement gap, and as many Providence and Cranston parents explained in RI-CAN’s video testimonial, Achievement First would serve the families most in need of a great public school option. Although the Board of Regents defeated the proposal in Cranston, Governor Chafee recently visited an Achievement First school in Connecticut and was impressed with what he saw, especially the collaboration between the district and Achievement First.  We are hopeful that there is a path for Achievement First to open in Providence in the coming years.

Wow, sounds like the party never stops in Rhode Island. What are you working on now?  

That’s right—never a boring day at RI-CAN. Just last week we testified in support of the newly proposed teacher certification regulations. Reforming the teacher certification regulations was a critical component of Rhode Island’s Race to the Top application.  We’re also in campaign-planning mode as we finalize our policy goals for the 2012 legislative campaign. We’ve been talking to stakeholders across the state to get a good sense of the education issues that Rhode Islanders care about most in the coming year.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for RI schools right now? How does this fit into RI-CAN’s broader strategic vision?

Just two weeks ago, the Gates Foundation announced that Central Falls was the recipient of a planning grant for a district-charter compact. This grant enables the district of Central Falls, under the direction of Dr. Fran Gallo, and five charter schools, to cultivate a partnership to share best practices and work collaboratively. This is an enormous opportunity for Central Falls (and Rhode Island) to make sure all the best ideas get worked into Rhode Island’s education system.

Initiatives like these are especially exciting because they are a step towards the Rhode Island that RI-CAN envisions. Part of RI-CAN’s job is shedding light on two truths: 1) there is a tremendous gap in Rhode Island along the fault lines of race and class, with our Latino students scoring last in the country in several measures on the NAEP testing, and 2)  Rhode Island faces a global achievement gap  with its students, as a whole, falling significantly behind their peers in New England, as well as around the world.  The other part of our job is to bring adults together on behalf of our kids so that these challenges can be addressed. The Central Falls district-charter compact is an example of just that: adults coming together and putting the interests of kids first.

How can Rhode Islanders get involved with RI-CAN’s work?

The most important work for Rhode Islanders is to get educated and informed on the issues, both within their own district as well as the state. Get familiar with our research, and you’ll come to challenge the troubling mindsets that pervade the education space: that poor kids can’t learn, that our schools are doing fine, that this is as good as it gets, that Rhode Island students just don’t measure up.  The facts show that none of these things are true. We can do better.  We must.  Our future depends on it!



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