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Providence To Open High School Devoted to Community Service

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The Providence school district plans to use a $500,000 gift from a Rhode Island philanthropist to open a high school devoted to community service.

The school would apparently be the first in the nation to be centered around service-learning, its planned opening next February coming slightly before that of a similar school in New York City.

Arthur Zarrella, the superintendent of the Providence schools, said the school, which will eventually enroll 400 students, will be based on the values of compassion, initiative, leadership, integrity, and service.

He said the school--to be named the Feinstein High School for Public Service in honor of its benefactor, Alan Shawn Feinstein--will offer a rigorous interdisciplinary academic curriculum, be ungraded, and allow students to work at their own pace.

"I think a high school like this will give young Americans a chance to strengthen those attributes [such as compassion and integrity] in a way that can help them better the lives of others,'' Mr. Feinstein, a former teacher, said last week. "It's going to better their own lives, too.''

The school board gave its unanimous approval to the project's concept last month.

Officials need a commitment of $300,000 in district funds to help pay for the school's first semester.
The project budget is expected to be $800,000 for the first full year and to increase by the third year to $1 million, Mr. Zarrella said.

The $500,000 from Mr. Feinstein, a businessman and newsletter publisher, is to be spread over three years. Officials said they plan to raise private funds to help offset some of the projected costs to the district.

Mr. Zarrella said he was optimistic that the school board would allocate funds for the school.

'Sizer Handprint'

The school will not resemble a traditional high school, Mr. Zarrella said, but instead "reflect everything current research, current gurus are saying should be happening.''

One such expert, Theodore R. Sizer, an education professor at Brown University, was a member of the school's preliminary design team, Mr. Zarrella said.

The Feinstein school will not be part of the Coalition of Essential Schools, the network of reform-minded high schools headed up by Mr. Sizer, Mr. Zarrella said.

But, he said, Mr. Sizer was "very instrumental'' in the school's development. "You'd definitely see a Sizer handprint on it,'' he added.

The Public Education Fund, an independent, nonprofit organization devoted to school improvement, shepherded the concept's development, which was underwritten by a $25,000 grant from Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, and assembled the planning team of teachers.

The high school project is not the first funded by Mr. Feinstein to link young people and community service.

Among other projects, Mr. Feinstein has offered $25,000 over five years to each high school in the state that will institute a community-service curriculum, said Edward Dambruch, the executive director of the Feinstein Foundation.

Last summer, 18 high schools received the grants, and those programs got under way this fall.

In addition, Mr. Feinstein has endowed a $2 million scholarship fund for students interested in careers in community or public service or who espouse the values of compassion, leadership, initiative, and integrity. The first awards--$10,000 each to 15 students--are to be made this spring, Mr. Dambruch said.

Exploration, Mastery

The Feinstein School is to be organized around three levels of student proficiency, with advancement based on performance-based assessments.

One year would be spent in each of the first two stages of the school, "Exploration'' and "Mastery,'' and about two years in the third level, "Major,'' Mr. Zarrella said.

In the School of Exploration, he explained, students will become familiar with the goals and purpose of the school and be instilled with a set of core values that will be stressed in each of the course offerings.

The School of Mastery will expose students to increased community responsibilities and tougher coursework, and in Major, students will focus on community placements of their choice and more advanced classes.

Instruction will be divided into three divisions, scheduled as large daily time blocks: issues, ethics, service, and community studies; humanities; and technology. Writing instruction will take place across the curriculum.

In addition, both the school day and year will be longer than is standard, with a summer term of from three to five weeks planned.

In September 1994, the New York City school district is planning to open a high school focused on community service. The nearly 1,000-student school will have a curriculum designed and run by Audrey Cohen College, formerly the College of Human Services, and will use that institution's distinctive "purpose centered'' system of education, said Audrey C. Cohen, the president of the college.

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