To the Editor:
Your depiction of Peter J. McWalters, Rhode Island’s commissioner of education who is stepping down next year, was right on (“Outgoing R.I. Chief Bucked National Push for High-Stakes Tests,” May 7, 2008). To think we are losing him because of conditions he cannot control is painful.
Rhode Island has a high concentration of students needing socioeconomic supports. Mr. McWalters not only did not have any help in this area, but Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, the person instrumental in forcing Mr. McWalters out, most recently submitted a budget reducing or eliminating funding for Head Start, child health care, and school breakfast programs.
There appears to be no understanding on the part of the governor that no matter how high we raise standards for schools and teachers, if we do not address the issues impeding students’ ability to learn, it matters little.
Accountability needs to be turned back on governors and legislatures to ensure that students are as ready for school as schools are ready to receive them. Schools and commissioners cannot do it alone. If that were possible, Mr. McWalters would have done it.
Commissioner McWalters created a proficiency-based graduation system as a part of his school reform that is changing the face of high schools. That the system enjoys the statewide support it does, notwithstanding the huge effort by schools to put it into place, is a testimony to his vision. Rhode Island’s school principals are solidly behind the commissioner and are believers in and followers of his vision. There is more than a little trepidation that his successor will not stay the course.
We wish the commissioner great success in his future endeavors and envy those who will work with him. We thank him for standing tall when others might have wavered in the face of pressures to do “what everyone else is doing.”
Peter J. McWalters epitomizes all that is good when one thinks of the term “educator.”
Joseph H. Crowley
Rhode Island Association of School Principals
The writer is the principal/director of the Warwick Area Career & Technical Center in Warwick, R.I.
A version of this article appeared in the May 21, 2008 edition of Education Week as Rhode Island Praise for Outgoing Schools Chief