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Rhode Island school reaches deal to rehire fired teachers, union says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Fired Rhode Island teachers re-hired
  • Rhode Island high school that fired all its teachers reaches tentative agreement to rehire them
  • School board had fired 93 teachers, administrators and others over low student performance
  • The deal includes measures to improve student achievement
  • The agreement still must be ratified by teachers

(CNN) -- A Rhode Island high school that fired all its teachers in February has reached a tentative agreement with the school's teachers union to rehire them, the union announced Sunday.

The school board of the Central Falls School District, outside Providence, had voted to fire 93 staff members from its high school -- including teachers, administrators and other personnel -- over low student performance.

The deal between the union and the school district allows teachers to return to work for the 2010-2011 school year without having to reapply for their jobs, though the union said Sunday that "teachers will need to recommit to their jobs and interview with the new principal."

The agreement, which must still be ratified by teachers, includes measures to improve student achievement, including a longer school day, targeted professional development for teachers and more after-school tutoring, the statement from the Central Falls Teachers Union said.

The school district and union have been working with a mediator since March.

"There has always been agreement on these points: that we all want what is best for our students, and that significant changes are needed at Central Falls High School," teachers union president Jane Sessums said in the statement. "Working together, we and the district have arrived at a solid, forward-looking agreement that provides support for our students and the tools our teachers need to help them succeed."

A teacher ratification vote on the deal is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

In a move that drew national attention, the Central Falls school board had voted 5-2 to approve a plan by the school district's superintendent to fire its high school staff, including the principal, three assistant principals and 77 teachers.

The vote came after the high school, which draws students from an impoverished enclave of Rhode Island, graduated just 48 percent of its seniors last year.

Of Central Falls' 800 students, 65 percent are Hispanic and for most of them, English is a second language. Half the students are failing every subject, with 55 percent skilled in reading and 7 percent proficient in math, officials said earlier this year.

President Obama publicly endorsed the school board's vote. "Our kids get only one chance at an education and we need to get it right," he said in March.

But the move outraged the school's teachers, who argued that they'd accepted most terms of a plan by the school district's superintendent to improve student performance.

The plan approved by the school board in February allowed teachers to re-apply for their jobs but stipulated that no more than 50 percent would get rehired. The firings would have gone into effect at the end of this school year.

"From the start, my principal concern was not who would be working at the high school, but whether the new school leadership team would have the flexibility it needed to improve student achievement," Central Falls superintendent Fran Gallo said in the statement provided by the teacher's union. "Today's agreement provides this flexibility."

Rhode Island officials applauded the tentative deal.

"I'm glad both sides have... [reached] this agreement," Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said, according to the union's statement. "Now it's time to move forward and work together to make Central Falls High one of the best in Rhode Island."