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MAUREEN CHEVRETTE

by JAY P. GOLDMAN

When it comes to school system governance, sometimes less means more. Maureen Chevrette often counts her blessings for that.

For the last 12 years, Chevrette has served as superintendent of the Central Falls School District, the only system in Rhode Island that operates without an elected or appointed school board. Instead, she answers to a special state administrator appointed by the governor—an arrangement set in place in July 1991 when the school committee asked the state to assume control of the financially strapped schools.

Central Falls remains Rhode Island’s poorest district with 95 percent of the students qualifying for the federal lunch program, but Chevrette is using the streamlined decision-making process for major reform of policy and practice.

“Interacting with one person rather than numerous board members makes governance more efficient and much smoother. … Politics don’t get involved,” she says.

Chevrette has been fortunate, too, that each of the three state overseers has been an experienced educator. The current state administrator, Virginia da Mota, has known Chevrette since the days she ran the state education agency’s English as a Second Language program and Chevrette managed the program in Central Falls.

“Maureen’s never been someone who put up barriers,” says da Mota. “If she was convinced something was in the best interests of children, she was the first to say, ‘Yes, we’ll try that.’ That distinguished her from others who’d say, ‘We can’t because of this or that.’”

The district does have a 7-member advisory board, consisting largely of parents, but the body tends to ratify policy, not shape it.

This has given Chevrette some rare advantages. To deal with overcrowded classrooms, she was able to complete a lease agreement for space in a non-public school in little over a month, even with a public meeting. She can secure state approval for hiring of new teachers and administrators in a matter of days rather than the customary month or more. “This can be critical in August when teachers are looking at competing offers,” she says.

Chevrette has plied her advocacy skills on the state level, where she is the immediate past president of the superintendents’ association, to finally bring Central Falls to the midpoint for per-pupil funding in Rhode Island, $9,600, though this still leaves the 3,660-student urban system with plenty of unmet needs.

She satisfied one of her longest-held goals two years ago when the district created a full-day kindergarten for every child, not just the lucky 40 who managed to secure one of the limited slots. Last August she helped the school district open an outreach center to cope with Central Falls’ 40 percent-a-year mobility rate.

Chevrette’s next big push will be to upgrade professional development. She is bringing in a consultant this fall to assess the district’s 6-year-old program that has tried to align in-service activities to school system goals. The superintendent hopes shortly to provide coaches for classroom teachers to share model lesson plans, offer feedback on instruction and facilitate support groups.

If Chevrette seems fully in tune with the needs of the moment, there’s probably good reason: She has spent the entirety of her 32-year career in Central Falls, starting as a 5th-grade teacher in 1971. Though she’s moved far beyond the classroom, she’s never left her child-centered orientation far behind.

Since her first year as superintendent, Chevrette has used her entitlement to mileage reimbursement to buy jackets for individual students who’ve placed high in academic competitions and for entire sports teams that have brought home state championships. “In other places, booster clubs do this sort of thing,” she says.

Teachers union head Kathleen Rainone says the No. 1 constant in Chevrette’s tenure is that children are a priority. “Through her time as a building administrator and in the central office here, she’s never forgotten what it’s like to be a classroom teacher,” Rainone says.

Chevrette’s recall of individual students also is remarkable. “When we’re together at graduation,” says da Mota, the state-appointed administrator, “she’ll say to me on stage, ‘I remember when this child started kindergarten or this child received an award in music.’ It’s amazing.”

Jay Goldman is the editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: jgoldman@aasa.org


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