A school district that gained the support of President Barack Obama for promoting accountability after it fired all its teachers from a struggling school announced on Sunday it had reached an agreement with the union to return all the current staffers to their jobs.
The two sides said a transformation plan for Central Falls High School for the coming school year would allow the 87 teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and other staffers who were to lose their jobs at the end of this year to return without having to reapply. More than 700 people had already applied for the positions.
The agreement also imposes a longer school day, more after-school tutoring and other changes.
The board of trustees overseeing the school system in Central Falls, one of the poorest communities in the state, voted in February to fire the staff of one of the state's worst-performing schools. The school was under a mandate from the state to make improvements, and it opted for the mass firings after a breakdown in talks with teachers about other reforms that would have required more work, some without extra pay.
Obama, during a national address on education in March, said the firings were an example of the need for accountability over student performance.
"So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution," Obama said. "We've got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show any sign of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability."
He continued: "And that's what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th-graders passed state math tests — 7 percent."
Details of the agreement were to be released following a ratification vote by Central Falls teachers at a meeting Monday. The union and district had been working with a mediator since March.
"Both the school district and the union agree that while this has been a difficult process for everyone involved, the negotiations resulted in a newfound appreciation for shared responsibility, and a solid commitment to bring lasting solutions that will improve teaching and learning at Central Falls High School," said a joint statement from the union and the district.
Under the deal, teachers will need to recommit to their jobs and interview with the new principal. Other changes aimed at increasing student achievement include: a new evaluation system designed to inform teaching and learning, and targeted and embedded professional development.
Central Falls Superintendent Fran Gallo said in a release said the "common-sense reforms will help more of our students succeed."
"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," Gallo said. "Today's agreement provides this flexibility."
Central Falls Teachers Union President Jane Sessums said there had always been agreement that the sides wanted what was best for the students and that significant changes were needed.
"Working together, we and the district have arrived at a solid, forward-looking agreement that provides supports for our students and the tools our teachers need to help them succeed," Sessums said.
The agreement has the support of Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who applauded both sides for working together.
Senior Valerie Florez, who is set to graduate June 11, said rehiring the teachers was a good idea.
"It's not the teachers' fault that students don't want to learn," she said.
Florez said she used to be one of those students who didn't want to learn, skipping class and failing to do assignments, but her teachers helped her turn around.
Jonathan Beltran, a 19-year-old freshman at Roger Williams University who graduated Central Falls High School last year, had helped organize rallies and protests in support of the teachers. Beltran, who hopes one day to return to Central Falls as a math teacher, said he was happy to hear about the agreement.
"I love the teachers at Central Falls," he said. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. I want to work side by side with them."
Associated Press writer Stephen Singer in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.