CENTRAL FALLS — Two longtime leaders in Central Falls’ schools, with a combined 18 years of experience, both stepped down from their posts last week, as School Superintendent Victor Capellan and Central Falls Board of Trustees Chairwoman Anna Cano Morales both announced they were leaving their respective positions.
While both officials in emailed statements celebrated several initiatives and reforms that have evolved and improved education in Central Falls, they also acknowledged that much work still needs to be done, particularly in the aftermath of the recent Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System test results.
Capellan, who has been superintendent for four years, is stepping down to become a senior adviser to Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. In Capellan’s place, the school district’s chief academic officer, Stephanie Downey Toledo, was named interim superintendent.
The Board of Trustees is a volunteer post, and Cano Morales will continue to work at Rhode Island College as the school’s associate vice president for community, equity and diversity.
“Serving as superintendent of Central Falls schools has been the greatest honor of my professional career, and as I move on to a new opportunity I am confident the district is on the right path to deliver on the promise of a quality education for all of our students,” Capellan said in an emailed statement last week. “Leading an urban school district is challenging work but it also comes with the tremendous daily rewards of working with students, parents, teachers, and community partners who all care deeply about our schools. I want to thank our entire Central Falls Schools community for working with me to improve our schools.”
During his four years overseeing the city’s public schools, Capellan said there have been many initiatives and reforms that have been put in place which are showing positive results, which included expanding early learning and BrightStars five-star-rated pre-school classrooms, adopting a new literacy program, new supports for the district’s English language learners, and deepening the city’s partnership with Rhode Island College.
The district’s four-year graduation rate increased to 78 percent and its five-year graduation rate climbed to 85 percent during Capellan’s tenure.
“These efforts are having a real impact on student learning. This progress is reflected in the fact that no Central Falls schools are now designated as in need of comprehensive support and improvement by the state,” Capellan said. “As of December 2018, Central Falls High School has successfully exited school improvement identification and according to the state’s new accountability report card, the school is showing progress in both academic improvement and growth.”
“Veterans Memorial Elementary and Calcutt Middle School also exited and so for the first time in over a decade, there are no Central Falls schools in the bottom five percent of the state or on the state’s list of schools in need of improvement,” Capellan added.
But while there have been plenty of reasons to celebrate, Capellan is also exiting Central Falls keenly aware that plenty of work still remains for the city’s students.
“While I am proud of the progress we’ve made, the recent Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) results show that we must do much more to rapidly accelerate achievement for our students,” he said. “That is why I have worked closely with the Board of Trustees to develop the Central Falls Accelerates Achievement Agenda which doubles down on what’s working in the district, while proposing significant reforms including increased student learning time, a longer school year, the creation of a new dual language elementary school, and new professional development opportunities for our teachers.”
“I am confident that this plan will lay the groundwork for my successor, and most importantly lead to the gains in achievement that our students deserve,” Capellan’s statement concluded.
Capellan’s successor as superintendent – Stephanie Downey Toledo – was previously the deputy chief executive officer for special education in New York City’s Department of Education before arriving in Central Falls. She was hired as the Central Falls School District’s chief academic officer in spring 2018, chosen from a pool of 27 candidates for her experience working with special education students, her knowledge of best practices for English language learners, and her commitment to early childhood education.
In a statement of her own, Cano Morales echoed much of the sentiment from Capellan, expressing a combination of pride at how Central Falls schools have transformed but also an acknowledgment that more can and must be done for the city’s youths.
“For the past 14 years, I’ve been honored and humbled to serve on the Board of Trustees, working every day to improve Central Falls schools,” she said. “It is true that our district faces great challenges, but we’ve made tremendous strides seizing the many opportunities in those same challenges. When I was first appointed, Central Falls’ four-year graduation rate was just 48 percent, and today it is 78 percent. We’ve been able to achieve this progress through innovative programs like evening school, Saturday academy, and our Multiple Pathways program.”
“Among many other accomplishments, I’m proud to have officiated over a governance table that truly reflects the demographics and the wishes of the City of Central Falls,” Cano Morales continued. “It has been an eye-opening experience in the subjects of governance, policy, education, culture, and community engagement. Our partnerships and collaborative spirit took us to new places. In fact, it played a part in the opening of the McKenna Center for Teaching and Learning, which allowed the city to turn a former derelict tenement building across from our high school into a beautiful space for tutoring, professional development, and community engagement. We were the first district in the state to implement restorative justice practices, the first to require all instructional staff to obtain ESL certification, and the first to pilot a Seal of Biliteracy program.”
“While I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, the recent RICAS test results should tell us that we are not doing nearly enough to rapidly raise the achievement of Central Falls students, and of all students in our state,” she added. “We can and must do more. I am confident that the Board of Trustees will continue to implement our Plan for Educational Equity and the Central Falls Accelerates Achievement Agenda. I am hopeful that with continued strong leadership and community support, this renewed focus can deliver for our students, who deserve no less than an excellent public education.”
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette