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RI EDUCATION

Providence students, teachers decry planned closure of 360 High School

The students walked out of 360 High School in protest Wednesday afternoon.

Watch: Students at 360 School in Providence walk out of class to protest impending closure
Students at 360 High School in Providence walk out of class Wednesday to protest the impending closure of their school.

PROVIDENCE — Holding signs that read “Save 360!” and “Keep 360 Alive,” hundreds of students walked out of class at 360 High School in South Providence on Wednesday, protesting the impending closure of their school at the end of the year.

The students marched toward the school department headquarters at 797 Westminster St., about 2 miles away.

“They know our name. Do you?” read one sign held by a student, referring to teachers and staff at the high school.

The students and teachers at the small, innovative school that opened in 2015 have expressed outrage, frustration and confusion since the closure of the school was announced by the R.I Department of Education on Tuesday afternoon.

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The school will close at the end of the year, the superintendent said, and students will be absorbed by the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex unless their parents request a transfer to another high school in the city. The two separate high schools are already both located in the JSEC building, so no buildings are affected by the merger.

Providence’s public schools have been controlled by the state education department since 2019.

Teachers got the news from district Superintendent Javier Montañez in an “emergency meeting” after school on Tuesday, and families were sent an email around the same time. Students were told in person at school Wednesday morning.

“I was pretty devastated,” said Rebecca Dalum, a math teacher, in an interview with the Globe. She described the news as both “frustrating and confusing.”

“I haven’t seen a reason for why this is happening,” Dalum said. “I was particularly frustrated by the framing of this being a better opportunity for students, when students weren’t — to my knowledge — included in any part of this decision.”

The letter to students’ families from Montañez Tuesday said the move would represent a “significant opportunity” for 360 High School students, since JSEC is being resdesigned into a life sciences institute with career and technical training in various medical and biotech fields.

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“We intend to build on the best elements of both schools by pairing the positive school culture and restorative practices at 360 High School with new redesign opportunities at JSEC,” Montañez wrote.

Yaireliz Olán Ramos, an 11th-grade student, said she’s not interested in attending the life sciences school, and wished that students’ opinions had been considered in the decision.

“I think that it’s messed up,” said Ramos, 17, who was part of the walkout Wednesday afternoon. “I think they’re not considering us.”

Ramos said she can currently walk to school from her home on the south side of Providence. She isn’t sure where she will end up for senior year.

“I don’t want to go to Juanita, I don’t want to go to any school,” Ramos said. “I’d rather fight to stay here.”

Multiple students and teachers touted the culture and community at 360 High School, which they said was cultivated by Kerry Tuttlebee, the longtime principal, and assistant principal Rich Norris.

“They care about us,” Ramos said. “They want to see us graduate.”

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent Montañez said the decision is final. He also acknowledged that cost savings are a factor, as the merger of the two schools is expected to save up to $2 million due to the sharing of resources and staff.

“We’re going from two small schools to one school,” Montañez said, emphasizing that the primary focus is on giving the students at 360 the opportunity to benefit from the new life sciences institute.

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“I’m thinking long-run, this is a high-demand career,” he added. “Since we already have the redesign at JSEC, this is the perfect year to merge.”

Montañez said he could not guarantee that students will be able to get into the high school of their choice if they do not want to attend the new life sciences program at JSEC. Students can select their top three choices on the preference form, he said.

“We all know that change is difficult,” he said. “People can get nervous, people get excited. ... But at the same time, it can be a positive thing for all of our students.”

Among the questions being asked by teachers and students is why exactly 360 High School was targeted for closure, when it is one of seven high schools in the city that have a 1-star rating in the state accountability system, the lowest-possible score. The star ratings take into account test scores, graduation rates, absenteeism and other factors to rate a school’s performance.

JSEC also has a 1-star rating, but was identified as a “redesign” school along with three others, prompting the upcoming move to a life sciences model.

“Our discipline record is way better,” said Rebecca deBarros, a special education teacher at 360. “We use restorative practices faithfully.”

She noted that the school, which was launched in 2015 as part of an experimental grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, allows student voices to be a part of the programming.

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“We always involved students to make decisions about the school,” deBarros said. “Our kids feel an ownership of their school.”

Just 15 percent of students at 360 High School are proficient in English language arts, and 2 percent in math, according to R.I. Department of Education data, but the numbers are still higher than JSEC, where 9 percent of students are proficient in English language arts, and 1 percent in math. 360 High School also has a lower suspension rate than JSEC, but JSEC has a higher graduation rate.

Montañez said the higher graduation rate was a factor in the decision, along with other data.

Nearly 82 percent of the students at 360 High School are economically disadvantaged, and about half are multilingual learners, according to state data.

deBarros said having a lot of students with complex needs, including those who are have had interrupted or limited schooling before immigrating to the United States, contributes to the lower rankings.

“I think we have the school with the greatest need,” deBarros said. “It’s not because the kids aren’t intelligent, it’s not because the kids don’t want it.”

Ryan Barker, a social studies teacher, said staff have so far been unable to get straight answers about why 360 would close rather than JSEC, other than the fact that JSEC was already in the redesign process.

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“It feels like because they’re failing first, we’re getting rolled into them,” Barker said. “I don’t get the impression that they have a real rationale for this.”

Teachers at 360 High School will be displaced, district officials said, meaning their jobs will be eliminated but they can apply to internal job postings within the district. It’s unclear how many jobs will be available at JSEC for 360 High School teachers.

Barker, who has taught at 360 since it opened in 2015, said the community is “unlike anything else I have seen in any other school.”

“This school started from scratch,” Barker said. “The community has had no say in this shutdown process.”

This story has been updated with comments from Superintendent Javier Montañez.


Steph Machado can be reached at steph.machado@globe.com. Follow her @StephMachado.