Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Clean sweep in Rhode Island

Speaking of Rhode Island, it was a clean sweep, as Jeremy Chiappetta, Executive Director of the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy in Cumberland, RI writes:


Dear Friends of RI Children,


I am reaching out to share with you my views on the results of this most recent election here in Rhode Island and what I think it means for Rhode Island public education.


My overall headline is this: Rhode Island is on the move in a really positive direction!  If there were ever a referendum on education reform in Rhode Island, the Lieutenant Governor race was exactly that race.  Every union endorsed Democrat Dan McKee’s Republican opponent.  Despite that, Dan won by 20 points.  Dan’s biggest accomplishment, in my very biased view, was the creation of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies and Blackstone Valley Prep.  BVP was also his achilles heel in this race - incenting labor unions to oppose him significantly.  That Dan won is a testament to his leadership and the power of education reform to drive a state forward.  Moreover as a mentor to me and a friend, I am thrilled for him.


In other important races up and down the line, Rhode Islanders made many great decisions for kids:


The governor’s race showed the country that strong Democrats like Gina Raimondo can take on hot-button issues like public pension reform, as a Democrat, and still win office.  This boldness has brought her direct support and independent expenditure (IE) support from ed reformers around the country who believe in her ability to take on our public education crises (RI public schools are in need of major intervention). Interestingly, the NEA leadership also endorsed her campaign and the NEA spent $150,000 or more on IE work in her campaign.  Even so, I believe in Gina and her ability to bring us forward.  I have known her and her husband (TFA alum and McKinsey education consultant Andy Moffitt) for several years - our kids did swim lessons together at the YMCA; I know many people who worked on or closely with her campaign (true education leaders MaryEllen Butke and Kevin Gallagher); I have seen first-hand how crazy smart she is (Yale Law, Rhodes Scholar, vocabulary while sitting on the bleachers at the Y).  Thus, I believe that Gina can and will do for Rhode Island public schools what she did for pensions - take something very broken and fix it.


Our new Treasurer is Teach for America alum Seth Magaziner.  After TFA in Louisiana, Seth earned an MBA from the Yale School of Management (obviously my favorite b-school) and worked in finance.  Seth is a major bridge-builder, has deep family ties to the Clintons, and also earned the endorsement of many of the public labor unions, including the education unions.  Even so, my excitement for Seth, based on many personal conversations, is that he believes in public schools and in kids and in what works.  Importantly, Rhode Island public school facilities have suffered from a multi-year moratorium on construction - he has shared with me that he knows that lifting this moratorium and doing so in a way that is fair and equitable for all kids is a priority.  Seth may also be the highest ranking TFA alum in elected office in the country!


I believe that the mayor’s race in Providence had the greatest risk to our state.  Facing a former mayor (a twice convicted felon, actually), Jorge Elorza defeated an opponent whose second felony was actually for “running the city as a criminal enterprise.”  I had the pleasure of working on Jorge’s education committee over the summer.  As a board member for the Achievement First Mayoral Academy, Jorge knows first-hand what great schools can and should look like.  As importantly, Jorge is someone who, I believe, will be able to unite many of us who care deeply about kids but are often pushed into opposing corners (e.g. “Progressives” vs. “Ed Reformers”).


I think that in Rhode Island, where the house and senate have incredible influence (some say the Governor is, at best, the second most powerful politician to the Speaker of the House), it is important to reflect upon some of the races across the state.  First, it is worthy of note how very few races were truly contested in the general election (or the primary for that matter).  While a handful of these races have run near six-figure spending, the reality is most of these are won by hard-working candidates who spend countless hours knocking on doors - and spending about $10,000 on mailings and signs.  Perhaps this is a portent for how national investors should be thinking about RI politics.  I do believe that a mid-six figure investment could flip >5 seats and set a major example...but that will be the subject to a future email. Other important wins included the re-election of RI State Senator Independent Ed O’Neill.  Ed is a stalwart supporter of what is right for kids, including school choice.  While they have not yet truly made a name for themselves on issues of public school choice, I am very excited to work with Shelby Maldanado and Carlos Tobon two newcomers who have had the endorsement of BVP board member and Mayor of Central Falls James Diossa.  Many other BVP friends won handily (or were unopposed) including Mia Ackerman, Jay Edwards, Donna Nesselbush, and Juan Pichardo.  


Lastly, I would like to congratulate BVP Vice Chair and Town Administrator of Lincoln, Joe Almond, for his impressive re-election.  Joe's win was joined by two other municipal leaders who have committed to join the BVP board: Cumberland Mayor-elect Bill Murray and Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien.


In summary, Rhode Island is open for business, and our work to improve public schools is ready to take off to the next level!  Please continue to invest in our work - yours are very well-spent dollars!


My best,




Jeremy Chiappetta
Twitter: @chiachess


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