School & District Management

State Takeover of Providence, R.I., Schools Starts Next Month

By Linda Borg, The Providence Journal — October 15, 2019 4 min read
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The state takeover of the Providence public schools will begin Nov. 1, last at least five years and permit more input from students, families and other community members.

State Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green on Tuesday morning released her final order, a lengthy document that gives her sweeping authority over the district’s budget, programs and personnel, and, if needed, allows her to reconstitute individual schools, which could include restructuring the schools’ governance, budget and staff.

Infante-Green will assume the powers now held by the superintendent and the School Board as well as any authority over the schools exercised by the mayor and the City Council. The commissioner can delegate this power to a turnaround superintendent. However, Infante-Green will retain final decision-making authority.

At a press briefing late Tuesday morning, Infante-Green said that she is poised to announce the name of the next turnaround superintendent in Providence shortly.

Her final order, the commissioner says she is committed to serious community involvement, saying she will “afford students and parents sufficient opportunity to measure the progress of the plan, [and] afford relevant stakeholders, including students and parents, sufficient mechanisms to express their opinion on material decisions.”

See Also: Total Dysfunction in Providence, R.I., Schools? Here’s Some Context You Need to Know

At a show-cause hearing last month, three members of the Providence City Council, speaking through their lawyer, argued that Infante-Green’s draft order failed to provide enough community engagement.

At the same hearing, several student groups and eight parents submitted a motion to become one of the parties that have status to support or oppose the commissioner’s takeover order. Infante-Green denied the motion.

According to the order, the commissioner or the turnaround superintendent will evaluate the plan every year in consultation with the School Board. The evaluation will be made public with a caveat: the commissioner contends that the evaluation is not a public record and said portions of the document may be withheld from public release.

In the commissioner’s draft order, the plan was supposed to last three years. The final order extends the duration to five years. The commissioner will then evaluate the progress of the plan with input from city and school leaders as well as students, families and community members.

The takeover, a first of its kind in Rhode Island, was prompted by a scathing report from Johns Hopkins University that concluded that the Providence schools were broken and needed a systemic transformation. The researchers reported buildings needing profound repairs, with operations hindered by layers of bureaucracy, demoralized staff and chronically high rates of absenteeism among students and teachers.

A subsequent report by the Council of Great City Schools reached similar conclusions.

In her order, Infante-Green builds a case for the takeover.

Despite an increase of more than $40.7 million in state funding over the past five years, the district continues to struggle, Infante-Green wrote in her order. Student achievement has remained “unacceptably low,” with fewer than two out of every 10 students scoring proficient in math or English on the 2018 Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System test.

“As we begin the transformational changes needed in our schools, I remain committed to engaging our families and centering their voices to ensure long-lasting change,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza in a statement Tuesday. “We have always known that providing our students the 21st century education they deserve cannot be done alone. The strong collaboration we have built with the State and local stakeholders will continue to be the driving force behind what we have envisioned for PPSD. As we consider every option and engage every stakeholder, we will focus on developing sustainable changes that build bright futures for every Providence student.”

“When I returned to Providence Public Schools, it was with the understanding that the district was on the precipice of great transformation,” said interim Supt. Fran Gallo. “This order is a big step forward in the process of bringing about that change. Our children deserve the very best we can give them, and for too long, the resources available have not been enough. That has not been for lack of effort and is not the fault of any one individual or entity. I have seen wonderful things happening in Providence schools and believe we already have many of the tools needed for success: we have smart, resilient, engaged students who want to learn. We have dedicated teachers, principals and staff who cherish our students and are committed to creating a safe, welcoming learning environment. I am very hopeful that this action by the state will bring about the change needed to ensure that our schools have the resources they need to move our district forward.”

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Copyright (c) 2019, Providence State Journal. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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