PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence on Monday entered its fourth school year in which the public school district is controlled by the state, an intervention that started in 2019 but was quickly sidetracked by a pandemic.

The district has already had multiple interim and permanent superintendents during the takeover, and two governors have overseen the intervention so far. The one top leader who remains: state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who initiated the state takeover in 2019.

“I think it is going much better than we anticipated, given that we had a global pandemic,” Infante-Green told Target 12 during a sit-down interview ahead of the first day of school.

While the district is still struggling with student absenteeism and a teacher shortage, Infante-Green points to several achievements of the state takeover: a new curriculum, more professional development and expanding summer school to K-12 students. Plus, the district has broken ground on several large-scale school construction projects, and will have another groundbreaking soon, she said.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Infante-Green said. “Every day we find out something new. We talked about the system being broken, and we mean the system is broken.”

Few city leaders objected to the state taking control of the Providence schools in the fall of 2019, after a team from Johns Hopkins University released a scathing report detailing problems with the capital city’s school system.

But nearly three years later, most elected leaders in the city have something negative to say about the state takeover. All three mayoral candidates have said the schools should return to city control, with varying timelines.

The timeline of the state intervention has always been fuzzy. The “initial term” was set for five years, but with an option to renew that was largely left up to the commissioner.

Earlier this year, citing pandemic setbacks, Infante-Green moved the goalposts on a long list of metrics set to be achieved in the taekover’s first five years — attendance, graduation rates, test scores and more — to the 2026-27 school year, revising the initial plan to hit those marks by the 2024-25 academic year.

State lawmakers took action, passing a law in June that would end the takeover in fall of 2024. The legislation, which Infante-Green opposed, allows her to extend the intervention by no more than three years, and only with the approval of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.

So will she extend it?

“I don’t know,” Infante-Green said. “We are really working on having a very strong foundation. Because we don’t want to keep Providence under state control. That is not what we want to do.”

Infante-Green said she’s “optimistic” the delayed goals can be met.

“I’m also realistic,” she said, pointing to a study that found it could take three to five years for Rhode Island students to recover from the pandemic.

New RICAS scores set to be released in October will provide a window into whether student proficiency has improved under the takeover. Students didn’t take the exam in 2020 after receiving a federal waiver, and in 2021 the scores went down, a reflection of the interrupted schooling due to the pandemic.

Still, there were a few bright spots: Anthony Carnevale Elementary School, where Infante-Green met up with Target 12 this month, saw a nine-point jump in proficiency in English Language Arts in 2021 compared to 2019.

“They have a lot of kids who are differently-abled, it is a school that is really a community school,” Infante-Green said. “This is a pretty special place. … They work really hard for the kids, and they’ve seen the fruits of their labor.”

With a gubernatorial election this fall, it’s possible a new governor could be overseeing the takeover in January if voters do not elect Gov. Dan McKee to a full term. Infante-Green, who signed a new three-year contract earlier this year, said she hasn’t met with the other candidates.

“I don’t know anyone that’s running for office that doesn’t believe that education’s important,” Infante-Green said. “Right now, I can’t think about politics. … I honestly don’t look at that.”

On the horizon is the next collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union; the three-year contract negotiated last year was retroactive, so it expires next summer.

Infante-Green said she isn’t thinking about starting negotiations yet, but acknowledged that certain proposals the district is considering — such as extending the school day — will require collective bargaining with the union.

She said longer school days would likely be targeted to certain age groups, rather than a district-wide change to the schedule.

And Infante-Green said she isn’t planning to leave Rhode Island; she’s turned down job offers in other states and in Washington, D.C., and says she’s not planning to leave before the state takeover ends.

“I’m here for the long haul,” Infante-Green said. “I have no plans on leaving. And yes, I have gotten other job offers and I haven’t taken them. I made a commitment to the families in Providence, but also the entire state.”

She pointed to her own upbringing as a child of immigrants.

“I understand what an education means to a family in poverty,” she said. “I sat there and watched the families cry and ask for help. I can’t turn my back on that.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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