Providence students head back to class with district on mend

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After a summer spent attempting to rebound from the scathing Johns Hopkins report, Providence schools opened their doors to students Tuesday for the start of a new year.

The school year starts ahead of an expected state takeover of the entire district, slated for later this fall.

Interim Superintendent Frances Gallo said Tuesday morning that the condition of school buildings is improving.

“The buildings are good to go,” Gallo said. “Gilbane finished over the weekend, Aramark continued and made sure every room was very clean at the last school that we had that we were really worried about, but they pulled it off.”

That school was the Frank D. Spaziano Elementary School, which Gallo said wrapped up work this past weekend just in the nick of time.

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Gallo also visited DelSesto Middle School, where a teacher was shocked by a light switch last week.

She said the building, which is currently running on generator, was given a top-to-bottom electrical inspection before opening for the first day.

Over the past few months, the district has been in repair mode – fixing building infrastructure, systematic issues, and working to increase morale for teachers ahead of the new year.

The city said it was doing $20 million worth of repairs to buildings over the summer.

The school year also begins with a shortage of at least 90 classroom teachers, though Gallo said all classes without teachers were covered by substitutes on the first day.

She said the district is trying to use long-term subs in those classrooms, so that students aren’t “floating around” with different substitutes every day.

She said the district is still looking to hire teachers in “hard to fill” subjects like math and physics.

Gallo, who began as interim superintendent on August 1, will serve for about 90 days before State Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green takes over the district and appoints a “turnaround superintendent.”

Infante-Green has not named any candidates or finalists. Asked Tuesday about criticism that the community isn’t involved in selecting the superintendent, she said the community would be involved in forming the turnaround plan itself.

“We have to do things differently than we have in the past,” Infante-Green said. “The last superintendent was selected by a group of 27.”

She also said there is a “substantial amount” of work left to be done in the school buildings.

“I don’t feel comfortable with wherever we are just yet,” Infante-Green said.

City leaders have until Wednesday to file objections to Infante-Green’s preliminary order to take over the school system. The City Council leadership, Mayor Elorza, Superintendent Gallo and the School Board have all said they don’t plan to object.

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