PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Outgoing Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and two of his predecessors met with the newly elected mayor on Monday to offer their recommendations for getting the city’s struggling school district on the right path.
“I have no doubt that all of our children can succeed. We know what works and we need to implement it with the fierce urgency of now,” former Mayor Angel Taveras said.
“It’s important that we share with incoming leadership, our experience, and our challenges because education is the cornerstone of our community’s success,” former Mayor Joseph Paolino said. “I hope that these recommendations can help prepare the mayor-elect for the hard work that lies ahead and act as a catalyst for real change in our classrooms and schools across the district.”
With the district still under state control, the former mayors said they believe the issues surrounding it are “structural.” Elorza said the challenges start with the collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union, Rhode Island general law, and the state’s arbitration laws.
“With these three elements, what they take away from principals, superintendents, and mayor is the ability, the authority, the autonomy to make the changes that our kids need,” he said.
According to Elorza, the worst possible outcome for the school district is for the status quo to remain.
“It’s fine to hold us accountable for the things that we can control,” Elorza added. “But if we can’t control something, then what can really be done?”
Mayor-elect Brett Smiley said part of his plan is to give parents a bigger voice.
“One of the key components to my transition includes the re-engagement of family and parents in our school system,” Smiley said.
In the wake of the RICAs scores being released, Elorza discussed how some of the results raised eyebrows, particularly with the district’s math scores.
“Something like 9% of kids are achieving competency math at grade level in our schools. That’s less than one out of 10. That’s a crisis,” Elorza stated.
Elorza also took the opportunity to float an alternative plan for the school district.
“These changes are so critical to the turnaround, that if the mayor-elect is not able to bring forth, then we recommend with one voice that he push to make Providence an all-public charter district,” Elorza explained.
Smiley said his priority is to push for structural changes within public schools and before making any decisions, he wants to discuss everything with all parties.
Some of the other recommendations included investing in 21st century buildings, investing in out-of-school learning time, and working with key stakeholders to amplify their voices.