PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State leaders have named Dr. Javier Montañez the permanent superintendent of Providence Public Schools, and will not post the job that has been in limbo since last spring.
“Javier has risen to the occasion,” R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green told 12 News. “Why would we look for someone else when we have someone doing the job, and doing it well for us right now?”
Gov. Dan McKee, who visited 360 High School with Montañez and Infante-Green Tuesday morning, said he supports keeping Montañez on board.
“I think Superintendent Javier has done a fantastic job in a transition that has not been an easy one for many reasons,” McKee said, citing the pandemic and the state turnaround plan. “Having someone like Javier step in at that moment in time and step up and deliver has been really fantastic.”
Montañez has been given a three-year contract, retroactive to the current school year, ending in 2024. A copy of the deal was not immediately made available.
“The first thing you learn in doing this job is ‘team,” Montañez said. “It can’t be done by one individual.” He said his “north star” would be the turnaround action plan, which came out in 2020.
“At the end of the day, it’s about our students, our kids,” he said. “It goes back to, how are we preparing our students for the future.”
The announcement comes amid calls from community members, teachers and lawmakers to post the superintendent job, accept applications and hold a formal search for a new leader.
“The outcome of the last search was a failure,” said state Sen. Sam Zurier, D-Providence, one the lawmakers who urged the commissioner to hold a transparent search. “They hired someone who resigned in disgrace in less than a year because of an administrative appointment that put the safety of the children in Providence in danger.”
State leaders — who control the city schools under a takeover that began in 2019 — said they would post the top job over the summer and search for a permanent superintendent. The state-run school district is currently in the middle of a turnaround effort.
But after failing to post the job all summer, McKee and Infante-Green announced in August Montañez would serve as acting superintendent for the 2021-22 school year. He has been widely praised as a dedicated leader with decades of experience in the district, and for an inspirational personal story of being homeless while attending Providence schools as a teenager.
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Still, the superintendent job was never posted, raising eyebrows among community members who started asking for a transparent process. Many emphasized that they were not opposed to Montañez, but to the process of hiring a superintendent without allowing anyone else to apply or the public to weigh in.
“We need a process that’s going to involve the community,” School Board member Ty’Relle Stephens said in a recent episode of Pulse of Providence. “I highly encourage Dr. Montañez to apply. But there needs to be a process; the posting needs to be posted.”
“We were in a pandemic,” Infante-Green said Tuesday when asked why a search never took place. “What we needed to do was stabilize the district. We already had one disruption.”
Stephens said Tuesday he respects Montañez, but is disappointed in the commissioner.
“Everyone said they wanted a process and she still refused to listen,” Stephens said. “It saddens me, and I’m very disappointed with her approach to the whole situation.”
Providence Teachers Union Vice President Jeremy Sencer echoed the general praise for Montañez, but said the job should’ve been posted last year.
“It would’ve been a wiser choice for RIDE and the commissioner to follow some sort of transparent process,” Sencer said. “One would think he’d be an exceptional candidate for the job. This is more about process than the person.”
A number of people testified about the issue at a School Board meeting last month, and Board President Kinzel Thomas said he had been told an announcement about the superintendent search was forthcoming from the R.I. Department of Education.
Legislators from Providence also urged Infante-Green to be transparent in the next search, writing in a letter that she may have violated school district policy in the way she hired Peters.
The letter, marked as hand-delivered on March 24, is signed by state Reps. Edith Ajello, David Morales, Rebecca Kislak, John Lombardi, Anastasia Williams and Grace Diaz; and state Sens. Sam Zurier and Sam Bell.
It points to a Providence Public School policy that details the process to hire a superintendent, which was previously the responsibility of the Providence School Board.
The policy says a screening committee made up of community members, parents and students must interview candidates, conduct a public forum and recommend three finalists to the School Board for consideration.
Under the state law that allowed the R.I. Department of Education to take control of the Providence schools, Infante-Green now holds the powers of the School Board.
“If you want you can take all of the policies, cross out the word School Board and write commissioner,” Zurier told 12 News last month. “She did not comply with it.”
“While we cannot say the district’s procedural failures caused it to hire a superintendent whose poor job performance led to his termination in less than one year, it is clear that the previous search’s lack of transparency and accountability further undermined public confidence in the takeover as a whole, particularly when the poorly-designed search yielded such a poor outcome,” the lawmakers wrote, referring to Peters.
The letter asks that the commissioner conduct the next superintendent search “without further delay, and for that process to contain the elements of transparency and accountability contained in” the policy.
Infante-Green did not respond to the lawmakers prior to Tuesday’s announcement, but her chief legal counsel sent a response after Montañez was named the permanent superintendent.
Anthony Cottone argued the commissioner has control over all aspects of the school department, and is not bound by the policy the legislators’ cited.
“The Commissioner has decided that now – as we are just (hopefully) beginning to put the pandemic behind us – is not the time to rock the boat by initiating a superintendent search process, especially when we have a qualified individual serving in the position,” Cottone wrote in his response. “This conclusion was buttressed by the simple fact that that the current candidate pool for superintendents is extremely thin, as the commissioner well knows from experience and research.”
“I wish Superintendent Montañez all the best, and I want to do whatever I can to help him succeed,” Zurier said Tuesday. “This was a procedural failure, and it was the latest in a series of mistakes that RIDE has made during the takeover.”