New Prov. superintendent pledges to listen, earn trust

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The new state-appointed superintendent of Providence Public Schools was formally introduced on Monday, three months after the state took control of the school district.

Harrison Peters, currently a deputy superintendent in Hillsborough County, Florida, starts on Feb. 20.

“My whole career I’ve just been called to serve,” Peters said at a news conference at the Leviton Dual Language School. “I’m thrilled, absolutely thrilled to join such a powerhouse team.”

Peters was introduced by Gov. Gina Raimondo, R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green and R.I. Board of Education Chair Barbara Cottam.

“I know people said it took a long time,” said Infante-Green, who had initially hoped to have a superintendent in place on Nov. 1. “There is no such thing as a long time in finding the person to do the work.”

Peters’ role in leading the school department will be to implement the “turnaround plan” for the struggling district that is under state control.

“They’ve trusted me with the keys to the car,” he told reporters, referring to Raimondo and Infante-Green. “They own the car, but they’ve trusted me with the keys.”

He noted in his remarks that he was raised by his grandmother in Pensacola, Florida, and said he has one brother in prison and another who died as a result of gun violence.

“I’m standing before you because education changed my life,” said Peters, who has served in the U.S. Navy in addition to teaching and administrative stints in Pensacola, Hillsborough county, Chicago and Houston.

He referred to teachers as the “real superheroes,” and said he plans to have a “learning and listening tour” during his first 100 days.

Peters will make $225,000, according to his contract, with annual increases of 3% for three years. He’s eligible for up to $20,000 in moving reimbursement and a $750 monthly car allowance.

Notably absent from the event was Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, whose aides said he was not invited.

“The mayor was not here because he was out of town — I thought he was out of town,” Infante-Green said when asked about his absence. Her spokesperson, Meg Geoghegan, later clarified that Infante-Green called the mayor at the last minute Monday morning to invite him after realizing he was in Providence.

Elorza returned on Friday from a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.

“We are partners in everything,” Infante-Green said of her relationship with city leaders. “We have not had one situation where we have not been able to agree.”

She pointed out that Elorza interviewed Peters, and is planning to visit schools with him on Tuesday.

“I was impressed by his background and his spirit and I believe he’s a good fit for the city,” Elorza said of Peters in a statement. “There is a lot of work to be done and I look forward to working with him to engage the community throughout the turnaround process.”

Maribeth Calabro, the president of the Providence Teachers Union, lamented in a statement Monday morning that Peters’ appointment was made without input from the public.

“Starting now, we would like to have genuine collaborative relationship to make Providence schools places where all kids want to attend and excel, educators want to teach, and the community is proud to support,” Calabro said.

Parent and student groups have also criticized the fact that the public did not get to weigh in on the superintendent pick.

“I was pretty clear that I was going to pick the superintendent,” Infante-Green said. “So if we want to go back, we want to dial it back that’s unfortunate. We’re here right now with the best candidate we could have.”

Peters was passed over earlier this month for the superintendent job in his own district, where he was in the final seven finalists, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Community design teams have been meeting to discuss specific ideas for the five-year turnaround plan, which is expected to be released in the coming months.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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