Providence schools turnaround plan set to come out in April

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The plan to turn around the Providence public school system is set to come out in April, 10 months after the release of the damning Johns Hopkins report that prompted state officials to take control of the district.

R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said Saturday the plan will include many of the recommendations made by the community design teams, which presented their ideas to the public at what was dubbed the “Providence Schools Turnaround Community Day.”

Infante-Green also said the state might close some school buildings — but did not elaborate on whether that means new schools will be built or students would move into different spaces.

“We’re looking at the facilities in a very different ways,” Infante-Green said. “We’re going to be very aggressive and really make big changes. … We’re not thinking schools are going to close, but buildings might,” she said.

The poor condition of school buildings was a major part of the Hopkins report, whose researchers detailed a series of problems in the schools.

The R.I. Department of Education has also selected a new K-8 curriculum for the entire school district, which Infante-Green said will include support for multilingual learners.

She declined to name the vendor selected to provide the curriculum, citing final negotiations — which include an effort by the state to get the vendor to provide free professional development for teachers.

The community design teams were formed in December from a pool of applicants, and are made up of parents, students, teachers and other community stakeholders who have been meeting on nights and weekends to come up with ideas for the state’s turnaround plan.

Some of the teams’ recommendations presented at Saturday’s community day include: creating neighborhood schools, mandating at least two parent-teacher conferences per year that teachers must attend, realigning the district’s central office with the mission of the schools, conducting an audit to dismantle racist policies, and creating a family and teacher academy that would provide training to better help students.

One of the teams — dubbed Excellence in Learning — recommended hiring building-based substitutes, modeled after the Central Falls Warrior Fellowship program, which would allow students to be more familiar with the substitutes who cover classes when teachers are absent. The shortage of substitutes and its effects on students was recently examined by Target 12.

“Substitute teachers come in that are not really a part of the community,” explained Yamil Baez, a member of the Excellence in Learning team. She’s a former Providence School Board member who also attended Providence public schools as a child.

She said some of the teams’ recommendations may sound like a “big ask,” such as implementing neighborhood schools, or requesting that the former Citizens Bank building on Westminster Street be donated to the district.

“We were given the freedom to dream big on these things,” Baez said. “We’re just one piece of the puzzle.”

Parents and other community members had the chance to leave feedback on the ideas, putting stickers on recommendations they liked and writing comment cards.

“If none of what we are talking about is addressed in the plan, then I’ll be disappointed,” Baez said. “Our recommendations are speaking to issues that need to be addressed.”

Infante-Green said the recommendations will “all be in the plan in one form or another.”

Superintendent Harrison Peters, who was hired by Infante-Green to lead the school district last month, said he particularly supports the recommendations that would “put the best teachers in front of children,” and recruit a diverse workforce. He said by Wednesday he will have visited all the schools in the district since he started on Feb. 20.

On a large sheet of white paper at the event, attendees were asked to write their “Promise to Providence.”

“As a new teacher, I promise to put students first,” one person wrote.

“I will fight alongside my students to make their voices heard,” wrote another.

“I promise to never settle for mediocrity or the status quo,” said a third.

Infante-Green, who has all eyes on her as she seeks to successfully implement the improvements, wrote on the paper: “We will not fail another generation.”

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

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