PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green is officially taking state control of the Providence Public School District on Friday, a move that’s been months in the making since the release of the scathing Johns Hopkins report in June.
Infante-Green plans to show up bright and early to 797 Westminster, where the district’s central office is located, to meet with staff. She also plans to meet with principals, teachers and students throughout the day on Friday along with the Providence Teachers Union. A meeting with parents is planned for Monday.
Here’s what to know for the first day of state control.
School won’t be different on Friday.
Students shouldn’t see a significant change in their day-to-day classroom activities on Friday, according to Meg Geoghegan, Commissioner Infante-Green’s spokesperson. While Infante-Green might take some immediate actions — including in the central administration office — significant changes inside the classroom will happen over time. “Our goal is to maintain stability and consistency while still implementing both short and long term changes,” Geoghegan said. “Any material changes will be communicated.” Parents who have concerns or questions, for example, should still contact their school principal first and then the superintendent’s office. Geoghegan said an HR audit will be conducted, describing it as a “deep dive into all the staff” and general organization of the school department. Infante-Green does plan to visit Central High School on Friday to meet with teachers and students.
There’s no new superintendent yet.
Infante-Green announced early on in the process that she would be installing her own superintendent, who will report directly to her, to run the Providence schools during the state takeover. RIDE officials hoped this person, dubbed the “State Turnaround Superintendent,” would be in place in time for the takeover on Nov. 1. Infante-Green has made an offer to one candidate and is still negotiating, but her spokesperson said she is also talking to other candidates in case her pick falls through. In the meantime, interim Superintendent Fran Gallo has agreed to stay in place until at least January. Gallo, who came out of retirement for the interim gig, will start reporting to Infante-Green on Friday instead of the Providence School Board.
The city’s role is still to be determined.
Under the state’s 1997 Crowley Act, Infante-Green is taking over all the powers pertaining to the schools from the Providence School Board, Providence City Council and Mayor Jorge Elorza. But her order says there can be collaboration agreements between the state and the city, and she can delegate specific roles and duties to those parties. So far, no collaboration agreement has been signed between the city and the state. School Board President Nick Hemond says he anticipates the School Board’s agreement with Infante-Green to be separate from the city’s, and he said he doesn’t plan to resign from the board as long as there’s a “meaningful role to play” in the process. Geoghegan said one proposal is for the School Board to meet quarterly, “for the purposes of reviewing turnaround efforts.”
The turnaround plan will start being written.
With the legal process of taking state control of Rhode Island’s largest school district completed, attention will turn in earnest to the actual plan to improve the schools. The five-year “turnaround plan,” expected to be finished by January, will have the meat and potatoes of how the state plans to improve the struggling school district. Infante-Green has promised that community input will be part of the process of writing the plan, and included that requirement in her final takeover order. She’s expected to announce more details on how the community can get involved when she speaks to reporters Friday morning.
Providence isn’t suddenly getting more state money.
While the state is taking control of the Providence school district, that doesn’t mean statewide taxpayers are now footing the entire bill for education in Providence. Providence will keep its same school budget, which includes city money from Providence taxpayers and state money through the funding formula. The big change is that Infante-Green will now control how that money is spent. If she wants more down the line, she’ll have to ask state legislators and the City Council, which will still be in charge of appropriating the city’s tax dollars to the school department.
Big changes are expected down the road.
Infante-Green has received little pushback so far from city leaders in her quest to take control of the schools, but she has acknowledged that might change once she starts taking action. She has already said changes to the teachers’ contract are on the table, along with the possibility of closing school buildings that are in deteriorating condition. Any decisions about which schools might close or merge will come after a financial analysis is finished later this year. Infante-Green is also expected to make long-term changes to curriculum and classroom teaching.