Providence school system overhaul plan released; some say it lacks details

PROVIDENCE — State Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green and Providence Public Schools Surt. Harrison Peters announced his long-awaited turnaround plan for the Providence school system on Tuesday morning — about a year after a disheartening report of widespread dysfunction in the city’s schools was released.

The plan, which is the result of approximately six months of strategizing and collaborating with community stakeholders, lays out a five-year roadmap to improve Providence Public Schools so they are on track. with the top 25% of schools in the state.

But while the plan sets ambitious goals for the district, some said they felt it lacked specific guidance on how to achieve them.

“In the PSU student bill of rights, we basically say all of this and we created it five years ago,” said Jayson Rodriguez, a rising senior at Met High School and director of the leadership team. of the Providence Student Union. “It’s not enough to say what we need and what a good school looks like.”

At a Tuesday morning press conference held on Zoom, Infante-Green and Peters said the plan was developed with input from the community and included steps to hold leaders accountable.

When asked what she’s heard from parents and community members, Infante-Green admitted that some parents want to see more drastic action taken.

“They wanted us to be a lot more aggressive,” she said. “But I think what we’re trying to think about is how to reinvent that. Their voice is there, and I think that’s a starting point for us.

The plan emphasizes the performance of multilingual learners, who make up 34% of students in Providence, but have been shown to be deprived of an adequate education. Going forward, the district will pay more attention to recruiting qualified ESL teachers, prioritizing meeting expectations set out in a Department of Justice policy over district management multilingual learners, and will double the number of students served by bilingual programs over five years.

To better engage families, the district will implement a central phone number or text messaging system for information sharing that will be accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, create a parent bill of rights, and pupils and will launch a “parent academy” which will train families on how best to defend their children. Peters has already announced this spring that the central office will be completely restructured.

The plan also prioritizes hiring more teachers of color, who are underrepresented in Providence schools relative to the student population, in part by partnering with local colleges and universities to attract teachers. more diverse candidates.

“Overall, I believe the report is comprehensive and includes strong specific areas of interest as the district moves forward,” wrote Karla Vigil, chief executive of the Equity Institute, an organization that advocates for a system more diverse and equitable education, in an email. “I particularly appreciate the intentionality of recruiting and retaining a racially diverse workforce of educators and naming efforts to establish an anti-racism approach.”

Infante-Green said the department is in the midst of negotiations with the Providence Teachers Union. The goal is to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement to make it easier to fire underperforming teachers, hire top candidates and demand additional professional development days, according to the plan.

The turnaround plan includes a broad set of actions the district is expected to achieve after five years of implementation, such as increasing the percentage of students in attendance for most of the school year to 90 percent from its current benchmark of 62.7%, and more. than doubling the percentages of students meeting and exceeding expectations in different test areas. For example, the plan aims to increase the percentage of students meeting and exceeding expectations for the eighth-grade Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System math test from 7.4 percent to 50 percent in five years.

Although the plan does not detail the exact path it will take to achieve these goals, Jeremy Sencer, vice president of the Providence Teachers Union, said teachers already have ideas and need to be included in the process as the district was progressing.

“It appears that the commissioner and the superintendent are still looking for concrete steps to achieve these goals,” he said. “I’m glad we’re setting the bar high, but hopefully that means nothing is on the table when we talk about how we’re going to get there.”

No specific details are available in the plan regarding the resolution of the many crumbling school buildings in the district, although Infante-Green said at the press conference that some buildings would be closed and a building in South Providence would soon be donated to the district for use as a K-8 school. She wouldn’t say which building.

Rodriguez said he wants the plan to include steps to remove school resource officers from schools — a push the Providence Student Union has been making for years but regained momentum following mass protests against the killings of blacks by the police and calls for defunding police departments.

Infante-Green said in a statement that the department will survey Providence students, families and educators over the summer to gather data about the school resource officer program.

“From the community, we heard the pros and cons of the SRO initiative; these include instances where officers have served as mentors to our students,” the statement read. “Before deciding on next steps, we need information to determine what those next steps are.”

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Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green

Jeremy S. McLain