Rhode Island · School Talk

The Night They Voted To Allow the State to Take Over Providence Schools

The room’s total capacity was 188 people. Providence is a district of 25,000 students and 3,000 staff. It is located in a part of the city where streets are narrow and parking is very limited—especially when Michael Bublé is performing and it’s opening night for Hamilton. But Good School Hunting has already addressed why all of that is a problem:

At the much anticipated board of education meeting, many people signed up for public comment—parents talked about disparities between schools on the East Side, the South Side, and in the West End. Students held signs, spoke about the importance of student voice, and read testimony that referred to findings in the Johns Hopkins report. A teacher, grateful to be working in the newest school building in Providence (PCTA), rightly said that “a safe building, a clean building makes kids want to come to school.” Amen!

One parent talked about IEPs and 504 Plans not being followed—and she added that her son had missed an entire year of speech therapy. Some community members spoke at the microphone in Spanish. And one woman read a statement thad had been signed by 18 community groups.

The 18 community orgs who joined together to submit a statement.

At the conclusion of the public comment, Angélica Infante Green stepped to the podium to deliver a presentation that was a bit of a hybrid— she reiterated some key findings in the Johns Hopkins report and also shared some of the most compelling things she had heard since her arrival to our Rhode Island.

Here are the first 5 minutes of her presentation:

As you can see in the video, she asked the crowd to memorize the following numbers:

86% of Providence students are not able to read or write at grade level.

90% of Providence students are unable to do math at grade level.

And then she went on to tell the audience that a student’s knowledge of math is highly predictive of college success. “It just is,” she adds.

Infante-Green identified seven themes that had emerged not only from the Johns Hopkins report but also from community forums.

What Else Did She Say?

I am not a politician. I don’t care about contracts. I don’t care about vendors. I care about children.

The system is broken, guys.

Families have had enough and are ready for action. I’ve seen groups mobilize. Demand. And there’s no other way to do this. The only way to effectuate real change is for it to come from the ground up. 

And to clarify the state takeover in Central Falls — that was financial support from the state. Period. That is not what we are talking about.

Providence is in pain. Failing kids is a tragedy. 

System governance gets in the way of student outcomes. 

In a functioning system, there are chairs for students. In a functioning system there is clean water for our students to drink. 

We can’t fail kids. That can’t be the legacy of our state. 

I heard a lot about social promotion— kids being promoted without being ready. I don’t know about you but if I’m not held accountable, am I going to work the same way? If I’m going to go to the next grade no matter what. Are you ok with a 5th grader not knowing how to read? Not knowing how to multiply.

It is about kids. I don’t want to hear about what’s good for adults. That comes secondary. 

She called 11-year-old West Broadway Middle School student, Naiem, to the podium—he had read testimony at the last of the forums (which we published here)—and it had obviously touched the commissioner deeply enough that she requested he read it to the board.

Infante-Green said that she has been very disturbed by what she calls a “lack of leadership voice. ” She went on to say “the silence of administrators spoke volumes to me. “

She shared an anecdote about the day they visited Hope High School:

Those of you who were with us at Hope HS, it was snowing. The plaster was falling. It was all over the floor.

She says that one parent told her that she feels the pain of the parents in Flint, Michigan.

And then she showed a picture of a broken chair—she had taken the photo from the stage at one of the forums and she says that it has become a symbol to her. In fact, she told the crowd and the board that the picture of the broken chair will hang in her office.

This broken system — it has been cobbled together with layers and layers of bureaucracy.

She was clear about one theme that emerged in session after session — the “segregation and the race issue.” She went on to say, “we need to name it, deal with it, and dismantle it.”

She also had some things to say on what she has observed from the adults around her:

Everybody seems to have an agenda and don’t think I don’t see it. 

She talked about people approaching her, offering to help in exchange for something.

Don’t approach me for that — I’m not doing that. I’m not giving out jobs to people who offer to help.

Hold me accountable but I will hold everyone who stands before me accountable.

And then she referred back to the 1993 report—which looked a lot like the 2019 Johns Hopkins report— that she sees as proof that “we have failed at least an entire generation of students.”

I can assure you there will be no 3rd report. 

After a bit of discussion and a few questions, the state board of education voted unanimously to hand authority over the Providence Schools to Infante-Green.

Now comes the hard part. Dan McGowan at the Boston Globe has been doing excellent reporting on all things Providence Schools and I’d urge you to follow all of his work as the city and state enter, what he has aptly called, “uncharted territory.”

Click here to read Dan’s most recent article —here’s a small taste but you should really read the whole thing. And then everything else he writes.

What do you think?

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