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Rhode Island's education commissioner has assumed control of the troubled Providence district.

Rhode Island approves state takeover of Providence district

State education commissioner assumes control of Providence schools after study calls out widespread dysfunction throughout the district.

In an unprecedented move, the Rhode Island Council of Elementary and Secondary Education has given the state's new education commissioner sweeping authority to intervene in the city of Providence’s dysfunctional public schools.

The Providence Journal reports that under the provisions of a 1997 statute, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green has been granted the power to revamp the teachers’ contract, revise how the school district is governed, and make decisions over hiring and firing. She has said she wants to work collaboratively with the teachers union and the city, although student performance will come first.

“There will be no third report,” Infante-Green says, referring to a 1990s study that identified many of the same failures as this summer’s report by Johns Hopkins University, which identified deep-seated problems such as demoralized teachers, chaotic classrooms, buildings in disrepair, and learning occurring at very low levels.

Infante-Green plans to hire a superintendent by early November to take over management of the school district.

She also said she will focus on systemic issues that have historically held back the schools, including a deeply embedded culture of low student expectations.

“Systemic racism came up at every one of our public forums,” she says. “We can’t move forward without naming it and dismantling it.”

Infante-Green spelled out what will happen during the next three months: Safety zones will be created within schools. The district will create a school culture toolkit that spells out what behavior is expected of students and adults. Schools will do a better job of tracking attendance. Teachers will get robust professional training, especially around cultural sensitivity.

The mayor, city council, school board and theinterim superintendent have 30 days to raise objections to the state takeover. So far, everyone but the city council has expressed support for a takeover. 

Interim Superintendent Frances Gallo will serve until the new superintendent takes over. Infante-Green said there will be a “seamless transition” from Gallo to a new superintendent.

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