June 20, 2019
To Governor Raimondo, Mayor Elorza, Commissioner Infante-Green, Superintendent Maher, Senate President Ruggerio, Speaker Mattiello, President of the School Board and President of the City Council:
Today is the last day of school for thousands of excited students and teachers in Providence who are wrapping up a year filled with all the typical moments of frustration and joy, as well as some unusual and significant challenges. As kids and families head into the pleasures of summer in Rhode Island, there is major work to be done ensuring that next year, we do better for them.
We are parents, caregivers, community members and advocates deeply invested in bringing about significant, positive change in Providence public schools. While we anxiously await next week's release of the review of Providence Schools and subsequent recommendations, we believe it’s important to lay out our expectations for what comes next.
Like Governor Raimondo, Mayor Elorza and Commissioner Infante-Green, who called for this review, we see a critical need for action. The schools our kids get fall heartbreakingly short of the schools they deserve. September will arrive sooner than expected and we cannot allow another year to pass with the status quo. Families’ frustration, disappointment and anxiety are running high, but their hopes for their kids are even higher.
In tackling this challenge, we are eager to partner with anyone who is prepared to work collaboratively, respectfully and thoughtfully. It is clear to us that no substantial or lasting improvement is possible without a true partnership among elected officials both local and state, education leaders at all levels from the Commissioner to the classroom teacher, community partners, and families.
We believe that to be successful and earn families’ support, the actions that come in response to the review must:
- Establish a significant, ongoing, formal role for families and students in the development and implementation of plans for intervention. In addition to a core group of diverse parents/students in such roles, all families should be given robust opportunities to learn about the review’s findings, share feedback on plans in development and be part of any newly created structures. Families are key stakeholders in these schools now and will be even more essential in the future when the agents of intervention efforts move on. Intervention in the Providence schools must make them the foundation of change and build their capacity as advocates.
This requires an investment of resources - time, people, and money - well beyond what’s been put forth in the past. Right now, parents in Providence feel a profound lack of respect from and trust in our public education institutions. Rebuilding that trust will require inclusion, as described above, as well as intentional, culturally and linguistically appropriate, frequent communication and outreach about the work that’s being done and a voice in decisions being made.
- Recognize, respect and value the diverse communities served by the Providence schools. This means efforts at transformation must be grounded in equity, address issues of bias, prioritize culturally responsive teaching and anti-racist environments, and expand opportunities for educators of color - as a start.
- Be set up to succeed. Sustainable, impactful action must be adequately resourced with both funds and talent and have the necessary legal backbone. Planning and implementation should reflect collaboration and cooperation among city, state, RIDE, legislature, schools, communities and families. While initial efforts may focus on individual schools, plans for equitable change should build a foundation for strategies that will benefit all students for the long-run.
- Most critically, clearly respond to the issues families identified. We expect the review to capture not only the nuances of governance and procurement that may stand in the way of school improvement but also, equally important, the lived experience of parents and families in Providence schools. The response, then, should entail concrete, strategic measures to establish and sustain:
- A pervasive and inspiring culture of high expectations for what all students can accomplish, including rigorous academic content, mindful social and emotional learning, and intentional, innovative use of instructional time.
- School cultures that are unapologetically anti-racist, celebrating and lifting up the full diversity of our communities through everything from our faculty, administration and staff, to curricula, classroom materials and professional development resources. Essential to this are explicit efforts to recruit, support and retain a diverse community of teachers who reflect our city.
- Adequate and sustainable resources for multilingual learners as well a climate that recognizes the distinctive value of multiple languages.
- Responsive special education programming that fully addresses the needs of students with IEPs and learning differences and an unfailing commitment to communicating with and working alongside their families.
- Well-resourced social emotional supports for all students, and especially for those experiencing trauma that needs to be addressed for them to learn and participate in our school communities, paired with professional development for teachers working to meet the needs of these students.
- Robust, determined and consistent efforts by all educational partners - from classroom teachers and school administrators to the district and RIDE - to communicate with parents in their home languages about the full range of topics that allow them to support their kids’ growth and partner with schools.
- A teaching culture of joy, accountability, and deep engagement with students, grounded in sufficient teacher training, supports, and resources to integrate educators as fully present, prepared, and aware members of our communities inside and outside of the regular school day.
We fully recognize that we’ve laid out a monumental task for all of us, but it would be wrong to suggest our children deserve any less. For them, we are prepared to do our part, from our respective roles, to take on the difficult work ahead.
RI Center for Justice
(home of EduLeaders of Color RI)
Latino Policy Institute