Cleaning Up PVD Schools: Sabina Matos discusses the evolution of education

Providence City Council President Sabina Matos is considered a buzzworthy figure in Providence politics. During a recent interview, President Matos and I discussed the ongoing state intervention into Providence schools. In the following excerpt, we delved into what I have been referring to as a “bilateral” approach to addressing RI schools: attacking infrastructure issues with an aggressive, strategic and communicative program while undergoing a fundamental rethinking of the content within the schools (eg, curriculum, personnel, activities, teacher-student relations, community-administration relations).

Bill Bartholomew (Motif): Do you feel that changes needed in Providence schools go beyond infrastructure? Does it go into teaching habits or pushing out bad teachers or administrators? Does it include a fundamental rethinking of how we educate kids? 

Sabina Matos: Yes. And that’s what I see happening and that’s what I hope is going to happen because we need to look at everything that needs to change. The physical appearance of the buildings has to improve. We can not continue to have our kids in an atmosphere that doesn’t show that we care. We have to improve the way our buildings look and make sure that they are safe for other students and for our teachers and administrators who work in those buildings. 


We also have to make sure that we are addressing the challenges with some of the staff and the teaching staff. In going through the [Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green’s recent community] forums, I heard several of the teachers who spoke out saying that they want change because they had been suffering the consequences or have a colleague who is not doing their job. 

So they are suffering those consequences. I have heard about students who were supposed to be getting education support and they were not getting it, and the teachers who have the students in their classrooms have been suffering for that. Think about what’s going to happen because of that.  When the students spend a whole year without getting the support that they need to help them be at the same level as their peers. The teachers want change, so we have to make sure that we’re working with them to be able to make changes to the teaching system. 

BB: What about community relations? What about the mayor’s All In cleanup and the notion that the community should get their hands dirty? When you define the stakeholders, the community is a stakeholder, but do they also have a responsibility to get involved, get dirty and make repairs?  Does that misplace some of the blame? Or is the right direction to go?

SM: I think that is not that role of the parents to go and clean the schools. I thought we have a contract with a vendor that is responsible…

BB:  Aramark 

SM:  …for cleaning the schools. I think there should be a role for parents to volunteer and to be active in their school. Honestly, we need to have parents be active voices and participate in helping with projects with this school. But the responsibility of cleaning the building and making sure that the buildings are clean and safe for the students should not be put on the parents. So, I have trouble with the way we’re handling this cleanup. To have all the work ready, all the supplies ready to go, I’m a little bit hesitant because I’m not sure that we have the capacity to organize this to [the appropriate] level. I’m not 100% sure we’re ready for that type of project. 

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