Before COVID, the biggest story in Rhode Island from the last 12 months was the state takeover of the Providence Public School Department (PPSD). Now 12 months out from the initial John Hopkins report that set it all off, the Turnaround Action Plan (TAP) has been released. It’s a 68-page PDF, available online at 4PVDkids.com.
The document refreshes and outlines the historical problems of the PPSD. The original report blamed antiquated governance, a broken school culture and a lack of safety, with teachers being set up to fail at their jobs and parents feeling hopeless and locked out of their child’s education. TAP addresses many of these problems and breaks them down into achievable metrics.
The plan breaks down these into four groups of metrics: Engaged Communities, which is about parental and community engagement in a child’s education. Excellence in Learning, which is about learning outcomes and is based primarily around student performance on RICAS, the state’s standardized test program. World-Class Talent, which is about teaching staff and the hiring process, and ensuring that educators reflect the diverse and heavily POC presence in the PPSD student bodies. Efficient District Systems, which is about overhauling the central office the district operates on, increasing funding and dealing with vendors and teacher contracts.
Quoting from the John Hopkins report, TAP details in its rationale for Engaged Communities how families feel locked out of the educational process. On the transformation scorecard, which lists all the metrics and goals on which TAP is judged, its metrics range from students feeling like they belong at school, to schools having a school improvement team that meets state requirements, to implementing a rapid response system where the district contacts parents within a 24 hour window. In this section, the plan is scant on details. It leaves out what a school culture is in this context or what steps will be taken to fix it. Similarly, in the plan there are seven mentions of a school improvement team, but the plan does not define the team, detail their function in the system or describe who will comprise the teams.
Excellence in Learning is the second set of metrics TAP outlines. These are primarily about Providence students’ performance in the state’s standardized tests. TAP does not lay out how many students did not meet proficiency in RICAS, but it does list the percentages of students meeting or exceeding expectations for the 2018-19 school year. For grades 3, 8 and 11, in math and English language arts, less than 25% of Providence students met or exceeded expectations according to TAP. The plan sets a goal for the 2024-25 school year to meet at least 50% for all of them. In the body of the text there is acknowledgement that Providence students have done poorly, but there’s no plan to raise these scores. The most it offers is planning to create a plan to deal with this problem.
World-Class Talent is the section that deals with PPSD staffing issues. Providence has come under fire in the past because its educator workforce is far whiter than its student body. Providence has some of the most diverse student populations in Rhode Island. Out of 24,000 students, 65% come from Hispanic backgrounds, and more than half the students come from a household where English is not the primary language. The goals of the section prioritize hiring educators of color, expanding professional development for teachers and support for principals, updating teacher evaluation systems and giving mentorship to new teachers.
The last section deals with Efficient District Systems, primarily retooling the central district office to become streamlined and more efficient. Its first goal is to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union (still ongoing) to make hiring more flexible and streamlined. The district is to create a spending plan and a plan to upgrade Providence school facilities, which are among the worst building and learning environments in the state.
The plan does outline that for various metrics at schools, various initiatives will have a lead from the PPSD acting as point person, with a support person from RIDE providing assistance. Leads will have a monthly progress meeting and an annual internal review. There is also a plan to regularly provide information on the progress of TAP to various public bodies and agencies. RIDE will update the council of elementary and secondary education. PPSD will provide updates to the Providence school board and districtwide community council. All new information will be posted on the 4PVDkids.com website for the community to view. The commissioner of education will report to the mayor, the school board, city council and the general public.
There’s nothing in TAP on COVID or distance learning. Time will tell how much money Providence will get to fund themselves to reach their goals or how COVID outbreaks might impact the timeline.