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Tampa-area educator tapped to lead Providence schools

Harrison Peters, Chief of Schools in Hillsborough County.Tampa Bay Times (custom credit)

PROVIDENCE - A Florida man who has served as a top official in one of the country’s largest school districts is expected to be named the next superintendent of Providence schools following the state’s months-long search to fill the vacancy.

Harrison A. Peters, a deputy superintendent with Hillsborough County Public Schools who was recently a finalist to be superintendent in that community, could be named to Providence’s top job as soon as Monday, according to four individuals with direct knowledge of the decision.

Peters has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Globe since he interviewed for the job on Jan. 11. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, Mayor Jorge Elorza and School Board President Nicholas Hemond and School Board Vice President Nina Pande were among the individuals who met with Peters that weekend.

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A spokesperson for Infante-Green declined to comment Friday evening.

The hiring of Peters will end months of uncertainty for Rhode Island’s largest school district, which has been under state control since Nov. 1. State leaders chose to intervene in the district after a scathing report from researchers at Johns Hopkins University detailed widespread dysfunction throughout the school system.

Infante-Green initially said she hoped to have a superintendent in place by the time the state took over Providence schools, but the state could not come to terms with multiple candidates for the job. Fran Gallo served as interim superintendent for much of the first half of the school year before stepping away from the position on Dec. 20.

Peters, who is Black, was one of eight finalists to be superintendent of Hillsborough County in Tampa. The district has more than 225,000 students and a budget of more than $3 billion. It is the seventh-largest school district in the United States. Providence has 24,000 students and a budget approaching $400 million.

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Peters has also worked in top roles at the Houston Independent School District and Chicago Public Schools over the last decade, according to a resume published by the Tampa Bay Times. He was selected to be part of the Future Chiefs program with Chiefs for Change, a national nonprofit that advocates for education reform and seeks to build a pipeline of school leaders around the country.

Infante-Green was also a member of the Future Chiefs program, but was not in the same cohort as Peters.

In a cover letter to the search committee in Hillsborough County, Peters explained that he came from humble beginnings. He was raised by his grandmother after his mother was incarcerated and his stepfather died, but he credits a 10th grade English teacher with encouraging him to go into education.

As deputy superintendent, he explained, his job was to oversee “school choice, magnet programs, virtual programs, leadership development and professional development, business, philanthropy and community engagement, and educational access, opportunities and alternatives.”

"Part of the reason I've been able to lead teams effectively is that I have served at every level of the education system, from classroom teacher to central office executive, all in large, complex and diverse school districts, which earns me the trust of those with whom I serve,” he wrote.

Peters is taking over a district in disarray.

Only 12 percent of students in grades three through eight are proficient in math and 17 percent are proficient in English, according to results on the annual Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System exam. At four schools, more than 95 percent of students aren’t doing math or English at grade level.

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The Johns Hopkins report also cited crumbling school buildings, fears of violence among teachers and students and a dysfunctional governance system as challenges the district faces. The state plans to control the district – including teachers’ contract negotiations and other hiring and firing decisions – for a period of at least five years.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.