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Providence schools are slashing jobs and closing a high school in reorganization plan

Providence School Department headquarters.
Providence School Department headquarters.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — School officials in Rhode Island’s capital are slashing dozens of administrative jobs and folding a small high school that only opened in 2015 as part of a district reorganization that they say will shift more resources into the city’s struggling schools.

The changes also serve the purpose of saving nearly $4 million at a time when Providence’s school budget faces a cloud of uncertainty because the coronavirus pandemic has created massive budget holes for governments across the country. But new Superintendent Harrison Peters said the decisions were made largely with the goal of transforming a school system that was taken over by the state last year because of low test scores and poor morale over many years.

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Peters said no teachers are being laid off — although some may be displaced — as part of the reorganization, but administrators and school culture coordinators are losing their jobs, and the district is closing Evolutions High School, which served 350 students and was located inside of Mount Pleasant High School. Students will have the option to transfer to other high schools, although most will likely attend Mount Pleasant, one of the largest and lowest-performing schools in Rhode Island.

District leaders had high hopes for Evolutions and 360 High School when the Carnegie Foundation awarded Providence $3 million in create two smaller high schools, but Evolutions struggled with administrator turnover. 360 High School will remain in place.

“It just hasn’t worked at Evolutions, but we feel different about 360,” Peters, who became superintendent in February, told reporters Friday.

Peters has also revamped the leadership structure of the district, hiring a network superintendent to oversee elementary schools and another to oversee middle and high schools. Susan Chin, a well-respected administrator who already works for the district, will manage elementary schools, and Olayinka Alege will run secondary schools. Alege comes to Providence from Hillsborough Country schools in Florida, the same district where Peters previously worked.

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It’s difficult to pinpoint just how many people are losing their jobs in the district because some will ultimately be rehired to different positions, but a spokeswoman said nearly 50 jobs are being eliminated. That includes 28 positions within the school clerical workers union, but those employees will be offered retirement buyouts.

Peters is eliminating seven school culture coordinators, a decision that is sure to catch the ire of Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. He created those positions three years ago, and has repeatedly discussed how proud he is of having those workers embedded in schools. But Elorza no longer has a say over district management, and Peters chose to go in a different direction.

The changes come as Providence still awaits a broader transformation plan that was expected to be released this spring. The state took control of the 25,000-student system in November, following the release of a scathing Johns Hopkins University report that found nearly every facet of the district needed to be reformed.

Only 12 percent of Providence students in Grades 3 through 8 are proficient in math and only 17 percent are proficient in English, according to results from 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.

Peters said his goal is to reinvent the city’s high schools, starting with Mount Pleasant.

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“This reorganization puts the needs of students first," Peters said “As my team and I made tough budget decisions, we chose to prioritize investments that directly impacted students and to make reductions that would not adversely impact their academic experience.”


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