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PODCAST | RHODE ISLAND REPORT

How R.I. Education Commissioner Infante-Green wants to transform schools after the pandemic

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Infante-Green described a system where high school could look more like college, with students setting schedules that might allow them to take on jobs or babysit their siblings

Angélica Infante-Green, the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, visited with students and staff at the Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College Charter High School in downtown Providence.
Angélica Infante-Green, the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, visited with students and staff at the Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College Charter High School in downtown Providence.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE – If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green anything, it’s that school districts across the country need to radically change the way education is delivered to students.

On the newest episode of the Rhode Island Report podcast, Infante-Green said that could include a system where secondary education – particularly at the high school level – could look more like college, with students setting schedules for classes that might allow them to take on jobs or babysit their siblings.

“We keep trying to force it into this nice neat box that we’re used to – the adults,” Infante-Green said. “But that’s not the reality of our kids.”

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Infante-Green said schools were able to quickly shift to virtual learning during the pandemic, and she said she’s hopeful that districts will continue to be innovative when students return to full in-person learning in September. But she said that she hopes there’s a day when school buildings will open at 7 a.m. and stay open until 10 p.m. to accommodate all students.

Infante-Green said that she would like to remain Rhode Island’s education commissioner beyond next year, when her contract expires. She said she made a commitment to improve schools, so “I’m committed to staying as long as the work is here to be done and the governor wants me to stay.”

When asked about the state takeover of Providence schools, Infante-Green said she believes the district has made progress on filling teacher vacancies and installing a new curriculum, but she acknowledged there is still more work to do.

Two years ago, when a team from Johns Hopkins University released a scathing report on the district, she said that she wouldn’t send her two children to any school in the Providence school district. When asked if that view as changed, she said, “we’re not there yet.”

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“You can’t wave a magic wand and change our education system, but I am proud of the things that we were able to accomplish during a pandemic,” she said.

Infante-Green and the Providence Teachers Union have had a contentious relationship as the two sides tried to negotiate a new contract over the last year, and Infante-Green said she now believes it was a mistake for her to be at the negotiating table. Governor Dan McKee now has a top aide overseeing negotiations.

As for statewide priorities, Infante-Green said that districts are now mapping out plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funding. She said that she’s hopeful districts will spend the money on improving curriculum, professional development, and other innovative programming.

Unlike the Race to the Top program, a previous infusion of federal funding that came under former president Barack Obama, Infante-Green said she doesn’t believe rules and regulations should be imposed on districts when they spend the money. She said that makes the funding less controversial and spurs innovation.

“Right now, there’s this desire to do better, to make up time, to move forward, to innovate,” Infante-Green said.

Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player below:


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