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PROVIDENCE - As more than 20,000 Providence children returned to class last week, students at Mount Pleasant High School embarked on the new school year with a veteran educator at the helm on special assignment.

Nkoli Onye, the city’s executive director of high schools, is taking over as principal this year as part of a plan to transform Mount Pleasant from one of Rhode Island’s persistently lowest-achieving schools to a “world-class institution.’’

Among her first tasks is instilling a sense of importance in students. “There are amazing opportunities for learning here and they can succeed from this school and become someone that they can be proud of,’’ said Onye, a native of Nigeria.


Acting Superintendent Susan F. Lusi announced Onye’s new role a few weeks ago, and shortly after, the school was alive with its first-ever weeklong freshman orientation, boot camp for juniors preparing to take state exams in October, and meetings for parents, teachers, and seniors.

The more than 1,000 students have a lot of ground to cover.

Last March, the state Department of Education added the school to its list of low achievers. Just 2 percent of 11th-graders scored in the proficient range last year in math on the state exam and 1 percent in science, state figures show. A third tested proficient for reading - compared with two-thirds statewide - and 19 percent were deemed proficient in writing. The results are well below statewide scores.

The school’s performance has some parents considering pulling their children out.

“We’re not sure about the quality of the education,’’ said Paul McKoy, whose daughter, Sharon Brown, is a sophomore. He said he was not planning on keeping her enrolled there.

The school has suffered from unstable leadership, Onye said, and is adapting to new curriculum requirements and the district’s relatively new college-or-career-ready graduation policy.


But Onye is known for turning around schools. When she was principal of the Providence Academy of International Studies and Hope High School’s Information Technology Academy, the schools met annual progress goals for the first time, school officials said.

Onye said she believes the district’s new curriculum requirements will help improve test scores.