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R.I. education chief seeks control of Providence schools

Angélica Infante-Green, the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, is expected to make a formal request to be granted the authority to reconstitute the Providence school system at a meeting Tuesday evening.
Angélica Infante-Green, the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, is expected to make a formal request to be granted the authority to reconstitute the Providence school system at a meeting Tuesday evening.(Lane Turner/Globe Staff)

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green is seeking approval to take control of Providence’s struggling school district, according to two City Council members who have been briefed on the plan.

Infante-Green is expected to make a formal request to be granted the authority to reconstitute the school system at a meeting of the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education Tuesday evening. The public vetting process that will follow would likely take several months.

“It’s my understanding that the state will take control over many functions of the school department,” City Council President Sabina Matos said Thursday. Councilman Michael Correia also confirmed he has been made aware of the state’s intention to reconstitute Providence schools, but he declined to comment further.

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Infante-Green hasn’t said how much control she wants over the system, such as a wholesale change of the mayoral-appointed school board. The commissioner has spent the week meeting with various state and city leaders, including Mayor Jorge Elorza and several members of the Providence School Board.

School Board President Nicholas Hemond declined to comment Thursday.

Hemond announced earlier this week the school board planned to nominate former Central Falls superintendent Dr. Fran Gallo as the district’s interim superintendent, but Infante-Green is expected to name her own head of schools in the coming months.

Both Elorza and Governor Gina Raimondo have said they’d like to model the state’s intervention after Lawrence, Mass., which appointed a receiver to take control over day-to-day operations of the district in 2011.

The commissioner’s request will come less than a month after researchers from Johns Hopkins University released a scathing report detailing widespread dysfunction throughout the school system, a culture of low expectations for the district’s 24,000 students, and deplorable building conditions. Members of the review team said Providence was one of the worst school districts they had ever encountered.

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Hundreds of parents, teachers, and students attended public forums held by Infante-Green and Elorza in the weeks that followed, with many urging the state to take over the district. Even Elorza acknowledged he would support the state taking more control of the district, although he has maintained he still wants to have a seat at the table.

It is still unclear how much authority Infante-Green is seeking, although Elorza has repeatedly said the state has powers he doesn’t have in the city. He often points to an inflexible teachers union contract that he claims makes it nearly impossible to terminate low-performing teachers as a problem that he doesn’t have the authority to address.

The state has never sought to reconstitute an entire school system, although it did take over Providence’s Hope High School in 2005. The school was split into three academies and showed modest improvements, but it is now back under city control and remains one of the district’s lowest-performing high schools.

The powers of reconstitution are not specifically spelled out in state law, but regulations submitted to the Rhode Island Board of Regents in 2010 said the responsibilities “may range from restructuring the school’s governance, budget, program, personnel, and/or may include decisions regarding the continued operation of the school.”

“The order of reconstitution shall set forth clear, measurable performance targets for the affected school,” the regulations state. “Timelines for implementation of specific required tasks, along with the roles and responsibilities of various key stakeholders, together with the oversight responsibilities of the department, shall be clear and unambiguous.”

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The Board of Regents was restructured as the state Board of Education in 2012, and the board is split into the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Elorza has called a 9 a.m. press conference Friday at Hope High School to discuss the state’s next steps, but City Council leadership is not expected to attend the event. Infante-Green is expected to release a statement on her plan Friday, after the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education posts its meeting agenda.


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