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I am a relatively new member of the Providence School Board and a proud product of the district. But my early years as a student in the school system were not easy. I briefly attended a public middle school until my mother, who worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the district, enrolled me in a public charter school. She believed that charter schools provided different structures and had staff that better resembled the diversity of their students.
Today, I am thankful that my mother was able to advocate for my education with the few tools that were given to her at the time. That is exactly what I want for all Providence parents during this process -- to be able to advocate for their children. Which is why the state’s intervention in our district needs to be thinking of families and youth first with every decision they make.
It was clear long before the now infamous Johns Hopkins University report that the system was broken. A key highlight of the report was that “parents feel shut out of their child’s education.” It seemed that was poised to change when, during community forums this summer, parents were reassured that they would be needed at the decision-making table.
But recent statements from Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green suggest that she will choose the next superintendent on her own. Hoping to prevent that, a group of 18 organizations sent a letter asking the state to establish “clear authority for youth, families and community members in selecting and evaluating any state- or district-appointed leadership for Providence public schools.” As you read this, their calls for authentic and definitive inclusion in this important process have been mostly dismissed.
Parents and young people have been dedicated to voicing their ideas and concerns by attending forums and joining community advisory boards. And while these venues are essential to inform the process, the reality is, that’s not where the decisions are made. Domingo Morel, a scholar of state takeovers and member of the Johns Hopkins review committee, warned about the inconsistent success of takeovers and the devastating effect they can have on community engagement, since they often remove vehicles for self-advocacy.
To that end, I encourage Commissioner Infante-Green to establish a search committee that includes youth, families and community members to help select the next permanent superintendent. That committee could interview final candidates selected by the commissioner and provide feedback as she makes her final decision.
It’s a plan that provides expedience and much-needed transparency. If the community does not have input, then how can members trust that their voices will be heard once a ‘turnaround plan’ is crafted? Commissioner Infante-Green, we need you to succeed. But pushing aside the community that genuinely wants to partner with you will not be the way to do so.
Travis Escobar attended public schools in Providence, graduated from Rhode Island College and now serves on the Providence School Board. He is the president of Millennial Rhode Island.