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6/30/2022 Assembly passes bill for oversight, accountability for Providence schools takeover
 STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly has approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Samuel Zurier and Rep. Rebecca Kislak to provide measures of oversight and accountability for the state’s takeover of the Providence Public School District (PPSD), and the sponsors say they intend to continue working on reform of the takeover.

The legislation (2022-S 2838A, 2022-H 8094A), which was approved by lawmakers June 23 and now goes to the governor, requires the state education commissioner to update the Rhode Island Department of Education’s (RIDE) turnaround plan for PPSD by Sept. 1 to include measurable annual performance goals, authorizes the Providence School Board with duties to review, advise and provide public input on district performance and turnaround implementation, and limits the state takeover to no more than five years, ending in October 2024, subject to renewal under specific criteria for no more than three additional years.

The legislation underwent amendments in both chambers. As initially introduced, the bill created standards for any state takeover of a school district, but it was narrowed to apply only to the current PPSD takeover, and to provide advisory authority to the School Board.

“While I prefer the bill initially passed by the Senate, the compromise bill we passed will improve the school district’s decision-making process and help produce better outcomes for the students in Providence. I also hope the school district and school board can use the bill’s structure as a starting point to strengthen communication and collaboration. With that said, I expect the General Assembly will continue to provide legislative oversight next session and consider additional legislation to fill in the accountability gaps that still remain in the state’s takeover of the Providence Public Schools,” said Senator Zurier (D-Dist. 3, Providence).

Said Representative Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence), whose children attend Providence public schools, “Ultimately, we all want to know that our kids are getting the schools they need, and we all want to ensure that the turnaround plan is successful. This legislation is a step in the right direction. The School Board is a public board that is already meeting, and that PPSD is already reporting to; this legislation clarifies reporting, and maintains the public school board meetings as the place the community can come to get updates and provide public comment. It is my hope that this works together with the other infrastructure being strengthened and developed to support our schools, kids and community – including the District-Wide Advisory Committee, Parent Advisory Council, school based Community Advisory Boards, PTOs and more. We will keep working with all community members and stakeholders to support the success of the turnaround plan.”  

The bill was developed after the Senate Oversight Committee held hearings this year on the takeover and found that the state laws governing state intervention in struggling school districts lack details about what should be included in state turnaround plans or how to measure progress, and that no public body is providing sufficient oversight of the current turnaround effort in Providence.

Senator Zurier and Representative Kislak introduced the bill in the wake of preventable errors the state committed that have impeded the education of the children of Providence, such as the hiring and firing of a school administrator with a previous record of inappropriately disciplining students by “popping” their toes. Former Supt. Harrison Peters, who admitted to having known about the administrator’s past, resigned over hiring Olayinka Alege after Alege was charged with assault for allegedly fondling a teenager’s foot in a Cranston gym. In a separate incident this spring, another administrator wrote to teachers urging them to select children for a summer learning program based on their likelihood to improve schools’ test scores, rather than on the students’ own academic needs.

To prevent such problems in the future, the bill requires the Providence School Board to meet at least monthly during the takeover and gives it responsibility for reviewing and providing advice on senior administrative hires, broad policies and progress on the annual performance measures, as well as collecting public feedback.

It also requires the education commissioner and the superintendent to provide twice-a-year written reports to the school board on progress on implementation of the turnaround plan.

Additionally, the bill requires the commissioner to evaluate the performance of the superintendent annually and determine whether the district is meeting the turnaround plan’s goals. If not, the turnaround plan may be amended, or if the superintendent has substantially failed to meet multiple goals, the superintendent may be terminated.

Further, the legislation directs the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education to develop regulations for determining the end of the state takeover and transferring the school district back to local control.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923