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Review finds severe dysfunction at Providence public schools

Review finds severe dysfunction at Providence public schools

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The findings of an independent review of the Providence public school system are devastating and shed a light on what's clearly a broken system, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday.

The scathing 93-page report by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy released Tuesday night found severe dysfunction, including rampant bullying and fighting among students, crumbling facilities, and a tangled bureaucracy with no clear lines of authority. It concluded that everyone from the school district to the teachers union to the state Department of Education is failing children.

Many students don't take school seriously enough, parents feel marginalized and demoralized and poor teachers are almost impossible to fire, according to the report.

Raimondo said Johns Hopkins staff told her it was among the worst school districts— if not the worst— they've ever seen.

"The system is broken and the Providence public schools are in crisis," Raimondo said.

Raimondo held a news conference Wednesday at the state house with Democratic Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and new state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green.

Raimondo and Elorza ordered the review about two months ago. Raimondo said then that she wasn't ruling out any options for remedies after the review was completed, including a state takeover of the school system.

Raimondo said Wednesday the state will get more involved, but she didn't call for a takeover. She said there will be "big change," which will be informed by community meetings that start immediately.

Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro told WPRO-AM if a state takeover is what it takes to move forward, "then so be it."

"This makes me sick to think that this is the perception of my schools, my teachers and my kids," she said.

Elorza told Johns Hopkins that he would feel comfortable sending his child to any one of the city's elementary schools except one, and that's it's middle school "where things go off the rails." His grade for the school system is a "C," according to the report.

Elorza, asked about his comments Wednesday, said he would not specify which elementary school he was talking about.

Elorza said he made investments in education during his first term as mayor, but the current legal and regulatory environment helps preserve the status quo. He cited the teachers' contract, state regulations and school board policies.

He described the report as a "grim, concerning and accurate picture" of the challenges.

Among the findings, it said there was "very little visible student learning" in a majority of classrooms and schools, safety is a daily concern for students and teachers, teachers don't feel supported and principals and other school leaders repeatedly reported they are held accountable for results they don't have the resources or authority to influence.

In a system that is majority Latino, reviewers expected to find multiple initiatives and programs connecting parents to the schools. They did not. The lack of parent input was striking on its own but the widespread acceptance of this marginalization was of particular note, the report said.

The Providence public school district serves 24,000 students and their families among 41 schools, according to their website.

In three schools, the team was told by multiple students about arranged fights, often involving girls that took place typically on Fridays and were actively promoted on social media, according to the report.

Teachers cried at the Rhode Island Board of Education meeting as the report was released, according to WJAR-TV .

Infante-Green said she also "cried and cried" when she read it, but she's resolved to take on the challenge and move forward. Raimondo said it'll take years to fix it because you can't fix a broken system overnight.