Below is a copy of that letter:
September 4, 2019
Angélica Infante-Green, Commissioner
Rhode Island Department of Education
255 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02903
RE: Notice of Non-Opposition
Dear Commissioner Infante-Green,
I’d like to start off by commending you for the attention you’ve brought our City’s public-school system this summer. As the Commissioner of Education for the entire state, you’ve made our schools a priority and my City Council colleagues and I appreciate that.
This entire process started a few months ago with the devastating John Hopkins report that among other things, detailed the horrific conditions our students and teachers sometimes have to endure in our schools. While it is true that the academic underperformance and the aging condition of our facilities shouldn’t have come to a surprise to anyone, the reported bullying, abuse, lack of supports, and hopelessness shared by staff and students did cause a shock. The school culture across our city is broken and because of this our students and teachers suffer.
This summer I sat in all but one RIDE Community Forum and listened to parent after parent share stories about students getting bullied, students not receiving proper special education services, or that they sat in empty classrooms with no permanent teachers. A lot of these parents shared these experiences with tears streaming down their faces; relieved that this forum finally allowed them a venue to be listened to. I also heard teacher after teacher share their frustrations about an everchanging curriculum, being forced into roles with little professional development, enduring building conditions that are making them sick, and not being supported with the most challenging students in their classrooms.
The raw emotion and pain in all of their voices is indicative of a school system desperately crying out for help. This isn’t a school system that can afford to begrudgingly accept intervention, is one that needs to embrace it fully if it’s going to succeed.
Commissioner, I’m reminded of a quote you kept referring to in all of these meetings: that everyone wants change until change comes. What’s happening in our school system amounts to an emergency or a crisis and we don’t have the luxury of stalling the first responders who are knocking on our door.
I share most of the same concerns as some of my colleagues who have gone on record asking for community input, transparency, and accountability. I also have questions of my own: like who’s on the hook if the district goes over budget? Who’s responsible for raising revenue? Who’s liable in legal matters? Who makes the call for a snow day?
Yet, I’m reminded that this transition won’t be easy and that your office won’t be able to do it all alone. This letter isn’t a letter of objection, but a letter offering the extension of support. How can we as the Council leverage our institutional knowledge and community networks to help this intervention succeed? Do you need help identifying relevant stakeholders? Can we help you develop a metric system that measures success beyond just test scores?
The City Council is determined not to sit on the sidelines throughout this process. This is far too important and these unanswered questions are ones we can help find answers to.
I look forward to our continued dialogue and I am hopeful that by working collaboratively we’ll create a better school system deserving of our students and their families.
Sabina Matos, President
Providence City Council
Councilwoman – Ward 15