Rhode Island Education Commission Angélica Infante-Green told a legislative panel Monday night that a strong foundation has been built for the anticipated five-year turn-around of the Providence schools.

But Infante-Green also came in for sharp criticism from some Providence teachers and the unions that represent them.

The commissioner began her virtual appearance during a meeting of the state Senate’s Committee on Rules, Government Ethics and Oversight by outlining the situation she inherited in 2019: a dysfunctional school system in Providence marked by abysmal test scores for basic skills. She said the district had been marked by a lack of change for more than 30 years.

Despite the pandemic, Infante-Green said, her team has put in place improvements in areas ranging from professional development to purchasing, as well as metrics to gauge progress on student performance and in other key needs.

“As we continue to move forward, you will see that we are measuring everything – everything as well as our actions,” she said. “….You will see that we are holding ourselves accountable.”

Infante-Green said the Providence schools still have a long way to go. But she said the stage has been set for continued improvements, with more tangible steps forward already than in many previous years.

Infante-Green said one key need that remains to be addressed is an overhaul of the contract for the Providence Teachers Union – a topic that remains the subject of closed-door discussions.

Barbara Cottam, chairwoman of the state Board of Education, echoed Infante-Green’s upbeat assessment, while acknowledging a recent assault charge against a Providence administrator that led to the replacement of the person who hired him, former Superintendent Harrison Peters.

“Certainly, the last few weeks have been challenging for everyone,” Cottam said, “but it’s important that as a state we have the will to stay the course to create a better education for our children and the families of Providence. They so deserve it.”

Committee Chairman Louis DiPalma (D-Middletown) questioned whether too much power has shifted from the Education Board to the Commissioner’s office with the Providence takeover.

For Sen. James Seveney (D-Portsmouth), the question was how the takeover is affecting the morale Providence teachers.

“It’s been a hard year for everyone,” Infante-Green responded. “Statewide, it’s been really difficult.” She said teachers have a gamut of feelings, with some feeling very supported by her administration.

Seveney said, “To me, the whole thing lives or dies on whether or not the teachers are happy and feel supported, you know, feel like they are getting it done,” he said.

Infante-Green said she supports changing “a little bit of what the seniority process looks like” in the PTU contract, in part since lower salaries for younger teachers makes it difficult to retain them.

Later in the hearing, Maribeth Calabro, president of the Providence Teachers Union, faulted Infante-Green for what she called unprecedentedly bad morale among teachers.

“Fifteen-hundred teachers voted no confidence in the commissioner and the superintendent of schools last March, and that number has grown by leaps and bounds over the past month, given the emails that I have received,” Calabro said.

Calabro said Infante-Green has not collaborated with teachers.

“Our teachers need to stop being vilified. They need to stop being targeted and feeling like they’re less than.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. Follow him on Twitter @IanDon. Sign up here for his weekly RI politics and media newsletter.