State Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green enters month three of the takeover of the Providence schools with a highly anticipated new superintendent of schools. She’s also put together a team of community members who are hammering out guidelines for the turnaround plan. She says a lot of work has already taken place behind the scenes in the city, including the selection of new curricula and a slate of new hires.

The commissioner sat down with reporter John Bender to discuss the turnaround effort, new proposals to support students learning English, and her larger concerns about schools across the state.

On the new Superintendent of the Providence schools, Harrison Peters:

Peters is coming to Rhode Island after working in a Florida district of more than 200,000 students. Providence, the largest district in the state, has about 25,000 students. 

“Hopefully Peters will find Providence more manageable,” said Infante-Green. “He can really get around to five or six schools in one day. Something he probably couldn’t do in his prior role.”

“I think there’s a lot of strength in the fact that this is a much smaller place and strength in the fact that he comes from a much larger place. And he brings that experience.”

On the bureaucracy that some including researchers with Johns Hopkins University felt was holding the Providence Schools back:

“There are [no longer] three or four channels to go through. We have meetings with the PPSD team, together with our team and we make decisions in a coordinated manner. This is not let’s plan it out for four months from now. We’re moving, and moving very quickly.”

On the biggest roadblock in the Providence turnaround effort: 

“There is a lot of fear and anxiety among teachers, parents and community members. There’s been a lot of people that have been failed. There’s a lot of mistrust. There have been a lot of situations where people were promised things and not delivered. Everybody wants the change. So changing how we work with teachers is going to be essential as we move forward. The roadblock has been changing mindsets.”

On a Senate proposal to expand state funding for students learning English in Rhode Island. 

“There has to be a strategic plan about how the monies are going to be used. Just giving and allocating money without a strategic plan, I think is what makes it difficult.

So I think even if we're going to put [more money] into either have a categorical or put it into the funding formula that needs to be a plan and services that will be provided that is very clear and transparent.”

Infante-Green on her biggest statewide concern:

“There are low expectations here. Across the state. No one is where they should be at this point. No one. 

When the high school proficiency scores came out, I asked my staff  ‘what do we do with this?’ We just give it to the superintendents. Well, that can't be it. 

[Superintendents] have to create a plan to get better. I don't supervise the superintendents. But I want to help them get better. And at the end of the day, they are judged by that. The community is supporting the school district so we have to produce results. It is the health of Rhode Island that's at stake.”

On the role of school regionalization in Rhode Island:

“What I've learned about Rhode Island is that it is very parochial. And everybody loves their community, right. It's very proud of the community and there's nothing wrong with that. But I also hear from the superintendent's. ‘My budget drives what I do in my district,’ instead of the other way around; not the priorities of the district driving the budget. 

So when you have limited funds, you have to work together. I don't have any power over regionalization. But what I do encourage is everybody sitting at the table and working together, if you have five communities, then have one professional development, pool your money together. Share resources, we have not been doing that."