In two weeks, the state will take the unprecedented step of stripping power over the Providence Schools from the city council, school board, and the mayor's office. The state takeover follows is an attempt to address a host of issues that have plagued the failing district for decades, which have plagued it for decades, ranging from poor test scores to low morale.

The Public’s Radio political analyst Scott MacKay sat down with reporters John Bender, and the Boston Globe’s Dan McGowan. They take a look back at the week following the release of new details for the state’s plans, and ahead at how those plans will turn into action.



Highlights from the conversation:

What will happen now?

A new superintendent is expected to be announced and will be installed likely in November. Input from students and parents, and other community members has been written into the final takeover order, it is unclear what the commissioner or her new superintendent will do with the input they receive from the community.

A turnaround plan for the schools is expected sometime in January. Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green says the plan will be created with the new superintendent, and will not move forward without hearing from students and teachers.

How is the state going to be measuring the success of this takeover, set to last at least five years?

State proficiency exams will be one place the state is likely to start. But remember, says McGowan, some scores at Providence schools are so low – in the single digits -- that even improvements of five to ten percentage points will still mean the vast majority of students are performing below grade level. When talking about measuring improvements, one highlights how long this turnaround process is likely to last.

Infante-Green has said she hopes to see a decrease in the number of teacher vacancies in Providence in the early days of the takeover process.

How have Massachusetts and Rhode Island differed in turning their systems around?

In the early 1990s, both Massachusetts and Rhode Island were at an education crossroads. Massachusetts decided to change their education system, investing billions of dollars and holding onto the MCAS test year after year.

Even as a 1993 report highlighted numerous issues in the Providence Schools... “after a blush of PR, Rhode Island let the schools slip back,” said MacKay.

Rhode Island has since gone through a series of state standardized tests, and was the last state in the country to adopt a statewide funding formula in 2010, and continues to ramp up funding.

The role of teachers in the turnaround:

Dealing with a persistent shortage of teachers in Providence and across the state, will require a number of possible solutions. Things Infante-Green can do right away: ramp up recruitment efforts, and work on state certification and hiring regulations.

For Providence, the issue will likely come down to difficult conversations with the teachers union including reopening the contract, and changing the hiring process. McGowan says also be on the lookout for a possible retirement incentive program, to encourage teachers who may no longer be effective, or want to be part of the system, to leave.

For their part, some teachers say they are very concerned about the takeover. The Providence Teachers Union head said that uncertainty helped push the number of open positions in schools to more than 100 over the summer.

Advice from Dan McGowan for the soon-to-be-named Providence schools superintendent:  

Learn the schools and the city. “People think you can just come in and take things over and automatically create change. This is complicated. There are politics at play. There are actual personalities at play.”