The state takeover of the Providence Schools began Friday with few details for the ambitious plan to turnaround the faltering district. Months after announcing plans to intervene, the unprecedented state takeover started gently. 

State education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said there will be few noticeable changes in the classrooms during the early stages of the takeover. Though Infante-Green did not outline major changes, she is expected to renegotiate the city teachers’ contract as part of the turnaround.

“I am a teacher at heart,” said Infante-Green. “I believe in what the teachers are doing. Teachers have a very difficult job. We need to remove all the barriers from teachers from administrators, and those who don’t want to be part of this journey have choices to make.”

Despite her initial intentions, Infante-Green was not able to install a new superintendent to lead the takeover. The hiring process is incomplete. It’s unclear if that will set any timeline for changes back. Interim superintendent Fran Gallo will remain head of the schools, and report directly to the commissioner. After a new superintendent is hired, Gallo is expected to remain in a consulting role.

Infante-Green also elaborated on the role the community will play, including the use of “Community Design Teams” who will help develop a turnaround plan.

Infante-Green said the turnaround will be driven in part by data, and said she expects principals in the district to know exactly how their schools are doing.

“Every time I ask, I hear, ‘well our numbers are pretty bad,’ but what are they? I don’t get a clear answer,” Infante-Green said. “So my expectation is, from now on, everyone should know their numbers and have a plan on how to change them.”

Infante-Green began her day meeting with school principals, and was also scheduled to talk with students and the Providence Teachers Union head Maribeth Calabro. 

The Public’s Radio political analyst Scott MacKay joined reporter John bender and Boston Globe reporter Dan McGowan for a discussion as the state takes this unprecedented step.

Interview highlights:

The big question is how will the schools change, now that the takeover has begun? Infante-Green’s answer: not by much, at least in the short term. During a press conference announcing the start of the takeover Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green offered few concrete plans for the takeover as it moves forward.

She reiterated the need for community and parent involvement, the possibility of major overhauls, and her support for interim superintendent Fran Gallo.

Gallo was installed before the takeover was announced and will stay on in a consulting role after a new superintendent is hired, Infante-Green said. The Commissioner had hoped a new superintendent would be in the job by the time the takeover began.

What will happen now?

Expect to see some changes in the administration’s central office. Infante-Green and others have regularly criticized the “layers of bureaucracy” that slow down reform efforts in the school district.

With the start of the takeover, several layers have been stripped out of the decision-making process for the schools, including the city council, mayor’s office, and school board. The board will continue to meet and take on an advisory role. Infante-Green says she’s still figuring out what duties the board will continue to carry out.

At the school level, Infante-Green says she plans to make changes to the curriculum city-wide so all students are working on similar things across schools. She’s also pushing schools to be more public-facing and welcoming to parents and community members.

Is the lack of a turnaround superintendent a setback?

The state has had months to find someone to lead the district, but after talks with at least three out-of-state candidates has been unable to land a new head. Infante-Green has said that both the timing of the takeover, after the start of the school year, and the pay-rate make the search difficult.

Fran Gallo’s annual salary is about $200,000 dollars says McGowan. Nearby New England cities, including Hartford pay more. While the rate may seem high to some says McGowan, someone wading into a district the size of Providence to shepherd a major turnaround could expect more.

Infante-Green had said she would be crafting a turnaround plan with her new superintendent, which is still expected early next year. It’s unclear if the release of that plan will be pushed back.

What can we learn from Lawrence?

Infante-Green and Governor Gina Raimondo have both referenced Lawrence Massachusetts as a possible model for the state intervention efforts. The city north of Boston is now entering its eighth year under state control.

In much the same way as Providence, a state-appointed leader was put in control of almost every aspect of the school district. In the first years of the takeover, half of all school administrators were replaced, a new teacher’s contract was negotiated, and teaching hours were expanded -- including longer school days.

The district has significantly closed gaps in math and reading between Lawrence and other low-income communities, but the district continues to perform well below the rest of the state.

Some academics consider the Lawrence takeover an example of the state using a “lighter” hand. Infante-Green says her approach is more of a “medium” hand. She says she plans to host a field trip to Lawrence with teachers and administrators.

What to watch for:

The current contract expires in June. Expect to see very “serious negotiations” beginning in the coming months, says McGowan. But don’t expect to see major changes, like school closures and consolidations or changes to school hours, to happen until next academic year, says McGowan.