Providence Teachers Union Releases Initial Recommendations To Rebuild Providence Public Schools During State Takeover

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                      
July 30, 2019


Maribeth Calabro

Report Focuses on Principles and Recommendations to Serve Students and Improve Teaching and Learning Conditions

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—The Providence Teachers Union released a report today that sets out guiding principles for a state plan to improve Providence Public Schools and recommends areas in which the union can immediately take a leadership role, to ensure a safe, healthy and welcoming learning and teaching environment.

The report comes on the heels of the decision, supported by the union, to turn control of the schools over to the state, following a Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy report highlighting behavior, curricular and infrastructure issues districtwide.

“Like Commissioner Infante-Green, we educators have been saddened and outraged by the inaction and lack of resources of the past decades,” PTU President Maribeth Calabro said, noting the union was often told “stay in your lane” when offering innovative ideas. “We teach and work in these conditions every day, and we see the cost to our students.”

Calabro said the union is “heartened” that the state is changing course. She said the union is “chomping at the bit” to work with others on an improvement plan, which should incorporate four overarching principles:

  • Teachers and school staff should be recognized as part of the solution, not seen as a problem to be overcome.
  • Changes and improvement should be done with teachers, not to teachers. “To put it bluntly, we want to be at the table and not on the menu when decisions are made and ideas are brainstormed,” Calabro said.
  • Change should include a broad range of partners, including families, students and community members.
  • The state of Rhode Island has the ultimate responsibility for the success of the plan.

“What we want for Providence is what our union has always been about: We want to ensure that all our children receive the high-quality education they deserve in our public schools, and that our teachers have the freedom, support and resources to teach at their best. That work must begin today,” the plan said.

The PTU recommends the following priorities, with desired outcomes and action steps, to bring about changes in behaviors, ideas and relationships.

  • Behavioral norms. The PTU proposes to collaborate with the state, district, administration, teachers, parents and students to develop a set of behavioral norms for all who enter school buildings and to identify appropriate responses for behavior outside those norms. The norms would be in line with other public venues and would create a safe learning, teaching and working environment.
    • The PTU proposes beginning the work with the above-mentioned partners prior to the opening of the 2019-20 school year.
  • Greater communication. To increase communication with community partners, families and students, the PTU is committed to meeting with stakeholders at least monthly to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones.
  • Addressing cultural competency/bias/racism. The PTU proposes to convene a working group dedicated to addressing systemic and institutional racism. The goal is to choose culturally accurate, relevant and meaningful curriculum and bring community partners into schools as leaders, teachers and resources to be part of the fabric of the school community rather than, for example, add-ons to Black History month, guest speakers, or helpers after a crisis.
  • Partnerships for diversity. The PTU, the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, and the district are committed to growing partnerships with colleges and universities, expanding on established relationships, and designing and developing systems to recruit and retain educators of color.
  • Chronic teacher absenteeism. Recognizing the vital importance of having a certified teacher in school every day as well as the need for teachers to take legitimate sick leave, the PTU acknowledges teacher absences have been a problem. In those cases, the union is committed to working with the district to enforce language in the current collective bargaining agreement.  
  • Union-sponsored professional development. The PTU, with the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet, will offer workshops for teachers and administrators on trauma, de-escalation in the classroom, self-care for teachers and administrators, grief and separation, and mindfulness. Additional workshops, with the American Federation of Teachers and the RIFTHP, will involve, for example, instructional strategies.


In addition to these priorities, the PTU urges the school district and the state to:

  • Adopt K-12 social justice standards to be incorporated into current instruction and civics education at all high schools.
  • Provide more counselors and social-emotional support systems for all grades. “Our children are in need of social-emotional support at a level and extent never seen before, requiring a concerted and collective effort,” Calabro said.
  • Pilot a community school—similar to Agnes E. Little Elementary School in Pawtucket, R.I.—to provide a wide range of supports and resources to meet student needs, and to engage families and community partners. “We have a model, we have the will, we have many options, and believe we can and should make this happen,” Calabro said.




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