‘There’s just so much work to do’ in Providence schools, says member of Community Design Teams

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Dozens of community stakeholders spent months brainstorming, researching, and looking at data to help come up with the 63-page Turnaround Action Plan (TAP) for the Providence Public School District.

“The plan is very extensive because there’s just so much work to do,” said Paige Clausius-Parks, Senior Policy Analyst at Rhode Island Kids Count and co-chair of one of the three Community Design Teams put together by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE).

Clausius-Parks was nominated to be on one of the teams, made up of 45 stakeholders in the community.

“I was honored to be nominated and selected, and also that came with an extreme sense of duty and responsibility. So I felt the welcomed weight of we’ve gotta get this right, and I’m a member of this team now that is responsible for bringing all my background information as well as the voices of the folks who are not there at the table.”

The teams made recommendations to RIDE, and a majority of them made it into the plan that was released Tuesday. It’s a blueprint of the goals the state has for the troubled district over the next five years and comes almost a year after the devastating Johns Hopkins report that highlighted systemic failures in the school system.

In Clausius-Parks’ day job, she works directly with low-income families and heard firsthand the problems students and parents in Providence are facing.

“They are often feeling unwelcomed in school. There have been incidents of racism and bias that impact students’ belonging at school. Students don’t see themselves in the curriculum, or in the educators that work with them,” said Clausius-Parks.

She co-chaired the Excellence in Learning team, which focused on school climate and culture. Some things the team recommended to RIDE included adopting a mentorship program for substitute teachers and fellows, providing training on how to get students motivated, and committing to policies aimed at tackling racism in schools.

“Students are asking to change our school system, to involve them more in the process. Parents want to be involved in their kid’s education, but the ability to do that has been very limited. We just see overall poor climate, poor culture in schools, where kids just don’t want to be there.”

Clausius-Parks admits the five-year goals are big, like reducing absenteeism, increasing proficiency in math for middle schoolers, and boosting the graduation rate, all by large margins. But, she said, it’s what’s desperately needed, and it’s what students deserve.

“They’re big goals, and we have to do this. Our system is failing our kids. We can’t let this continue to happen.”

The next steps of the plan are implementation and accountability, she said. The plan’s progress will be publicly reviewed twice a year, and internally reviewed and graded annually by RIDE and district staff.

© WLNE-TV 2020

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