Metro, News

University develops new programs to support PPSD

Paxson talks partnership with designated schools, MAT program changes

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Amid efforts to define its contributions to public education in Providence, the University is working to channel its resources toward developing a new partnership program with designated Providence public schools, said President Christina Paxson P’19.

“Brown has done a lot in education but it hasn’t been as well-directed and as coordinated as it could have been,” Paxson said in an Oct. 2 interview with The Herald, when she expanded on her vision for the University’s involvement with Providence Public School District.

The University is also working to redesign its Masters of Arts in Teaching program to include a year-long residency in a local school for teachers-in-training. More broadly, Brown plans to coordinate with other Rhode Island colleges and universities to establish new programs for students in the state — such as a pathway for transfers between Community College of Rhode Island and Brown.

The University has not selected the schools for the new partnership program. Paxson and other University administrators are still in “active discussion” with both the R.I. Department of Education and the Providence Public School District to determine what kind of intervention can best fit the district’s needs. Once Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green “nails down” her plan for the state’s takeover of PPSD, which will be released in the next couple of weeks, the University will move forward with its plans to aid the district, Paxson said.

Members of the Urban Innovation Partnership, an association of higher education and healthcare executives of which the University is a member, will each conduct an assessment of their own involvement in the school district and then will coordinate their resulting responses to support PPSD.

Partnership with PPSD schools

To develop a partnership with designated public schools in the city, the University has established an administrative task force made up of members from the Annenberg Institute, the University’s Department of Education and the Department of Government and Community Relations. The University may partner with one to two schools, but it has not definitively determined the number. The University may decide to focus on one middle school and one or two high schools, said Marguerite Joutz ’15, chief of staff to Paxson, who is leading the task force. “It would be premature to be any more specific than that,” she wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald.

After the task force releases a report laying out the partnership’s framework, Paxson plans to put together a separate steering committee with students, faculty and staff to implement the program.

The funding for this program could come from rechanneling existing financial resources into partner schools, as well as new grants and gifts, Paxson said. In 2007, the University promised to raise $10 million for a PPSD endowment, but twelve years later, it has only raised $1.9 million, The Boston Globe reported. The University has separately invested over $800,000 annually in the district through funds from several centers and departments, The Herald previously reported.

Paxson said she intends for the program to draw from “our expertise, our volunteer power, our financial resources.” She described a program that would include coordinated efforts by students, faculty, the Department of Facilities Management, the Center for Information Services and the University’s library services. Faculty would volunteer to offer professional development trainings to teachers, Paxson added.

Master of Arts in Teaching explores partnerships

The University is redesigning its Masters of Arts in Teaching program to require teachers-in-training to participate in a year-long residency in a local school. The precise number of schools Brown would partner with for this program is unclear, and the schools “may or may not overlap” with those selected for the partnership overseen by the working group.

The University’s Department of Education will decide which schools the MAT program will partner with, said Director of the Annenberg Institute Susanna Loeb. The department began reaching out to schools this summer and site visits are currently underway, Joutz said.

Loeb added that the department is likely to partner with two charter schools, Blackstone Academy and Paul Cuffee School, and is also “in conversations” with Hope High School. Professor Sarah Leibel, director of Teacher Education, will spearhead the efforts. Leibel did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“We’re talking to many of these schools and seeing who would really like us as partners and who we could support best,” Loeb said.

The future of the MAT program has been contested on campus. In 2018, the elementary track of the program was suspended — a decision that was met with frustration by the program’s students and alumni. Without the elementary track, primary schools that benefited from in-class teacher residencies no longer have that support. Loeb said that the decision came after talking to representatives in the district, who highlighted the need for more specialized secondary education teachers.

“We really wanted to put the effort in where the district needed teachers the most,” she said, adding that the updated MAT program will restructure its curriculum to train teachers to meet the district’s specific needs. When the University unveiled a redesign of its Department of Education in April, the update involved expanding students’ one-semester student-teaching requirement to a year-long residency. It also added specialization components to the MAT program, such as training to teach English Language Learners. At the time, Chair of the Department of Education Tracy Steffes told The Herald that the department would “want to have three or four urban schools that we work really closely with.”

Coordinating with other colleges and universities

The University is not alone in reevaluating its efforts to assist PPSD following the scathing John Hopkins report released in June about the conditions of schools in the city. Universities across Providence have committed to conducting similar reviews before the end of this year as part of a joint effort led by the Urban Innovation Partnership, which Paxson co-chairs.

The Partnership, which was established last year by Mayor Jorge Elorza, coordinates on a range of issues important to Providence residents. These issues cover areas from sustainability to technology to transportation, according to President of Rhode Island College Frank Sanchez, co-chair of the Partnership alongside Paxson and a member of the Johns Hopkins review team. Before the Johns Hopkins review, education in the Providence School District was not an area of focus for the Partnership, Sanchez said.

In a recent meeting that Sanchez co-chaired with Paxson, the Partnership’s member institutions decided to prioritize Providence public schools, jointly agreeing to support the Commissioner’s efforts and examine how they are each involved in PPSD.

“By the time we meet (again) in December, we want to develop an inventory of all the work that higher education is doing in our Providence schools,” Sanchez said. “Prior to this, there’s no common agenda. … Everyone just does what they think should be done in K-12.”

Paxson told The Herald about two University initiatives that could increase college access for PPSD students. She emphasized maintaining Brown’s pre-college summer programs, which currently offer opportunities and scholarships specifically for local high school students. She also stated that Brown is “starting discussions” with the Community College of Rhode Island to establish a program that formally identifies talented CCRI students, who could then be accepted into Brown as transfer students. While Brown has been accepting CCRI transfers for years, there is currently no formal system to identify promising candidates. CCRI’s Vice President for Student Affairs Sara Enright, who will be coordinating these efforts, could not be reached for comment by press time.

Paxson hopes that the summer program and CCRI partnership will help the University “actively cultivate” efforts to bring more PPSD students to campus.

 

Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that “The University has separately invested over $800,000 in the district through a fund.” In fact, that sum is invested through several centers and departments, not one central fund. The article also stated that the University had established an administrative working group to “develop a partnership with designated public schools in the city.” In fact, it is an administrative task force that will develop a plan for Brown’s engagement with PPSD. The article has been updated to reflect those changes. The Herald regrets the error.

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