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Metro, News

RIDE announces new PPSD superintendent

Harrison Peters to join Commissioner’s team as head of Providence schools district

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 5, 2020

After a months-long search for a turnaround Superintendent of the Providence Public School District, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green announced Jan. 27 that Harrison Peters would be filling the role.

Peters’ hiring is a critical step in the Rhode Island Department of Education’s administrative takeover of PPSD, which began Nov. 1 in response to a critical report released by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy in June chronicling the district’s systematic underperformance.

PPSD staff report directly to the superintendent, who is in charge of overseeing the district’s daily operations. In Rhode Island school districts, superintendents are selected by the school board. But because of RIDE’s administrative takeover of PPSD, Peters was appointed by Infante-Green, and will report to her.

In addition to overseeing the district, Peters will coordinate with the commissioner’s team on efforts relating to the turnaround process. This will include the implementation of a new curriculum, which the commissioner is currently developing alongside teachers, wrote Dorothy Smith, PPSD’s interim superintendent, in an email to The Herald.

In July 2019, Infante-Green announced that she planned to hire a PPSD superintendent by November. In October, she announced that her team had selected a new superintendent from out of state, but RIDE confirmed in December that the candidate was no longer running for the position, according to the Providence Journal.

Appointed interim superintendent in late July, Frances Gallo served in the role until the end of the calendar year. As a retired public official, she could only hold the position for 90 business days during the school year. Smith then took her place and will remain in the position until Peters starts full-time Feb. 20.

Peters was previously the deputy superintendent and chief of schools for Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida. He has also worked as a school district administrator in Houston and Chicago.

In looking for a candidate, RIDE sought someone who had previous experience in turnaround work in a diverse urban district and would fit well with the commissioner’s team, according to Meg Geoghegan, RIDE’s communications director.

Geoghegan said Peters stood out because of his experience in large, diverse school districts — some of which had more students than are in the entire state of Rhode Island. “When we talk about layers of bureaucracy, complexity in large urban districts, he gets it, he’s seen it,” she said.

Peters’ appointment may also catalyze the University’s efforts in the district.

In October, President Christina Paxson P’19 said the University would channel resources toward developing a new partnership with designated Providence schools, The Herald previously reported. “Brown is in conversation with Education Commissioner Infante-Green and education leaders about a cohesive overall approach to supporting Providence schools in ways that align with efforts at the city and state levels,” wrote Marguerite Joutz ’15, chief of staff to Paxson, in an email to The Herald. Joutz is leading the task force in charge of setting up this partnership.

Soljane Martinez, education coordinator at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, said the University was waiting for the completion of Infante-Green’s team — which included hiring a superintendent — before launching any plans: “Until that team is completely in place, we can’t have specific conversations about what schools it will be.”

While the extent of the University’s institutional involvement in the turnaround efforts is still being determined, Martinez, who was hired by the University in August, has created an online inventory cataloguing the current efforts of Brown students and faculty who are involved in the district. Her day-to-day work is “not immediately affected” by Peters’ hiring, she said.

Beyond the University, Providence officials are preparing to welcome Peters to the district.

Interim Superintendent Smith wrote in an email to The Herald that Gallo has not yet met with Peters, but “she reserved the final 10 days she is able to work under retirement guidelines to be able to meet with him and help ensure his onboarding process goes smoothly.”

Emily Crowell, Mayor Jorge Elorza’s chief of communications and senior advisor, wrote in an email to The Herald that Elorza is “impressed by (Peters’) background and his spirit, and (Elorza) believes he’s a good fit for our city.”

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