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Metro, News

Brown’s Public Education Committee meets in the midst of state takeover

The committee will work to distribute funds to the Providence Public School District and oversee K-12 initiatives

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2021

The PEC includes members of the greater Providence community, University faculty and students and Mayor Jorge Elorza.

The University’s Public Education Committee discussed the allocation of a $10 million Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence at its inaugural meeting in January.

The allocation comes at a crucial time for the Providence Public School District, which is currently in the midst of a state takeover following a scathing 2019 report by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy on the district’s underperformance. On July 23, 2019, Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green took over the district, instituted a turnaround plan and appointed Harrison Peters as superintendent. The fund is one element in a “wide-ranging partnership” to improve teaching and access to education and to support the turnaround.

The fund was established in 2007 to recognize Providence’s historic ties to slavery following a recommendation from the University’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. 

As of last summer, the fund had reached only $1.9 million of its $10 million goal until the University authorized the use of $8.1 million in unrestricted funds to fully finance the endowment, The Herald previously reported. The University will begin payouts in increments of an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 each year. 

The PEC, which controls the allocation of the fund, was established this past summer and plans to meet twice a year, according to Marguerite Joutz, chief of staff and assistant to President Christina Paxson P’19. The committee is charged with recommending fund allocations in ways that will “best serve” the Providence community, Joutz said, although no specific objectives have been named so far. 

The committee is comprised of various groups in and around Providence, including University faculty and students, members of the greater Providence community, current or emeritus members of the Brown Corporation, five ex-officio members of the Brown community and two ex-officio, non-voting members: Peters and Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Every three years, the committee will conduct a review to ensure proceeds from the fund are aligned with the University’s other programs that work to support Providence schools, Joutz said. To assist in the review, the committee will conduct a survey assessing the University’s engagement in K-12 initiatives.

Committee member and Interim Director of the Swearer Center for Public Service Betsy Shimberg said that the University must “be responsive to the needs of the community rather than dictating where money should be spent.” 

“The people most qualified to discuss community needs are people in the community,” said Dr. Soljane Martinez, education coordinator at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and member of the committee. Martinez added that she hopes Elorza and Peters’s involvement will help give voice to the community on the committee.

Shimberg added that she hopes that by supporting capital improvements, the fund will allow Peters to focus on running the district.

The Johns Hopkins report was “not a shock” to many members of the Greater Providence community, Martinez said. The district “has been through a lot in the last year and a half and historically,” with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting PPSD especially hard.

Shimberg hopes the fund will drive system-wide change, rather than small “pockets of change.”

Shimberg also noted the committee’s commitment to racial justice and equity. In a community such as Providence, which has a large Black and Latinx population, the University “cannot effectively engage with the community without considering racial justice” and other inequities, she said. “The data is clear: Providence students can be just as successful as anywhere else, given the correct tools and resources.”

The committee is also reconsidering hiring practices, given that the diversity of the current teacher workforce in PPSD — which Martinez said is not reflective  of the student body — may negatively impact classrooms. 

 Drawing on her own experience working in PPSD, Shimberg said she saw “bright kids and smart teachers” in the district, and underscored the potential she believes lies in these schools.

Although Shimberg said she hopes for change, she noted that “it is much easier to talk about it than to do it.”The University has also expanded financial aid in their Masters of Arts in Teaching program and will provide loan forgiveness to 10 graduate students in the program who make a three-year commitment to serve in urban schools in Providence and the Rhode Island urban core. Additionally, the Swearer Center and Annenberg Institute will continue to run after-school enrichment programs, summer programs and more.

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