Six months after the Johns Hopkins report documented the systematic underperformance of the Providence Public School District, University faculty, staff and an administrator reflected on their experiences as parents of PPSD students.
The Herald interviewed four faculty members, one administrator and one staff member who have or had children enrolled in the school system. Many interviewees described feeling strongly about sending their children to public schools. Some discussed the importance of school quality in deciding whether to live in Providence or elsewhere.
President Christina Paxson P’19 told The Herald that while there are faculty and staff members who send their kids to Providence public schools and have positive experiences in the system, new recruits are often living farther away from campus due to concerns about PPSD. “We often find that when we’re trying to recruit people, they say, ‘Oh, I hear I have to live in Barrington,’ or ‘I have to live in Greenwich or Cranston,’” Paxson said in an Oct. 2 interview with The Herald. “It would be great if people could have the confidence to say, ‘Oh yeah, you can get a good education right here in Providence.’”
Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty Anne Windham highlighted the University’s efforts to encourage faculty to live near campus, such as the Brown to Brown Home Ownership Program, which sells residential properties owned by the University to eligible members of faculty and staff, according to the program’s website.
The Johns Hopkins report, released last May, highlighted the systemic underperformance of the Providence Public School District. The report’s descriptions of hazardous building facilities, ineffective bureaucratic structures, broken school culture and low expectations for student performance set in motion an unprecedented takeover of the district by Rhode Island’s Department of Education, which began Nov. 1.
After the Johns Hopkins report landed and the state took over the school system, the University announced that it will coordinate with RIDE and PPSD to launch a partnership with select schools, among other efforts, The Herald previously reported. The University drew criticism over reports that it had raised less than 20 percent of its promised $10 million endowment for PPSD after 12 years. In a separate fund, the University has invested over $800,000 annually in the district through several centers and departments, The Herald previously reported.
PPSD Director of Communications Laura Hart declined to comment by press time about the scale of the presence of Brown faculty in PPSD as parents over time.
Dilania Inoa ’99, senior program manager for student development, discussed her experiences as both a student and a parent at PPSD.
Inoa enrolled at Classical High School after her parents emigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. “They came to this country for a better education,” she said. “In the Dominican Republic, we could not afford private education. Going (to public schools) there, we would not be educated in good schools.”
After her own experience in Providence public schools, Inoa enrolled her two children in public elementary schools. Her oldest now attends Catholic private school. “I wanted my children to be in neighborhood schools,” she said. “I wanted my children to go to school with their friends, with our neighbors, and walk to school if that was possible and to be in activity with our friends that lived near them.”
Other members of the University community described more mixed experiences in Providence public schools. Professor of English Philip Gould sent his son, who grew up with autism, to Providence public schools several years ago. He attributed his son’s positive experiences to individual teachers who worked hard despite a failing school system.
“We have had teachers over the years, from lower school on, that have been literally life savers to us,” Gould said. “We as a family feel blessed, but it shouldn’t be the luck of the draw.”
Gould discussed his disappointment with the process for assigning and reassigning his son’s aides, saying that it was “eye-opening” and illustrative of a system unable to meet its students’ needs. Frustrated that populations with special needs were “being sacrificed,” Gould decided to join the board of PPSD. Although he resigned from the board in 2011, Gould is considering rejoining in light of the takeover process.
“If you’ve got young kids and private school’s not an option, then sure, you’re concerned as a parent,” Gould said.
Some interviewed by The Herald urged their colleagues to consider sending their children to Providence public schools, regardless of the issues highlighted in the searing report.
Professor of History Tara Nummedal’s daughter is a student at a Providence public school. While the school has exemplified problems identified in the school report such as poor facilities, Nummedal believes in the value of a public education. She acknowledged the significant failures of the school system — her daughter’s school had an electrical fire the day before the 2018-19 school year — but said her experience in PPSD made her more of a part of the city and state community.
“The number of times I’ve heard the phrase, ‘No one sends their kids to public schools.’ … People have said this to me,” she said, adding that “I felt like a Rhode Islander for the first time when (my daughter) started going to public schools, and that’s after living in Providence for almost 10 years.” Robert Lee, associate professor of American Studies, echoed Nummendal. “The common wisdom that Providence schools are problematic is pervasive,” he said, adding that “so many of my younger colleagues say you need to move to Barrington.”
Assistant Professor of History Daniel Rodriguez, who has a daughter in PPSD, also voiced that “a lot of new faculty with kids often … feel like they need to send their kids to private schools.”
For Rodriguez, Brown faculty have a responsibility to send their children to PPSD and the University itself should use its resources to improve the city’s schools. He added that when more well-off families choose public schooling, it “brings a lot of resources to these schools.”
“Brown has a responsibility to make these schools better, and faculty have a responsibility to send their kids to these schools,” he said.
— With additional reporting by Livia Gimenes
Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article stated that Diliania Inoa's oldest child now attends Classical. In fact, her oldest child now attends Catholic private school. The Herald regrets the error.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Laura Hart declined to comment by press time on the experiences of PPSD parents associated with the University. It is more accurate to say that she declined to comment on the scale of the presence of Brown faculty in PPSD as parents over time. The Herald regrets the error.