University News

Providence’s Public Schools
Engagement efforts ensure high-quality education for Providence students.

By Christina Paxson / September–October 2020
August 27th, 2020

Brown has a longstanding commitment to the public schools in the City of Providence. Last year, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy released a devastating external review of the Providence Public School District (PPSD), and several months later, the district was subject to a state takeover. Since then, Brown has been deeply engaged in discussions with city and state educational leaders to identify specific ways for the University to support efforts to improve the quality of public education. Unfortunately, the spread of COVID-19 has introduced additional challenges to educational institutions at all levels, but it has also reinforced the importance of partnership during these difficult times. 

Although Brown has had extensive connections to Providence public schools for decades, our engagement efforts have been diffuse and decentralized, often lacking strategic alignment with the school district’s priorities and overall accountability. Drawing on the expertise and resources of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Department of Education, Swearer Center for Public Service, and other departments and centers across the University, we are working with district leaders to develop a set of initiatives that align with the plans for ensuring a high-quality education for every student in Providence. 

These efforts will require resources. As you may know, the University established the Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence in 2007 as one of a series of major commitments to improve the quality of public education in the City of Providence. This focus on public education stemmed from the report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, which recommended (among other things) that the University address the legacy of slavery by improving educational opportunities for marginalized students in Providence and Rhode Island. 

The original goal was to establish a permanent endowment at the $10 million level. Brown received several generous gifts, but the amount raised by the end of June 2020—approximately $1.9 million—fell well short of this goal. The fact that the fund had not met the $10 million mark was the subject of periodic criticism from members of the Brown community, residents of Providence and Rhode Island, and the media. A discussion with my leadership team overseeing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts made clear that fulfilling this goal and using the funds to further our efforts to improve the quality of public education in our city was critical to our mission of education and research. 

We are working with district leaders to develop a set of initiatives for ensuring a high-quality education for every student.

To that effect, I am pleased to report that this past summer the Brown Corporation enthusiastically authorized the designation of more than $8 million from unrestricted University endowed funds to support Providence schoolchildren, thereby fulfilling the University’s commitment to dedicate $10 million in endowed funds for this purpose.  

To date, an ad hoc committee of the Brown Corporation has overseen how the proceeds of the fund have been used. Over the years, the fund has supported a range of educational priorities established in consultation with Providence mayors and school superintendents such as innovative school supplies requested by teachers, college scholarships, and most recently, internet access for more than 900 Providence student households and the purchase of hotspots to enable remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I am thrilled that Brown will be able to do even more now that the fund has reached its goal. To ensure alignment with the priorities of the district, we are establishing a broad oversight committee that includes Brown faculty and staff, members of the Brown Corporation, and members of the greater Providence community. The PPSD Superintendent will also serve as an ex officio member. 

Every student in Providence deserves access to a high-quality education. Over the coming years, I look forward to working with members of the Brown and Providence communities, the Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the new Superintendent of Providence Public Schools to support efforts to strengthen teaching and learning in our public schools.  

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Related Issue
September–October 2020