Dear Members of the Brown Community,

Nearly a year ago, I announced my intention to increase Brown’s support for Providence public schools. Although Brown has a longstanding commitment to K-12 education, expressed through a wide range of initiatives, the need to do even more became apparent last summer after the release of an external review of the Providence Public School District (PPSD). The report identified serious challenges that affect student learning outcomes. Since then, the State of Rhode Island has assumed control of PPSD and is working with district educators and community members to drive the change needed to give all students the education they deserve.

Over the past year, Brown has been deeply engaged in discussions with city and state educational leaders to identify specific, focused ways for the University to support their efforts to improve the quality of public education. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created some challenges, we have made progress. I am writing to provide an update on our work.

First, I want to share news about Brown’s financial support for Providence schools. As many of you know, in 2007 the University established The Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence. The genesis of the Fund was the 2006 report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, which recommended that one of a number of actions the University could undertake to recognize its historic ties to slavery was to enhance the quality of education in Providence public schools. The original goal was to raise a permanent endowment of $10 million. Although Brown received several generous gifts, the amount raised by the end of June 2020 was only approximately $1.9 million.

While fundraising had not progressed at the rate we hoped, the University has remained committed to the principles underlying the establishment of the Fund. In recent years, Brown has spent more than $800,000 per year on direct financial support for local schools and students. These funds have provided high-impact experiences for Providence youth, supported initiatives to improve educational outcomes, and enhanced students’ access to Brown summer programs. In addition, faculty, staff and students have devoted thousands of hours to support Providence teachers and students.

Even so, Brown recognizes and appreciates the importance of completing our commitment to the Fund, which will serve PPSD students now and for future generations. I am pleased to report that the Brown Corporation has enthusiastically authorized the designation of $8.1 million from unrestricted University-endowed funds to support Providence schoolchildren — which, when added to the funds already raised, fulfills the University’s commitment to dedicate $10 million in endowed funds for this purpose. Each year, approximately $400,000 to $500,000 from this fund will go to directly supporting the needs of students in Providence public schools.

To date, an ad hoc committee of the Brown Corporation has overseen how the Fund has been used. In consultation with Providence mayors and school superintendents, this committee has approved the purchase of innovative school supplies requested by teachers, scholarships for more than 120 college-bound PPSD graduates, and most recently, internet access for over 900 Providence student households and the purchase of hotspots to enable remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To ensure continued alignment with district priorities, we are establishing a new oversight committee for the Fund that will include campus and community stakeholders: Brown faculty, staff, students and alumni; members of the Corporation of Brown University; and members of the greater Providence community. The PPSD superintendent and Providence mayor will serve as ex officio non-voting members.

While this committee will make recommendations on the use of the Fund going forward, I am thrilled to announce an immediate funding commitment. Following conversations with the Rhode Island Education Commissioner, the Superintendent of Providence Public Schools, and Hope High School leaders and students, the Fund will support significant improvements to the Hope High School Library and Media Center, providing a 21st century learning environment for students. Approximately $150,000 from the Fund will be devoted to this project. This project will begin this summer, starting with a design process that will involve Hope High School educators and students, as well as Brown University Library staff.

Brown’s Broader Commitment to K-12 Education in Rhode Island

Although the Fund will provide much-needed financial resources in Providence, Brown is also coordinating closely with local school leaders to support K-12 education in the state through education, research and volunteer efforts.

Teaching

Educators play a key role in confronting educational inequality in cities across the United States. Over the past three years, Brown’s Department of Education, in partnership with local educators, redesigned the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program to equip future teachers with the tools they’ll need to fulfill the most pressing needs of urban secondary schools in Rhode Island and beyond. Starting this academic year, MAT students will participate in yearlong residencies to develop culturally responsive teaching practices that address educational inequities and the needs of multilingual learners. The MAT program is aligned with the latest teacher education guidance from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and prepares graduates to achieve certification in Rhode Island.

Brown’s education department formed initial partnerships with four schools — Hope High School (PPSD), Central Falls High School/Calcutt Middle School (Central Falls), Blackstone Academy Charter School (Pawtucket), and Paul Cuffee Upper and Middle School (Providence) — and it plans to partner with additional Providence public secondary schools in the coming years. Brown also significantly expanded its merit- and need-based financial aid to MAT students in support of the department’s commitment to the diversification of the teaching profession.

Furthermore, through the Urban Education Fellowship program, Brown provides loan forgiveness to as many as 10 graduate students per year in the MAT and Urban Education Policy programs who make a three-year commitment to serve in urban schools in Providence and the Rhode Island urban core. Brown has placed dozens of teachers and policymakers in the local community and in the past two years, awarded the maximum number of fellowships each year. 

For over 50 years, as part of the MAT program, the department has run Brown Summer High School, a summer enrichment program for high school students primarily from Providence and Central Falls. Due to COVID-19, the department transitioned to a remote program this summer, but doubled the size of the student cohort and engaged local MAT alumni to provide additional remote instruction. We look forward to returning to in-person instruction in the years ahead.

Research

Reducing socioeconomic and racial disparities in educational access and outcomes is vitally important to the future of our society. Faculty, staff and students at our Annenberg Institute for School Reform, the Policy Lab and Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute, among other areas across Brown, are developing research-based solutions designed to equalize and improve educational outcomes, particularly in our city and state.

The Annenberg Institute, for instance, is working closely with RIDE, PPSD and other Rhode Island school districts to create long-term partnerships that improve the quality of education while producing nationally impactful research. An initial area of focus is on strengthening and diversifying the pipeline of Rhode Island teachers and leaders. Earlier this year, RIDE, the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, DataSpark at the University of Rhode Island and the Annenberg Institute were awarded a $3.24 million federal Statewide Longitudinal Data System grant to improve equity in education across the state.

More recently, the Annenberg Institute, in partnership with the nonprofit Results for America, launched the EdResearch for Recovery Project, an initiative that is providing research-based advice for educators amid COVID-19. Arising from conversations with Providence education leaders, this project equips educators with research briefs that address challenges created by the pandemic, such as coping with learning loss, providing socio-emotional support and enhancing outcomes for students with disabilities.

Educational Outreach and Activities

Brown embraces a community approach to enhancing and improving public school education, and supports numerous programs and volunteer activities that assist local schools and their students. Many of those connections are organized through the Swearer Center. For two decades, nearly 100 Brown students have participated each week of the school year in Brown After School Mentoring, providing after-school enrichment at William D’Abate Elementary School. Separately, the Bonner Community Fellows program enables students to combine community engagement with academic goals, and many of these fellows embark on partnerships with local public schools. There are also after-school and academic enrichment programs such as the Brown Pre-College scholarship program for Providence high school students; the Civil Rights Movement Initiative at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice; and other volunteer activities hosted by departments and student organizations.

These programs and initiatives speak to the great commitment of the Brown community to K-12 education. However, these efforts have not always been coordinated with each other or guided by the priorities of the school districts or individual schools they serve, and our decentralized approach has made it difficult for school leaders to connect with the right resources at the University.

This year, to create greater alignment and coordination across Brown’s many K-12 education activities, Brown re-established the position of education coordinator, located in the Annenberg Institute. The person in this position has the responsibility of coordinating Brown’s activities in public schools and serving as the primary point of connection between Brown and local school districts. We were fortunate to recruit someone with extensive experience in K-12 education in Rhode Island into this role. Since her arrival at Brown, Soljane Martinez has led the creation of a publicly accessible database of education-related activities and formed an Educational Partnerships Council. A priority for the future is to build on existing partnerships with schools such as Vartan Gregorian Elementary School, William D’Abate Elementary School and Hope High School.

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 to support efforts to strengthen K-12 public education in the City of Providence. I deeply appreciate the efforts of the many Brown working groups, committees, faculty, staff, students and community stakeholders who have contributed to planning around the initiatives discussed in this letter. I also want to acknowledge and thank members of the Brown community who have devoted years, in some cases decades, in support of the students and teachers in Providence public schools. And I want to especially thank Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green, PPSD Superintendent Harrison Peters and Mayor Jorge Elorza for their partnership. 

Sincerely,

Christina H. Paxson