Brown awards $474,000 to support academic excellence, equity initiatives in Providence schools

With its first payout since reaching $10 million in endowed funds, the Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence will support critical initiatives outlined in the Turnaround Action Plan for Providence Public Schools.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A total of $474,000 in grants from Brown University’s Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence will provide critical support in 2021 for Providence Public School District programs aimed at strengthening teaching and learning in the district’s Pre-K-12 classrooms.

A Public Education Committee composed of Providence and Brown community members voted unanimously to allocate the Fund’s 2021 payout to support key actions outlined in the district’s Turnaround Action Plan, which outlines steps underway to deliver transformative change to the city’s public schools over the next five years. 

Among a series of initiatives, the funding will support the development of a culturally responsive educational framework, aimed at advancing equity and justice in the district; the establishment of an International Baccalaureate program at Hope High School; the development of effective data and analytics systems in schools; and an initiative focused on employee appreciation.

“I am incredibly grateful to the Public Education Committee for their commitment to supporting the priorities identified in our Turnaround Action Plan, which was developed for and by the PPSD community,” said Harrison Peters, turnaround superintendent for the district. “These projects will accelerate our ongoing work around equity and justice, the high school redesign process and our efforts to expand the district’s data and analytics capacity. I look forward to our continued collaboration and the opportunity for further engagement with the community as we transform Providence Public Schools together.”

After Brown’s groundbreaking 2006 report on the University’s historic ties to slavery, the Fund was established to support current and future generations of Providence students, and has provided awards since 2009 to support PPSD initiatives. This year’s record annual payout marks the first since the University in 2020 fully funded its commitment to establish $10 million in endowed funds and created the Public Education Committee to make recommendations on the allocation of regular payouts.

Among the members of the committee, which is chaired by Brown President Christina H. Paxson, are students, faculty, and staff members from Brown; representatives from the greater Providence community; Peters; and Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza.

Peters said the committee was intent on centering the school district’s needs in conversations about current and future Fund payouts. In January 2021, he presented to the committee an overview of the district’s community-developed Turnaround Action Plan, focusing on its four pillars: developing a coherent academic vision; recruiting and retaining world-class teaching talent; strengthening support for all students; and empowering principals, teachers, parents and the community to make decisions based on students’ needs.

Peters followed with a funding proposal that outlined how community partners could best support the district in ways that aligned with its action plan. The proposal was informed by 2020 recommendations from the city’s Urban Innovation Partnership, which was in turn informed by input from the district’s Community Design Teams — students, parents, educators and community organizers who helped develop the Turnaround Action Plan.

The committee unanimously endorsed the funding proposal. Paxson said she is pleased that the Fund is able to provide more support than ever at a pivotal time for PPSD. After an external review of PPSD schools in 2019 identified challenges with teaching, curriculum, morale, safety, governance and physical infrastructure, the state assumed control of PPSD and released its Turnaround Action Plan.

“Every student in Providence deserves access to a quality education that provides a foundation for lifetime success, no matter what path they might choose,” Paxson said. “The disbursements from the fund this year — as well as sustained disbursements in future years — will support this goal.”

While this year’s payout exceeds those of previous years, the Fund has provided financial support since 2009 to PPSD schools and students for technology, supplies, musical instruments and scholarships for college-bound students from underrepresented groups. Most recently, funds from the endowment have supported the in-progress transformation of Hope High School’s library and media center and provided internet access to 900 student households for a full year, providing support for remote instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown’s support for the district and its schools, Elorza said, has always been focused on needs directly expressed by the city and district, which are informed by input from parents, students and other community stakeholders.

“I have worked with President Paxson over the past four years to continue these critical investments, and I appreciate Brown's commitment to increase support for education,” Elorza said. “We can only achieve our big, ambitious goals when all stakeholders are part of the solution, and I thank President Paxson and Brown for their continued commitment to our kids.”

“ Every student in Providence deserves access to a quality education that provides a foundation for lifetime success, no matter what path they might choose. ”

Christina H. Paxson University President

Supporting transformative change for PPSD students and teachers

The $474,000 payout from the Fund for 2021 will support high-priority school district needs in four areas.

  • $260,000 will fund equity and justice work. A majority of those funds — $140,000 — will be devoted to developing, designing and facilitating a culturally responsive education framework that affirms and celebrates students’ linguistic and cultural identities, creates connections between students with different backgrounds and elevates historically marginalized voices. Another $70,000 will fund training on culturally responsive practices for teachers and will provide stipends for students and family members who participate in engagement related to the education framework. And an additional $50,000
    will help the district establish a leadership program for male students and staff of color. 
  • $124,000 will bolster PPSD data systems to help district and school administrators better understand the demographics and needs of students. The district will use $80,000 to engage a consultant who will help administrators transition to a new data dashboard, and the remaining $44,000 will provide stipends to school-based staff who will serve as “data leaders.”
  • $40,000 will cover one year of expenses related to establishing an International Baccalaureate program at Hope High School. The award will fund the school’s IB application fee and candidate fee, support costs associated with a required IB site visit, and support professional development for staff.
  • $50,000 will support an initiative focused on staff appreciation efforts, aimed at building and sustaining a positive workplace culture in the wake of an especially challenging year for teachers. 

Community members will help guide the implementation of each of these initiatives. A steering committee of school leaders, staff, teachers and students, for example, will oversee work to create a leadership program for male students and staff of color, and focus group meetings with community members will help inform the design of Hope High School’s new IB program.

Paige Clausius-Parks, a senior policy analyst with the nonprofit organization Rhode Island KIDS COUNT and a member of the Public Education Committee, said committee members are dedicated not only to helping to implement the innovative, community-informed initiatives outlined in the Turnaround Action Plan, but also to taking a community-engaged approach to the Fund’s payouts in the coming years.

“Authentic community engagement is a key principle of equity,” Clausius-Parks said. “The voices and perspectives of students and families must be centered in all PPSD transformation work, and the community must be co-creators of initiatives within the district. I expect future funding proposals to demonstrate this key equity principle.”

Jonathan Collins, an assistant professor of education at Brown and a Public Education Committee member, noted that the Fund is one of a significant number of Brown community initiatives and academic programs that support Providence public schools. He said that, as someone dedicated to a scholarly career in support of educational equity and racial justice, the opportunity to have a direct and immediate impact on students and schools provides an ideal complement to the longer-term impact of his research on urban school reform.

“This has been an important opportunity to collaborate with community leaders and organizers who have been doing the hard work, who have been giving power and a voice to the people the American education system has failed in the past,” Collins said. “It’s an opportunity to be a part of something that, if we do it right and really listen to our community stakeholders and leaders, could turn out to be a special moment in Brown’s history.”