Why should you care about a little old high school in a little old place like Rhode Island? Well, because Mt. Pleasant High School, in its own little way, is an important part of a big debate, a debate that may determine nothing less than the future of public education.
Why? Because Mt. Pleasant, like many other public schools in Rhode Island and across the United States, it has suffered from the federal government’s declining investments in public education. While this most obviously affects the ability of school districts to bring the best education possible to those most in need of it, it also affects the quality of the school buildings.
Yet sadly enough, Mt. Pleasant High School may be one of the Providence School District’s better buildings. I can certainly tell you that other Providence public schools like Classical High School, which I graduated from in 2020, were in worse condition than Mt. Pleasant High School is today.
But what Classical High School does have—and what Mt. Pleasant doesn’t—is higher test scores. Which brings me to the topic at hand.
After the fallout from the blistering 2019 Johns Hopkins’ report on Providence schools, Rhode Island’s then-Governor Gina Raimondo (now the Biden Administration’s Secretary of Commerce) oversaw a state takeover of the Providence School District, appointing a woman named Angelica Infante-Green to Rhode Island State Education Commissioner. She was to direct the Rhode Island Department of Education’s takeover plan.
Commissioner Infante-Green, unfortunately, had a spotty record at best in serving the interests of public education. She was a prominent member of an organization called Chiefs for Change, which Republicans like Jeb Bush founded to promote
“school choice.” To politically-aware Rhode Islanders, this might not have been such a surprise. Then-Governor Raimondo’s husband was also a big player in the world of charter schools. For example, he was a member of the Stand for Children Board of Directors.
But I digress. Commissioner Infante-Green, as you could imagine, was very unpopular among teachers, students, and many local community advocates. During her tenure, the Providence School District has had a consistent record of scandals and incompetence. But perhaps most alarming was the District’s record on school closures since the state takeover. In December of 2022, an announcement leaked out via Twitter that both Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School and Carl G. Lauro Elementary School would be shut down. This announcement drew the ire of parents and community neighborhood activists, as well as the Rhode Island General Assembly.
Similarly, another local public school, Fortes Elementary, has been closed and converted into a charter school. And while the District’s future plans for Gilbert Stuart Middle School are uncertain for now, we do know that it too will be closing soon.
The District’s record on public school closures and/or the conversion of public schools to charter schools made rumors about the possible closure of Mt. Pleasant High School in February of this year all the more concerning. Because of that, State Senator Sam Bell and State Representative David Morales of Providence, Rhode Island decided to hold a meeting addressing the rumors. In response, the District denied that they were considering any such plans.
With the support of State Sen. Bell and State Rep. Morales, my brother and I then filed a public records request for documents relating to Mt. Pleasant High School school facilities policy since the time of the state takeover. Our goal was to ensure that the PSD was being completely transparent with the public about its deliberations.
Long story short, the PSD delayed responding to my request and only after that significant delay answered it by enclosing widely available public records and
nothing else. Subsequently, I filed a complaint with the RI Attorney General’s office, and they are currently investigating the PSD’s conduct.
In either late July or early August, the PSD and Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan (who represents the Mt. Pleasant High School area) started to spread word about a supposed community-led democratic process to determine the future of Mt. Pleasant High School. In that process, we the people would choose between three options: renovating the school, demolishing the school wholesale, and demolishing just part of the school. The PSD then told us that, to receive the fullest amount of state funding, we would have to make a choice by September 15.
That process was questionable from the very beginning. First, we only had about 1-2 months to decide on the future of a school with more than a thousand students? That alone should give reason for pause, especially given the PSD’s failure to clarify exactly what its definition of a “renovation” was. Second, the meetings originally open to questions gave way to guided tours through Mt. Pleasant and little small group sessions that provided no whole group accountability. Those same guided tours, incidentally, had a noticeable police and security presence.
There have been no community meetings since the August 8 school tour. And, just about a week ago, the PSD eliminated one of the choices that we were supposed to put up to a vote. They have officially declared renovation off the table.
Flash forward to today. We’re past the September 15 deadline, and no news on the future of Mt. Pleasant High. No community meetings, no press releases. No nothing.
In short, I have reason to believe that the PSD might be trying to avoid both accountability and any sort of democratic process by making a decision on Mt. Pleasant before there’s time for a public outcry. I am hoping you might help my community prevent that from happening.