On Saturday, March 19, I worked with a handful of other PPSD parents, with Karina Wood from Better Providence (who is also a PPSD parent) and with the staff of the office of the district's office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) to create the Parent and Community Forum on the Providence Schools. Big effort, and playing catch-up in all of the other areas of life has necessitated a couple of days of blog silence even though there's so much to talk about. This meeting was a separate and independent effort, spurred by recent events but not related to the Community Meetings on the future of Providence Public Schools that the district is hosting this week.
Quick event recap: the organizers--and my informal sense of reaction from most participants--is that it went really well. Mayor Taveras and Superintendent Brady opened the Forum with short remarks that included their own wishes for the Providence Public Schools - a thoughtful way to get participants ready for what was to come. They then took several questions, not directly from the audience but from the audience, who wrote their questions for the Mayor and Superintendent on index cards. Ina Anderson posted the most frequently occurring questions. We'll be sharing all of the questions, and I'll get a report from someone who was paying attention to the Mayor and Superintendent's answers to share their responses--I could not, as I was engaged in other event-related getting-started urgencies.
Following the Superintendent and Mayor's remarks and Q & A, we moved the audience members into small groups of 10 or so, each group gathered around a table, and each group paired with a facilitator. The facilitator led the groups--which were mixed across roles, neighborhood, race, and other factors--through a conversation with several phases: quick introductions, longer discussions in pairs in which each participants shared her/his reason for coming to the forum, a full-group discussion in which each person shared their partner's reason, a short individual writing session in which participants wrote about their top three wishes/hopes/dreams/expectations for the Providence Public Schools, a time to share those wishes, which the facilitators captured on chart paper, and finally, a group conversation that identified the group's top three wishes. We then brought the small groups together and they shared their collective results, which I will share here as soon as they're typed up.
I wish we'd asked for feedback at the end - unfortunate oversight. Though I can't report directly on people's experience, what we saw was encouraging. Anecdotal feedback told us that people were gratified both to have heard from Mayor Taveras and Superintendent Brady. They valued having the opportunity to express themselves not just to people who they knew, but to people who they never would have otherwise met. They talked about the immediate issues that their schools are facing as a result of the current financial mess, and they talked about the bigger picture of what we want our schools to be in the long run. We saw teachers, parents, elected officials, appointed officials, students, and others being able to share their experiences with each other with honesty and respect--and we noticed a lot of intent listening. Informal conversations lasted long after the small groups dispersed, and again, there were folks talking with each other who never would have met, and they were able to feel a sense of mutual support and new understanding of each other's challenges. I think the event went a distance toward humanizing groups that might have found it easy to be disparaging or dismissive in the abstract. When faced with a real person talking about their worries and hopes, we realize both that our experience is not universal, and that we need to gather our assets citywide to create lasting change in our schools that will make the difference for all kids in all neighborhoods.
Next steps include sharing the results of the meeting, particularly the pressing questions and the hopes and dreams for our schools. We will definitely do a follow-up gathering of some sort soon, and we'll see where our collective energy takes up. This could be the foundation of a city-wide public school advocacy group powered by those who are closest to young people and their learning: educators, family members, and students themselves. Providence needs it, and the time is right to make it happen.
If you want to read yet more, the ProJo and the Brown Daily Herald came out and reported on the event; I think there were other media outlets there as well but haven't seen anything else in print or online.
I could go on, but for those of you still reading, I'll let you off the hook, at least for now. Just one more thing to do, which is to say thank you to the many people who helped make this possible. Thank you to Mayor Taveras, Angela Romans, Melissa Withers, Superintendent Brady, Janet Pichardo and the FACE staff, Christina O'Reilly, Peter Lee and the staff of the John Hope Settlement House, Jorge Cardenas of Sodexho for providing food, Aramark for providing chairs, Karina Wood and Better Providence for tireless event support, Youth in Action and Kidoinfo for helping to spread the word, members of the Parent Advisory Council who came out on Saturday morning to assist with registration and set-up, and the members of the Parent Advisory Council leadership group who planned the event: Robin Adams, Dawn Clifton, Carmel McGill, Lee Keizler, and Michelle McKenzie.
If you'd like to find out more about the Providence Public Schools Parent Advisory Council, email us at ProvidencePAC@gmail.com.