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  • Amy Mendillo for East Side Monthly

Amidst School Crisis, Local School Grows

A few months after Providence Public Schools received a scathing review from Johns Hopkins University and amidst a tense hiring search for a suitable “turnaround” superintendent (a process that has since been completed), school principal Matthew Russo visited the FPNA January meeting to introduce himself to neighbors. Russo, an educator in Providence for 17 years, took the helm at Vartan Gregorian Elementary, located on Wickenden at East and Governor streets, this past summer, replacing former principal Susan Stambler.

As neighbors peppered Russo with questions about the State takeover, inquiries about social/emotional learning, and ideas for community collaboration, it was clear that while the city’s schools may be struggling—and while Vartan Gregorian indeed faces challenges—Russo has already pushed the elementary school forward. Not only has the school begun to make structural improvements (including roof replacement which has since been completed), it has made partnerships with outside organizations to improve teacher training on issues of bias and matters of social/emotional engagement. Russo has also started a monthly newsletter and instituted regular school tours in order to improve school communications and visibility. And all things considered, Russo is optimistic about state-level intervention. “I am happy with the takeover,” he commented, “because there has been a momentum for change.”

FPNA is pleased to welcome Russo to the neighborhood and to continue a decades-long school-community partnership. We appreciate the school’s generosity in lending us its community room for our monthly meetings (located in the former bathhouse, now the school library), and look forward to supporting the school through advocacy efforts and local events. “This school has potential to be a top school in the City and State,” Russo later commented. We at FPNA are poised to do all we can to help.

Image, Amy Mendillo

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