I just flew back from Providence, Rhode Island last night after a whirlwind trip. It was my first time visiting, and I quickly found myself enthralled with the rich history and culture there. But then I caught wind of some… interesting goings-on at the local public school district. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all, but one thing clear to me is the shocking lack of in-depth coverage from local news outlets.
Lots of mixed feelings about Twitter these days, but one thing I do appreciate about the platform is the ability to amplify neglected stories quickly. As I began digging and sharing, the rabbit hole just kept getting deeper. I felt like I needed an evidence board to keep track of it all. (My favorite Charlie conspiracy meme from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” feels apropos). Here is my feeble attempt to make sense of the madness.
A Case of the Mondays
On Monday, three Providence mayors, past and present, issued a joint statement with recommendations for their Mayor-elect about how to make the Providence Public School district better. Outgoing Mayor Jorge Elorza joined former Mayors Angel Taveras and Joe Paolino for a news conference.
The Providence Journal reported:
Less than an hour before the conference began, the Providence School Board received a lengthy and anonymous email claiming to be “from eight district-level leaders” within the Providence Public School District. The email raised a host of complaints about Joan Jackson, senior adviser to Superintendent Javier Montañez, claiming that she “has created a work environment that eight district-level leaders consider intimidating, hostile and abusive.”
Superintendent Montañez sent a message to the staff in response asserting, “as long as I’m in charge, Joan Jackson isn’t going anywhere. She is too valuable to this district and our students.”
This fierce loyalty to Joan Jackson (especially in light of the complaints) seemed very odd. Which led me to an important question:
Who is Joan Jackson?
Joan Jackson made her first appearance as Providence Public School District’s Senior Advisor on November 3, 2021. You can watch her speak about 15 minutes into this video.
“By way of introduction, I just wanted to let you know that I come here with 37 years of experience in school turnaround. I began my career as a teacher, I was a principal, a Chief Academic Officer, a Chief Operating Officer, and a Superintendent- all in urban school districts.”
She goes on to say that she went through SEVEN interviews before being offered the position. Quite the vetting process! And with this storied 37-year-career, you’d think there would be lots of information about her experience and accolades.
Spoiler alert: There is little to no information that I could find about Joan Jackson prior to joining PPSD, beyond the Providence Schools website.
I mean, I appreciate humility, but—in a position like hers—it seems awfully strange not to own all of this expertise and enhance your credibility. If you’ve spent nearly four decades trying to make a name for yourself, where is the paper trail?
After more Twitter-sleuthing, I found this tweet that mentioned she was a former coworker of Kelvin Roldan. Fortunately, there is a paper trail for Mr. Roldan, and in 2015, he was working in Hartford, Connecticut.
So, on a whim, I googled “Kelvin Roldan” “Hartford” “Joan” and found this transition report from 2014.
Searching the document for the word “Joan” brought up this result:
Joan Massey, Chief Research and Assessment Officer. Now we’re getting somewhere.
A quick Googe image search revealed that Joan Massey and Joan Jackson appear to be one in the same.
Her Twitter profile (as Joan Massey) mentions Chavez Schools.
Another breadcrumb! Specified the search further. “Joan Massey” “Chavez Schools” brings up several results, including a legal case, where she is listed as a defendant. Juicy…
There is WAY too much in the complaint to address in one post, but, in a nutshell, it was a Civil Rights Employment Suit – Cause: Discrimination (Race) – and filed against Joan and others by two Black women.
On one occasion, multiple employees heard her say to a group of black subordinates: “[f]or the hours you are supposed to be here I “own” you. …your time belongs to me.”
This is not the only lawsuit against Joan Massey (sorry, Jackson). There’s a driving-related one in Hartford County as well.
All of a sudden, the name change made sense. (As did the futile attempt at changing her look by adding a pair of dark-rimmed glasses a la Clark Kent).
I know some folks might be like, “How can you tell this is the same person from photos?” Fair. Let’s compare this video footage of Joan Massey from 2016 and Joan Jackson in 2022. I’ve never met her. What do y’all think?
I know, it’s still so hard to confirm. But, the glasses.
Maybe, let me try something…
Your guess is as good as mine!! Please excuse the terrible rendition of eyeglasses. There’s a reason I’m a writer, not a visual artist.
Back to business. The lawsuit discovery was problematic on its own, but the more I learned about Joan Jackson/Massey’s career, the more confused I became as to why she was being hired to turnaround a public school district. You see, Joan’s career has been working for, advocating on behalf of, and creating charter schools.
In fact, a project she worked on with her buddy Kelvin Roldan was this 3-Year Strategic Operating Plan for Hartford Public Schools in 2017 in which they list “All Choice System of Schools” as one of the goals.
A quick browse through Newspapers.com brought up this 1998 article from the Hartford Courant. Joan Massey *cough* Jackson has been in the charter school game for awhiiiile.
Here’s another interesting Hartford Courant article from 2009 referencing Joan Massey (Jackson), regarding a credit diploma program.
Graduation inflation is a topic being discussed in PVD schools, too.
The School Choice Movement
Considering that Mayors Jorge Elorza, Angel Taveras, and Joe Paolino essentially threatened in their joint statement that if the district’s challenges aren’t fixed, they would recommend pursuing the “all public charter” route, Joan Massey/Jackson’s placement in PPSD seems even more suspect (or strategic, depending on how you feel about charter schools).
Jorge Elorza and Joan Massey are both proponents of “all school choice” districts. Further research into Elorza’s connections with charter schools led me to this article about a closed elementary school that “opened the door for a charter school to remain there permanently.”
That school is an Achievement First elementary charter school. Elorza is referenced as the person who “helped bring Achievement First to Providence and serves on its board.”
I wondered if Joan Massey (Jackson) had any connections to Achievement First. Which led me to this proposal she submitted in 2019 for a charter school in NY. Her company, Capital Preparatory Schools, had spoken with other charter schools and charter networks, such as Bronx Charter School for Excellence, and (you guessed it) Achievement First. What a small world, amirite?
ILO Group LLC Chiefs for Change
The Governor, Dan McKee, came up in one of the articles about Elorza. Went down another rabbit hole reading about his connection to charter schools/school choice. Enter: ILO Group LLC.
“The new company — ILO Group LLC — was incorporated on March 4, two days after Gov. Dan McKee took office. Its leaders are former executives at Chiefs for Change, a prominent education nonprofit whose CEO is longtime McKee ally and adviser Mike Magee, who served on the governor’s transition team last winter.
Catchy name, right? “Chiefs for Change!” Love me some alliteration.
Googled ’em. Found an agenda from a 2012 Conference Call. The last item? “State Managed Take Over Districts.” What a coincidence! Providence Public School District is currently a state-managed take-over district.
From 2015 in the Washington Post: “Chiefs for Change, an advocacy group created by former Florida governor Jeb Bush to promote many of his K-12 education policies around the country, is breaking away from its origins and expanding to try to attract big city school leaders.”
Turns out, Chiefs for Change has been strategizing around this turnaround school/charter expansion for awhile. This 2018 report shows “Lessons Learned About Governance-Based Strategies” from Chiefs of Change.
Circling back to 2022: “Many of ILO’s leaders worked for Chiefs for Change, an education nonprofit headed by Mike Magee, who served on McKee’s transition team and helped found the governor’s mayoral charter schools in Cumberland.”
(Fun sidenote: Dan McKee’s niece, Cassidy McKee, is Achievement First’s director of special projects).
The Providence Journal article mentions that “In September, WPRI reported that Gov. Dan McKee’s administration had awarded ILO a contract to help open schools despite a rival firm’s offering to do the work for millions of dollars less.”
Huh?? Tracked down the WPRI article . Though officials in the McKee administration claimed to be unaware of “any competitive advantage” that ILO Group had before winning the contract, emails obtained through a public records request suggest otherwise. Magee, who sent the email in question, happens to be one of McKee’s top political donors. WPRI also reported that “his brother, Marc Porter Magee, leads a group called 50CAN whose political action committee spent six-figure sums supporting McKee’s campaigns for lieutenant governor in 2014 and 2018.”
Magee mentions his work with Julia Rafal-Baer who, according to WPRI’s article, “continued to list Chiefs for Change as her employer, rather than ILO, when she made campaign donations during the spring. A spokesperson for ILO, Frank McMahon, confirmed Rafal-Baer kept her job at Chiefs for Change until June 28 — after ILO had won the state contract and just a few days before it took effect.” Interesting timing.
McKee’s response to Magee’s plan simply says:
How many millions?
Julia Rafal-Baer has been a long-time fan of another “Future” Chief For Change, Angélica Infante-Green, commissioner of elementary and secondary education in Rhode Island. The state takeover of Providence schools is currently in Infante-Green’s hands.
She was appointed by Gina Raimando, Venture Capitalist turned former governor and now the United States Secretary of Commerce of Rhode Island. Raimondo is the wife of Andy Moffitt who started the education reform branch of McKinsey & Co, “the globe-spanning consultant firm that has made a living privatizing all manner of things and helping cities find ways to dismantle their public systems.” Read Curmudgucation for a more-detailed rabbit hole about this power (hungry) couple.
But let’s return to Infante-Green, because the anonymous letter written by the eight district leaders also mentioned how she has excluded principals, teachers, and the school board from major decisions.
She commented, “I don’t understand why somebody would waste their time in doing something like that. If they really wanted to change things, then they would come and approach the superintendent or myself or anyone in the district office.”
To be fair, I don’t know any of these people personally. But based on what I’ve learned in the past few days, I don’t think “approachable” is how I would describe their leadership style.
Apparently, the Rhode Island Education Department attorney, under the direction of Infante-Green, interrogated staff members about who is leaking info rather than investigating the accusations of bullying, toxicity and harassment.
Talk about a waste of time.
Speaking of which, I noticed an interesting new LinkedIn profile viewer today. Laura Hart, the Strategic Communications Professional whose current experience is listed as “Chief Public Affairs Officer for the Rhode Island Department of Administration.”
I’m sure my Tweets ruffled a few feathers. Laura and her team are probably wondering why the hell this rando from Dallas is airing their dirty laundry. But to be clear, if you’ve been following along down this rabbit hole, you’ll realize I found this info after only a few hours of digging (googling). That being said, if this is just the publicly-accessible, surface-level tip of the iceberg, imagine what is lurking in the shadows.
RIDE should worry less about leaked information and more about their sinking ship. Because it seems unlikely that they didn’t know about Joan Massey or Jackson’s past/connections, and probably even hired her because of them.
Anyway. Thank you for making it through this very chaotic deep dive. I wish I had more context to connect things, but I’m back in Texas feeling both weirdly relieved and maddeningly incensed that my home state is not the only one f*cking up public education right now.
And what about the mysterious Joan Massey, sorry… Ms. Jackson? I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt. Let’s pretend for a moment that she developed some bad allergies with the move from Connecticut to Rhode Island and tossed her contacts in the trash, opting to rock eyeglasses instead.
Maybe she fell in love, got hitched, and decided to use her married name professionally. And perhaps the timing of that decision being made after the lawsuit was settled is purely coincidental.
But said name change would 100% show up on a background check. Her pro-school-choice career accolades obviously came up during the course of SEVEN interviews. So…
WTF Providence Public Schools?
On Wednesday, November 16th, Providence Public School Board Member Night Jean Muhingabo called for the resignation of the Senior Advisor to the Superintendent (Joan Jackson/Massey) and the board agreed to hold an emergency session to address the issue.
The action item on the agenda for the special meeting was listed as “Discussion Pursuant to RI GL 42-46-5(a)(1) for personnel action and discussion related to job performance, character, or physical or mental health and 42-46-5(a)(4) for discussion of investigation regarding allegations of misconduct.”
The board entered into an executive session to discuss and later released the below statement to Superintendent Dr. Montañez. There will be another special meeting on Friday, December 9th to continue the conversation.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
This article is spot on thank you for writing.
Stephanie Drenka says
Thank you for reading!!! Rooting for y’all. Keep fighting the good fight.
Rose Holder says
Thank you….T R U T H!
You’ve got wayyy too much time on your hands—drawing faces on people, how old are you?! I’ve known Joan nearly her entire life and the last thing she is, is a racist. She cares about ALL people, greatly—especially her students in whatever district she’s working. You keep mentioning her name change—have you ever heard of getting married and taking your husband’s name?!
Like I said, way too much time on your hands—Joan Jackson is a good person and you obviously ARE NOT!
Oh my gosh! We should “leak this to the press”
Thank you! Great article! I’m so glad the gaslighting we have been subjected to is being highlighted! Keep working on this please!
Stephanie Drenka says
Haha!!! Thank you, Carol. Oh yes. I am fully-invested now. Hoping y’all get some national news coverage, but until then– I’m ready.
Susan Tennett Adams says
The media is just as guilty!
Stephanie Drenka says
Yes, the lack of accountability the media has held these officials to is shocking.
Wow! The journey down a rabbit hole can be so worth it sometimes. Thanks for connecting these dots.
Stephanie Drenka says
Absolutely! I still feel like there’s so much context missing since I’m not from RI, but hopefully it’s a good start for some of the local outlets to do more careful digging.
I never like to speak for anyone else but myself, but in this case, I will! You are the new hero to around 1,900 Providence teachers! What you have published only shines a miniscule light on what has been going on within the district. So many of us have tried to come forward to only be silenced or retaliated against! Fantastic work! I am hoping that this is the beginning of the much needed changes that the Providence School Department so desperately needs!
Stephanie Drenka says
It is the least I can do!! Sadly, I know what it’s like to have your community under the control of power-hungry politicians and how much it harms students, families, and teachers. Offering as much support as I can in your continued fight!
Sarah Johnson says
I am conflicted by this. I am unsure if you mean well or just like drama. The dysfunction of PPSD, the PTU, and RIDE are bigger than one person and this lady isn’t actually indicative of the problem. I’m interested in what you think are the problems of public Ed. As an outsider myself, I wouldn’t go near this mess and many of the younger PPSD teachers I know talk a lot about being absolutely bullied into leaving by the veteran teachers who are increasingly miserable and lashing out.
From the outside looking in, when I look at the PTU twitter- no way would that pres ever be my leader because the vibes are lowwwww. Everyone’s looking for a finger to point. I don’t know too many leaders with good and positive character that behave that way. Do some digging on what it would take for these schools to thrive, otherwise, you’re part of the problem. They said this lady ain’t getting the boot, so now what? What’s the new teacher turn over rate? How can you use your super sleuth powers for good? Everybody just seems petty and miserable and power hungry and meanwhile, the actual kids suffer. In fact, they have escaped into their phones and aren’t even showing up to school in the first place based on the chronic absenteeism. Might this kinda mess have something to do with it or even be tangentially related? idk, it all seems counter productive and not solutions-focused.
Heather Barry says
Thank you for bringing these issues to light. There are so much dysfunctional aspects to the ppsd system. (I am a former employee, I resigned and got a job this year in a neighboring district). I’ve been saying for years that I felt like many people in charge at the district and state level are making poor decisions to MAKE us fail, so they can promote charter schools. This is just one of many issues in the district. Thank you again for taking the time and interest. There are AMAZING educators in this district, working really hard with our kiddos’ best interest in mind. I hope there will be positive changes in the district to better support the teachers and staff at schools, so they in turn can better support our kiddos.
Stephanie Drenka says
Thank you, Heather. I hope so, too. All the money they’re spending on these expensive consultants should be re-invested in community engagement and resources for teachers/families.
Stephanie Drenka says
I don’t believe long-term transformation or equity is possible without truth. Or acknowledging past and present wrongdoings so you can repair/heal moving forward. You found my website, so I assume you know a little about me by now. I would say that I use my “super sleuth powers” on a regular basis to research and preserve history as well as amplify voices and untold stories. I work directly with youth and center their experiences to spark mindset shifts and combat anti-racism. Where you see finger pointing, I see advocacy and standing up for what is right or demanding well-deserved answers. It might seem counter-productive to you, but I think glossing over and ignoring corruption without accountability is more harmful.
I’m a former PPSD parent. I watched this drama unfold for a year and then left. There seem to be no adults in the room, on any side.
Concerned Providence Teacher says
Can you also investigate something that I find extremely important? Providence teachers keep being told that they are going to provide training in The Science of Reading. By law, RI teachers are to supposed to be certified. The roll out of this training has been chaotic and not consistent. I have looked into getting certified myself through URI but find it rather expensive. When we ask about when this training will occur there is never a clear answer. My fear is that we are being led on and or tricked to believe that one day they will actually provide this training, only to be terminated at some point for not becoming certified in The Science Of Reading.
I have purchased and read all of the books/ workbooks that I could find myself through Amazon. I have discovered that the current reading curriculum (American Reading Company) does not align to The Science of Reading. My five/ six year old students are not considered “on level” in reading unless they can MEMORIZE 60 sight words. When I bring this up at several meetings to administrators, I am told that is why we have added an additional phonics program. Technically we do now have Heggerty, we is helpful as it is direct phonetics instruction. However, still the data that determines whether or students are on or below grade level is still determined by how many sight words they can memorize. It’s extremely frustrating.
This year for the first time, I have been attempting to teach my students these sight words by explicitly teaching them the sounds represented in each sight word. For example, we talk about “tricky y” to learn the sight word: my.
I love my job. I love making a difference in the lives of children . I have participated in the top down changes that force me to have my “I can” statements posted for each lesson – even though my students can not read them. It is time consuming, and clearing posted only for administrators and just in case someone from the district walks into my room. It makes me feel like a child and not respected as a professional. Yet, I do it.
Why can’t administrators give us answers on when we will receive The Science of Reading training? Bringing up reading and math scores is their main priority, yet training teachers to effectively teach reading is not. That doesn’t make sense. I’m seriously starting to get scared that they never intend on training us.
Stephanie Drenka says
This sounds incredibly stressful and not fair to teachers or students. I’ll look into it. I’m so sorry you’re having to navigate all of this just to do what you love and make a difference. Stay strong. (But also, please make sure you are taking care of your heart and well-being)
Stephanie Drenka says
Trying to see if there is any correlation between The Science of Reading and Charter School advocacy. Found this interesting site. Going to keep digging: “Many of the same individuals who favor charter schools, private schools, and online instruction, including corporate reformers, use the so-called Science of Reading (SoR) to make public school teachers look like they’ve failed at teaching reading.” https://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/science-reading-corporate
Stephanie Drenka says
Here’s a quick deep dive: https://twitter.com/stephaniedrenka/status/1593962480048386048
Laura Hart also used to be the chief communications director at PPSD also.
I know of another very high profile/salary hire that was done by highest level after knowledge of pending federal discrimination charges…, pattern within RIDE. Not afraid anymore of retaliation – nothing else they can do to me.
For a few years the administration has been putting all the pieces in place to bring charter schools. It will mean more money in their pockets. Administration argues that charter schools have better results. It might appear they do better, because they don’t have Special Education students or students with behavior problems. These students might be accepted into Charter schools. However, they force them out.
Any chance you’d like to look more into this mess? The last couple of weeks have provided even more evidence of the sliminess of the RIDE takeover.