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.
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.
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.