Providence has received a $3 million dollar grant from the Carnegie Foundation to develop a pair of small high schools over the next three years.
The schools will enroll a maximum of 450 students each, and will get extra flexibility to tailor programs to each student. The theory is that if you meet each student at their level, you can help students catch up if they fall behind, and allow them to work beyond their grade level, if they are ahead of the curve.
"We have to get to a point where we really are starting where students are, closing the gaps and accelerating them forward," said Providence Superintendent of Schools Susan Lusi.
Providence has struggled to raise student test scores in many high schools and faces increased competition from charter schools. Lusi describes the initiative as a chance to try innovative approaches, like a nontraditional school day or weekend classes.
"We just have enormous evidence that we're not hitting the targets we need to with regard to student achievement." Lusi said. "We need much more fluid, student-centered educational settings for our students to be successful."
In recent years, Providence shut down one small high school, Feinstein High School, which was billed as a small, innovative high school. The district also closed one of the academies within Hope High School and has talked of shutting down Alvarez High School, another small high school, citing disappointing student achievement.
Under an agreement with the Providence Teachers' Union, the two new high schools will have extra flexibility from staffing rules in the union contract, including length of school day, class size and even the amount of time students spend in the classroom.
Providence school officials say they will begin a selection process for design team leaders, who will go on to head the schools.
The new high schools will most likely be located within existing public school buildings. They are slated to open for enrollment in the fall of 2015.