“There is always a tomorrow”: from a homeless teenager to a superintendent of Providence
PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – The first years in Providence were not easy for Javier Montañez.
As a student at Hope High School in the 1980s, Montañez says he was homeless, lived in Roger Williams Park, and walked to school more than four miles away. .
A drama teacher was particularly interested in him.
“He was probably the first to know that I had a problem with reading,” Montañez said. “And took me under his wing and helped me get over some of these issues.”
While Montañez eventually dropped out of Hope High, he went on to earn his GED and college degree in New York City, before returning to Providence and earning a master’s degree from Rhode Island College and a doctorate from Johnson & Wales University. He first became a teacher, then principal of the Leviton Dual Language School, and is now the Acting Superintendent of Schools of Providence.
In a recent email to staff, Montañez said he could still hear that Hope High School teacher’s voice in his ear, saying, “You can do it, Javier.”
“These words have fueled me,” he wrote in the email. “They’re feeding me now.”
“Since this professor took me under his wing, my goal has been to pay it off,” Montañez said during a Pulse of Providence recording last week, his first interview since he became frontman of the Rhode Island’s largest school district.
“It was a fork in the road,” he said of his turbulent youth. “I could have chosen to make the wrong choices and take the wrong path. But on the other hand, it made me who I am today. It has helped me understand individuals on a different level and be very sympathetic to individuals.
Montañez has a big task ahead of him for the next school year, which begins in Providence on September 9. withdraw from schooling in the event of a pandemic.
The district was in a tumultuous phase when Montañez was first appointed acting superintendent in June. The first superintendent of state recovery, Harrison Peters, had just resigned amid a scandal involving one of his high-profile hires. And the teachers’ union contract was still pending after months of tense negotiations.
The original plan was to hire a permanent superintendent over the summer. But plans to advertise the post have been scrapped – at least for now – in favor of Montañez’s appointment as acting superintendent for a full school year. The teachers’ contract is now settled and ratified, and the Peters debacle is in the rearview mirror.
Montañez is shy about whether he wants the best job in the long run.
“Maybe,” he said when asked if he hoped to stay beyond a year. “But what concerns me is that since this job is open 24/7, my goal is to make sure everything goes smoothly for the start of school and the rest of the day. ‘year. “
Masks will be mandatory for students and staff inside Providence schools, regardless of vaccination status. While vaccines are encouraged for ages 12 and up, Montañez said there are no plans to require staff to show proof of vaccination, a policy that will come into effect for all other employees at the facility. Providence on October 1.
While the city of Providence’s vaccination rate is only around 54%, principals are not currently asking students whether or not they have the vaccine. (That could change in the future, a spokesperson said, if health guidelines change to allow vaccinated students not to be masked.)
Providence has also closed its “virtual learning academy,” offering only in-person classes this year, although case-by-case exceptions can still be made for students with certain medical conditions.
“Many of our students were absent due to COVID,” Montañez said. “So my goal is to have every student in Providence come back in person, because we know the data shows and research shows that students learn best when they’re in school. “
More than half of students in Providence were chronically absent from school last year, meaning they missed at least 10% of school days or more, raising concerns about the loss of learning .
Montañez says there will be an absenteeism officer who will be working this school year, in addition to guidance counselors and others who will knock on doors and try to engage with students and families who do not come to school. ‘school.
The aim will be to “find out what are the obstacles that prevent our students from going to school,” he said. “And then find ways to overcome those barriers to make sure the safe learning environment is school for students.”
Montañez is well placed to build relationships with students who face barriers to coming to school. He said he used to keep his roaming experience private, but shares his story more often now that he’s the leader of nearly 24,000 students.
“I ask my students to ask themselves this question,” Montañez said. “And what if? What if I got over that bump, what would life be like? But if I stay and don’t try to get over that bump, what will life be like?” “
“It’s a bump in the road,” he told them. “There is always a tomorrow.