What can we learn from where the schools stayed open?

“To those of you who are throwing in the towel on our kids and going virtual,” she said, “I think it’s a shame. I really do. You’re letting the children down, and I don’t see any reason for it.” Raimondo cited widespread reports about the mental health of students who were remote learners — the apparent increases in suicidal ideation, the upticks in visits to pediatric emergency rooms, the widespread feelings of isolation. Then her face went from pained to pointed. “To the superintendents out there who’ve just decided to go virtual — I want you to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you can try a little harder,” she said. “Because I think the kids deserve better.”

Raimondo’s stance — fiercely protective of students, unyielding, even harsh toward administrators — did not always achieve the uniform results she wanted statewide: schools that were open, no matter the anxieties or stresses that imposed on staff members. But it did consistently drive the approach of the Providence schools, which were put under state control pre-Covid, in 2019, when a review of the district conducted by the Johns Hopkins School of Education reported that “the great majority of students were not even close to learning at grade level.”

In September, Providence, which now serves about 22,600 students, was the rare large, urban district in a blue state that not only opened its schools to in-person learning but also offered instruction five days a week to every elementary student, plus hybrid instruction to middle and high-school students whose parents chose to send them.