Wangari Maathai Community School fails to reach an agreement with John Hope Settlement House – Uprise RI

The charter school will be unable to open this fall as planned.

Saying she was “holding back tears,” Siobhan Callahan, Founder and Executive Director of the Wangari Maathai Community School, informed parents interested in sending their children to the school that, “Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to open this Fall.”

As Callahan explains in her letter, the John Hope Settlement House board refused to take a final vote on a contract to house the school before the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s deadline passed.

The deal, according to Callahan, was for payments of $875,000 over five years.It is unknown why exactly the John House board let the clock run out on the deal.

The deal to house the school at John Hope was controversial within the community John Hope serves. John Hope as an institution is nearly a century old, and many in the community rallied under the banner of a group called Save John Hope, which sought to prevent the takeover of the institution for a charter school that would not be centered on serving children within that community. See below for links to previous stories

Callahan assured the affected families that the Wangari Maathai board would work with them to ensure that their children are properly enrolled in schools next year. The Wangari Maathai Community School board remains committed to opening the school.


Here’s the letter sent out by Siobhan Callahan, Founder and director of the Wangari Maathai Community School:

Dear Wangari Maathai Families –

I’m writing today while holding back tears. For the last two years, we have worked together and with community leaders across Providence to open a new school with a mission centered around diversity, equity and inclusion. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to open this Fall.

Over the last 15 months, we have been scouting locations for our school. We toured dozens of potential facilities, and very few were feasible because most would not pass the required environmental review. The simple truth is, finding adequate classroom space in Providence is extremely challenging.

Late last year, the possibility of partnering with the John Hope Settlement House came up. At the beginning of March, both parties signed a Letter of Interest laying out the basic terms of an agreement. Since then, we have been engaged in good faith negotiations with the John Hope Settlement House to lease a portion of unused space in the community center. We’ve presented the John Hope board with multiple versions of lease terms. We addressed every concern they raised and offered every concession whenever the board demanded more because our top priority was opening our doors and welcoming your children into our school community.

  • We offered to pay John Hope Settlement House $875,000 over five years.
  • We promised to make a substantial investment in capital improvements that would outlive our lease.
  • We agreed to share the costs for any necessary repairs.
  • And we assured them repeatedly that our presence as a tenant at the John Hope Settlement House would not in any way encroach on the important services they provide residents across the West End.

Despite the generous lease terms we drafted (in collaboration with members of John Hope’s board) and first presented to their board over a month ago, they have refused to take a formal vote to approve the contract before the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s deadline passed this weekend. In light of the uncertainty of our facilities options for this Fall, the Office of the Commissioner of Education has informed us that they will not recommend final approval of our charter at this time, and we will not open in the Fall of 2019. Our board and I were in constant contact with the John Hope Settlement House board until late last night and did everything in our power to secure a lease before RIDE’s deadline. Unfortunately, our appeals on your behalf did not persuade the John Hope board and they opted to allow the clock to run out.

We have reached out to the Providence Public Schools Department (PPSD) and the Rhode Island Department of Education for support and resources:

  • Any family that intends to enroll with PPSD needs to ensure they are registered, if you have not done so already. PPSD’s registration office number is 401-456-9297, and the website is here. Additionally, here is a webpage provided by PPSD about the registration process.
  • Families can also submit applications to other charter schools to be placed on the waitlist. You can view a list of schools, by enrolling community, with links to each school’s webpage, here. A printable PDF of the list is here. Families can submit an application to each school, a blank application is also on the charter school page, but families still must submit the application individually to each school. [NOTE: International Charter School has spots in 5th grade for students at grade level in Spanish or Portuguese.]

We will host a family meeting in the next couple of weeks to make those resources more directly available to you. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or members of the Wangari Maathai Community School board directly.

I am personally heartbroken, but my disappointment pales in comparison to the inconvenience and frustration I’m sure this situation will cause your family. Even though our physical doors won’t open this fall, we are not closing the door on our mission. Please keep in touch and know that I and our entire board are available to support your family during this transition.


Siobhan Callahan

Founder and Executive Director

Wangari Maathai Community School

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