Five Questions With: Kathy Vespia

Kathy Vespia, who has a passion for community-led innovation and design-thinking, serves as executive director of Charette High School. She has created community-living options for children, pioneered a local arts center, designed educational programs and sailed as a crew trainee aboard the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry.

As chair of the education program at Salve Regina University, Vespia spearheaded the introduction of technology and R.I. Department of Education induction coaching to promote teaching and learning.

As a former psychologist at the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence, she witnessed the power of self-directed, personalized experiential learning. Leveraging this experience, Vespia designed an alternative secondary program in Attleboro.

PBN: Charette High School is a new education institution in Providence. What was the catalyst behind its establishment?

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VESPIA: We had an opportunity to create something new and needed for students in a city we love. Charette’s administration – both Robert Pilkington and I – know what a privilege it is to design and lead a high school. We’ve done it before. Between us, we have Textron Chamber, Beacon Charter, R.I. Nurses Middle College, Village Green Virtual High and the Network in Attleboro, Mass., under our belts.

I’ve been an educator for more than 30 years and witnessed young people in our cities embrace learning that’s self-directed, project-based and connected to their communities. Charette is born from this vision. Students and parents are on a quest for quality, engaging and meaningful education. The greatest joy is being able to partner with them and meet their needs in Providence, where history and design opportunity is everywhere you look.

Providence shapes young people’s lives. Now, at Charette, young people will shape the city’s future.

PBN: Who is eligible for enrollment?

VESPIA: Any Providence student entering grade nine or 10 is eligible to apply to attend Charette in the fall. In 2019, we will accept applications for grade 11. Then, in 2020, for grade 12. From that point on, Charette will be a four-year high school.

PBN: The curriculum has a focus on urban planning and historic preservation. Why were these areas highlighted?

VESPIA: It’s about where students are today and where they are going in the future. We know that for students to become engaged in their learning, they need to see it as relevant to their needs. In designing this school, Rob and I see a direct connection between the school’s mission and its unique sense of community in Providence – the architecture, the history, educational and civic empowerment. Charette students will be in their backyard, learning about city planning, the preservation of historic buildings and the voice they have in civic affairs as problem-solvers and critical thinkers.

Upon graduation, some students may pursue postgraduate studies in urban planning and historic preservation while others will move in different directions. Being true to our mission, we aim for graduates to become informed citizens invested in using their voices to make their community a place where they love to live.

PBN: How does Charette differentiate itself from all the other secondary education institutions in Providence?

VESPIA: Charette is the first new school in Providence that will open its doors using the Summit Learning Platform, whereas other schools have phased in this model. Students can access a personalized curriculum based on their own interests and needs, and track their goals and progress using an online tool. Every faculty member selected for Charette will share a passion for and commitment to student-centered, project-based curriculum in the Summit Learning Platform.

By focusing on urban planning and historical preservation, Charette is a first-of-its-kind school. Our staff includes urban planners and designers ready to support students with their projects on campus and in the community. Charette is committed to collaboration with the Providence Public School District to run consultancies, to facilitate learning from and with one another. State-of-the-art technology will be provided to promote a fully blended-learning model.

In addition, Charette will meet all graduation requirements set by [the R.I. Department of Education], and like many charter high school programs, Charette will be small (maximum 168 students), theme-based and thrive from active parent involvement.

PBN: Where do you see the school five years from now?

VESPIA: Charette will take its place as one of the city’s highest-performing schools. Our graduates will be the success story, and it’s a story they will tell you using their own voices.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email,