Javier Montańez has been acting superintendent of the Providence public schools all year, while State Superintendent Angelica Infante-Green searched and searched and finally decided to make him the real superintendent of the troubled school district.

Providence finally has a chance to have genuine experienced leadership at the helm, if Infante-Green allows him to run the district, writes Boston Globe columnist Dan MacGowan.

Providence has been under state control for two years, with nothing happening, in part due to the COVID.

But let’s face it, the maximum leader Infante-Green has less experience than the new superintendent. She was a TFA teacher for two years, then moved into the New York State Education Department bureaucracy. She has never been a principal or a superintendent. Montańez has been both.

Kids don’t look up to superintendents the way they do to sports stars like LeBron James or Steph Curry, but Montañez is a true role model. As a teenager, Montañez was homeless and sleeping under a tree in Roger Williams Park, and now he’s running a district filled with thousands of students facing similar obstacles to those he overcame in his life.

Teachers don’t usually look up to superintendents, either. But in Montañez, they’ve got someone who truly understands what they’re going through. He has both taught and been a principal in Providence, so he has the ability to connect with the city’s 2,000 educators in a way no school chief has in many years.

Now comes the hard part.

Montañez has a life’s worth of credibility and a career’s worth of goodwill to be the transformational figure that Providence schools desperately need, especially when we’re more than two years into a state takeover that hasn’t produced any significant results up to this point...

For the past year, he’s been the ideal cheerleader for the district while also proving that he can run the operations of a large school system. He has excelled at both. He’s in his element when he’s talking to students about their future or joking around with them in the hallways, and he’s proven that he can make sure the buses run fine, the buildings aren’t in complete disarray, and the students are safe.

His challenge now is to begin articulating and then executing a vision for getting Providence schools to a place where the majority of kids are proficient in math and English. It’s a tall task. As it stands now, only 6.8 percent of students in Grades 3 through 8 were proficient in math and 14.1 percent were proficient in reading.

Is it worth mentioning at this point that “proficient” is not the right benchmark? “Proficient” does not mean “grade level” or “above grade level” or “passing.” It means “excelling.” I am not sure what percent of Providence students should be excellent, but editorialists should use “basic” as “grade level,” not “proficient.”

The biggest problem the new superintendent will have is that the Governor and the State Superintendent are used to micromanaging the district, and neither of them has the experience that the superintendent has. Also, they are both big fans of privatization, and he will have to protect the public schools.

He will have to use his credibility to insist on his leadership.