Part of Eldredge Gym Ceiling Collapses During PE Class; No Injuries

The portion of ceiling that fell onto the gym floor at Eldredge Tuesday.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

There will be no school at Eldredge Wednesday so the whole building can be inspected. 

East Greenwich, R.I. – A section of plaster ceiling in the gymnasium at Eldredge Elementary School, including a light fixture, fell Tuesday morning during a third grade gym class. No one was injured.

School officials said the incident happened at approximately 10:55 a.m.  Students and two faculty members were in a different area of the gym at the time. Principal Dan Seger sent an email to parents on Tuesday.

Here’s a portion of that email:

Fortunately, no one was hurt.  Both Ms. Peduto and her students were quite obviously shaken by this event, and we have called in student service supports for anyone requiring them.  The Director of Facilities is on the scene, has locked off the gymnasium, and has contacted the building inspector to review the entire area.  The portion of the facility is closed until further notice.   We are taking all necessary steps to ensure student safety.

“We avoided what could have been very catastrophic,” said Supt. Victor Mercurio Tuesday evening.

He said one student said the collapse looked as if the ceiling came “unzipped.”

According to Mercurio, the ceiling over the gym is a different type than ceilings in the rest of the building but that, as a precautionary measure, ceilings in the entire school will inspected by Halliwell Engineering Associates Wednesday. There will be no school.

“As a precaution, we said, let’s get an engineering firm here and look at the whole building structurally,” said Mercurio. “I want to err on the side of caution.”

In an email sent out to Eldredge families, Mercurio said he would follow up with Wednesday afternoon, “upon completion of this structural engineering review.”

He said the initial inspection showed no sign of asbestos.



 

 

What Is Happening In East Greenwich, and Why? Part 1

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Tensions have been building for months in East Greenwich as town officials have made layoffs, fired employees and have pointed the finger at EG firefighters as the source of the town’s alleged looming fiscal crisis. Then, on Nov. 8, Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl issued a harshly-worded ruling against the town, nullifying the appointment of Town Manager Gayle Corrigan for what McGuirl called the town’s “willful’ violations of the Open Meetings Act. The judge also ordered the town to reinstate firefighter James Perry, who Corrigan had fired in August. When the Town Council gathering Nov. 14 to address the issues raised by McGuirl’s ruling – most importantly, to vote on Corrigan as town manager – the meeting was abruptly cancelled because the meeting space could not accommodate dozens of additional residents who wanted to attend. In this article, we attempt to explain how East Greenwich got to this point. Find Part 2 here.  – Editor’s note

Once upon a time, there was a quiet little town called East Greenwich, with a popular Main Street, good schools, lots of nice houses, and town governance that was so boring most people paid it little heed. Today, Main Street is still popular, the schools are still good, there are still lots of nice houses, but EG’s Town Council meetings have become the hottest ticket in town. So much so that dozens of people were left outside in the cold Tuesday after the meeting site reached its 253-person limit, looking like a line outside a popular nightclub on a Saturday night.

So, what gives, East Greenwich? Why all the excitement?

The election of 2016 is one starting point but since town officials are aiming their ire at the EG Fire Department, it might be better to go back to 2013, when the town still had a Fire District, with its own governance and taxing authority. The Republican-led Town Council then decided the fire district should be consolidated with the town under the reasoning that having separate tax bills was unnecessary in such a small town – EG has around 13,000 residents – and that some amount of cost savings could be found through consolidation. The council put the question to EG voters, who approved of the consolidation by a 2-to-1 margin in a nonbinding referendum.

The governing fire district commissioners did not agree, but after months of meetings between the two governing bodies and permission from the General Assembly,  the EG Fire District became the town fire department in 2014. Then Fire Chief Peter Henrikson retired and the deputy chief, Russell McGillivray, was hired to serve as chief.

Just as that was happening, EG’s town manager since 1988, Bill Sequino, announced he was leaving to take a job with the state. Sequino had served as town manager for 25 years, accumulating just the right balance of longevity and good will by 2014 that his power was enviable. The Town Council named Police Chief Tom Coyle to serve as interim town manager. Coyle, who lived in Coventry, had started with the EGPD as a patrolman, working his way up through the ranks. When the interview process for a permanent town manager came along, Coyle threw his hat in the ring and the council hired him.

Police Chief Steve Brown with then-Town Manager Tom Coyle.

Coyle spent long hours in his new position and he was well liked. Under Coyle, however, then-Town Council President Michael Isaacs gained some of the power Sequino’s departure had left behind. Isaacs had been president of the Town Council since he was first elected in 2004. He won reelection again in 2014 but was term-limited out in 2016.

2016 Election: New Council President; No More Town Meeting

In that election, three of the current Town Council members were re-elected, including Republican lawyer Sue Cienki, the top vote getter. Cienki, who had first won a spot on the Town Council in 2014, was well known in town, having served on school PTG boards (she and her husband, Paul, have five children), then the School Committee (including as chairwoman). Among her accomplishments, Cienki has spoken with pride of her work on the committee responsible for overseeing the building of a new Cole Middle School (completed in 2011).

Mark Schwager, a doctor and the only Democrat elected in 2016, received the second highest vote total. This was Schwager’s fourth term on the council, but they had not been consecutive terms. He’d served from 2006 to 2010, then again starting in 2014. Schwager had made two unsuccessful runs for state office, running for state senate in 2010 and state representative in 2012. He also served on the Fire District Board of Commissioners from 2011 to 2013.

Sean Todd, who works in medical sales, also won reelection in 2016. Todd, a Republican, had first gained a seat on the council in 2014.

The newcomers in 2016 were Nino Granatiero, a businessman who, with his wife Jessica, owns The Savory Grape, a local wine shop, and Andrew Deutsch, who grew up in town and replaced Todd as the council’s youngest member. Deutsch works in sales for Cox Communications.

There was another item on the Nov. 2016 ballot – asking residents if they wanted to eliminate the annual Financial Town Meeting. The question had been narrowly rejected in 2014. In 2016, it narrowly won. The FTM’s power had been muted in recent years – a quorum of at least 250 people was needed and the only vote was an up and down vote on the entire Town Council approved – and attendance had been abysmal. But its elimination meant EG’s last vestige of New England small town direct democracy was gone.

Changes on Schools Side Started in 2014

Meanwhile, the School Committee had gone through a transition of its own in 2014, when two members of the seven-person panel lost their bids for re-election, including the then-chairman of the committee, David Green. Of the four who won in 2014, three had been endorsed by the then-new Facebook group East Greenwich Parents for Excellence, which had served as an organizing tool for those candidates and their supporters. The panel went from majority Republican to majority Democrat and embarked on an ambitious list of priorities, including completing the stalled strategic plan, instituting a later start for middle and high school students, and adding all-day kindergarten.

But some parents were angry about the changes, especially the later start time – which was instituted in fall 2016 – and expressed frustration at what they saw as newcomers trying to fix a system that was already working well.

While the EGPFE Facebook page gave parents (and others – the page is not restricted to EG parents) a platform to discuss school and town issues, by 2016 some people were leaving the page, saying it was too divisive and had a liberal agenda.

In 2015, another local Facebook page started, EG Insider. It posted town announcements and other generally positive content, as well as information about Republican events and it was supportive of Town Council actions.

Tensions Rise

Under Michael Isaacs, Town Council meetings were usually attended by only a handful of regulars, some town employees and a reporter or two. Things started out that way in the Cienki era, but shifted quickly after Councilman Todd tweeted about the Women’s March Jan. 21 – one day after the Trump inauguration – setting off a firestorm that gained statewide attention.

“Definitely a guy came up with the idea for the #womensmarch. Perfect way to get the wives outta the house,” Todd tweeted. Two days later, at the Town Council’s regularly scheduled meeting, Swift Community Center was filled to capacity and speaker after speaker got up to admonish Todd, who apologized.

While many characterized Todd and his tweet as sexist, others said the tweet was just humor gone awry and the loud outcry against it a prime example of political correctness. Tensions started to build.

Then, in February, the Town Council approved spending up to $15,000 on a marketing campaign. At that meeting, councilors spoke of the need to be able to keep residents informed, especially since this would be the first year there was no Financial Town Meeting. The council voted 4-1, with Democrat Schwager voting against. The result was a mailer (find it here: ResidentMailer) sent to every household that said, among other things, that the median tax rate for East Greenwich homeowners had gone up 51 percent since 2011. The flyer became fodder for an opposition that was building. Several residents pointed out its typos and what they said were misleading graphics. One resident, URI math professor Eugene Quinn, did a deep dive into that 51 percent figure. His finding: the median tax increase over those years was 15 percent, not 51 percent. He even produced a few videos on his findings. Town Council President Cienki has stood by the mailer’s figures but no one has taken credit for where those figures actually came from.

In April, the EG Town Democratic Committee started using Facebook Live to videotape the Town Council meetings, since the town was not recording them.

Level-Funding the Schools

Also in April, the School Committee approved a budget asking for a 4 percent increase from the town – the most it could ask for under state law. Even to get to that 4 percent increase, the School Committee had already cut several teacher assistant positions and an intramural sports program at the middle school, as well as dipping into its fund balance for the fourth consecutive year.

While the School Committee is, by state law, its own governing body, it relies on the Town Council for funding, so when in May then-Town Manager Coyle submitted his proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, level-funding the schools, and proposing the first tax cut in decades. parents and school officials were up in arms.

Enter Gayle Corrigan and her consulting firm, Providence Analytics.

Linda Dykeman of Providence Analytics presenting findings about school and town finances at a Town Council meeting June 5.

The town had hired Providence Analytics in April to look at the school’s finances in response to the school district’s acknowledgement it was running a structural deficit. PA presented its findings in a joint town and school meeting, where Corrigan suggested that the school department’s deficit was just how Central Falls started down its path to bankruptcy in the 1980s.

The town then extended its contract with PA to investigate town finances. Corrigan and her PA colleague Linda Dykeman made their second presentation at a meeting June 5. The main takeaway in that presentation was the introduction of the term “One Town,” which described consolidation efforts that would save the town money.

The report also honed in on fire department issues characterized as potentially troublesome, including what Corrigan called “unsustainable collective bargaining agreements” and “short-sighted employment practices.”

Almost immediately, rumors started circulating that Town Manager Coyle was on his way out.

At a meeting June 8, the Town Council approved the budget, including recommendations from Providence Analytics, with no public comment and loud negative response from those in attendance. The process was significantly different than in previous years, where the Town Council would meet with department heads to discuss their budgets over a series of weeks. This budget was passed but specific line items, especially as related to the items taken over by the town from the school department, were left to be worked out later.

Town Manager Coyle Is Out; Corrigan Is In

The following week, the Town Council met in executive session to discuss a personnel issue that turned out to be Tom Coyle’s job performance. That meeting ended unresolved but a few days later, on June 19, the council met again in executive session, approved a “separation” with Coyle as town manager and approved Corrigan as acting town manager.

Departing Town Manager Tom Coyle, standing far right, shakes hands with Councilman Mark Schwager after Coyle’s separation was agreed to.

There were some problems with that June 19 meeting that would be dealt with in the subsequent trial heard by Superior Court Judge McGuirl. First, the agenda listed only that the council would be discussing a personnel issue. It said nothing about appointing a town manager, acting, interim or otherwise. Second, the votes on both accepting Coyle’s separation agreement and on Corrigan’s appointment were taken while the council was still in executive session. By state law, votes are to be taken in open session. Third, no minutes were taken during the meeting. The town clerk, who usually took meeting minutes, had been dismissed at the start of the June 15 meeting so she did not come to work early on June 19 (the meeting started at 8), assuming she would not be wanted at that meeting either.

But with that court case still months in the future, Corrigan arrived at Town Hall with her own fairly public history.

Corrigan first became known as former R.I. Supreme Court Judge Bob Flanders’s chief of staff during Central Falls’ bankruptcy in 2012. She then moved to Rhode Island Housing, where she was fired, then she sued, then she was rehired, resuming work there for another 11 months before leaving that agency again in April 2015. In October 2016, Corrigan was hired to handle the Central Coventry Fire District bankruptcy as manager. She continues in that role today. She also served briefly as board chairwoman of the Providence YMCA, a volunteer position from which she was fired in January.

Corrigan’s reputation as tough on unions, and her targeting of the fire department during her June 5 presentation, put EG firefighters on edge even before she was named acting town manager.

Council President Sue Cienki, center, during a Town Council meeting in June. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan is to her left and Councilman Sean Todd is to her right.

Following the June 5 presentation, firefighter union president Bill Perry asked to meet with town officials to discuss what Corrigan had said were problems with the department. That June 12 meeting became famous when, in August, Perry filed a complaint against Town Council President Cienki for threatening to cut off Perry’s and another firefighter’s genitals during the session. Several people attended the meeting and after the complaint was filed Cienki did not deny making the remark. She apologized at a later Town Council meeting and said she had taken a class in civil discourse.

Corrigan’s first public appearance as acting town manager came at the Town Council meeting June 26, when she recommended eliminating the town’s Municipal Court. The Town Council tabled the issue after the Municipal Court judge, David Bazar, got up to argue on the court’s behalf, saying Corrigan had not spoken to him about the court and that the court was not, as Corrigan suggested, a money drain.

The afternoon of June 30, the Friday before what for many was going to be a long July 4th weekend, Corrigan alerted town employees via email that the town’s finance director, personnel director and the assistant for the town manager were let go in the first official act of consolidation of town and school employees. The finance director, Kristin Benoit, was replaced by Corrigan’s Providence Analytics’s partner Linda Dykeman, who was already serving as part-time interim finance director for the school department. The personnel director, Sharon Kitchin, was to be replaced by School Department employee Rose Emilio, who had not yet officially been offered that consolidated position. And town manager assistant Pam Aveyard was replaced by Michaela Antunes, who was given the title of chief of staff.

There was only one problem. The School Committee had not signed off on the consolidated positions and it quickly became clear that they were uncomfortable with the undefined job description for, especially, the personnel director. Because of the School Committee’s reluctance and Emilio’s not having even been offered the job, Corrigan left that position open. Consolidation with the School Department remained on the town’s list of priorities, but it quickly took a back seat to the fire department.

End of East Greenwich Explained, Part One. Here is Part Two.

Memorial Day Commemoration

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR89ImJi3fI&feature=em-upload_owner

May 29, 2017 – The Memorial Day Parade may have been rained out this year, but not the commemoration.

Featuring Jason Pieroni (National Anthem), Grand Marshal Lt. Col. Pat Gallogly (speaker), the Kentish Guard fife and drum corps, and EGHS trumpeter Anthony Agatiello.
Not shown: “lone piper” Aaron Lindo, OLM 8th grader Dylan Brunner – who did a great job reciting the Gettysburg Address – and the second EGHS trumpeter, Patrick Shennefield.

How Important Is That Week Off in February?

Parent Bob Brooks urges the School Committee to retain the weeklong February break.
Parent Bob Brooks urges the School Committee to retain the weeklong February break.

The School Committee reviewed recommendations for the 2015-16 school year and a report compiled by the ad hoc Academic Calendar Committee at their meeting Tuesday. No decisions were made but comments from audience members made it clear not everyone is ready to trade the weeklong February break for a four-day weekend and the promise of a longer summer break.

Every spring, the School Committee must approve a calendar for the following school year. This year, the committee formed an ad hoc panel to look at everything from when the school year should start and end to how the district compares with other Rhode Island and Northeastern school districts in terms of holidays and vacations.

The result was a report that can be found here, and which included a proposed 2015-16 calendar with these highlights:

  • First day of school: Aug 31
  • No school Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, for parent-teacher conferences
  • Four-day weekend February 13-16, including Presidents Day
  • Four-day weekend March 24-27, including Good Friday
  • Weeklong vacation April 18-22 (aligned with Massachusetts)
  • Target last day of school (barring weather cancellations) would be June 13, 2016

At the meeting Tuesday, School Committee Vice Chair Deidre Gifford asked if East Greenwich had to take off Columbus Day, Oct. 15 this year. Chairwoman Carolyn Mark said all the non-religious holidays (except Christmas) were state-mandated school holidays, but that the ad hoc panel had found a lot of variation (usually fewer mandated holidays) around the country.

While the idea of a one-week vacation in March was appealing to people in the survey, one issue is that PARCC testing takes place in March, at least in Rhode Island. The PARCC is meant to be taken after a requisite number of school days, so the actual implementation depends on when a district began the school year and how many days off take place.

As for scrapping the weeklong February break, several in attendance Tuesday expressed reservations.

School Committeewoman Mary Ellen Winters said she suspected there were families who’d already planned a February 2016 vacation.

“There will be parents who take their kids out,” she said.

Teacher Chris Boie, a member of the ad hoc committee, noted that the majority of teachers who responded to the calendar survey were against changing the calendar. He asked if the February break was switched to a four-day weekend, the School Committee take a stand that teachers would not need to give extra help to students whose parents pull them out for a full week in February.

EGHS senior Zoe Hinman and sophomore Kate DePetro both said they liked the February break, noting it was a chance to catch up on sleep and generally hit the reset button.

For parent Tricia Colgan, long weekends are not the same as week-long breaks.

“After the December break, the kids will go to school for 16 weeks without five days off,” she said. “Sixteen weeks is an awful long time.”

“This calendar for next year is actually kind of a work in progress,” said parent and ad hoc committee member Joy Weisbord of the proposal, in particular the January to April block. “We’d like to start the dialogue with other communities to move [the spring vacation] closer to March.”

The School Committee will take up the calendar discussion at its next meeting April 28, with a possible vote on the 2015-16 calendar.

You can read more about the calendar issue here. And you’ll find the ad hoc committee’s report here.


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Later School Start Proposals Unveiled

school start timesThe School Committee heard proposals from the ad hoc School Start Time Committee ranging from changing nothing to two proposals pushing back the start time for Cole Middle School and EGHS by a half hour and one proposal that would give middle and high school students an extra hour in the morning at their meeting Tuesday, April 7.

The ad hoc panel was formed last year in the face of mounting evidence that pre-teens and teens do better when they get more sleep. In August, the American Association of Pediatrics issued a policy statement calling for the start of school for middle and high school students to be 8:30 a.m. or later. The EG committee held two public forums featuring sleep specialists and, at the first one, the principal of the Sharon, Mass., high school, which made the switch to a later start time five years ago. All advocated pushing back the start of school, despite obstacles.

“If we polled our kids then, there was resentment, there was anger. ‘We can’t do this,’ ‘How are we going to do athletics?’ ‘How am I going to get extra help?’ ‘How am I going to do clubs?’ ‘How am I going to get to work?’” said Sharon High School Principal Jose Libano during the Dec. 2, 2014, forum. “If I polled 1,200 students now, I’d get 1,200 students saying, ‘I would never go back to school at 7:25.’”

The committee also polled students, parents and teachers about start times. Among the findings was that parents think their children get more sleep than the children say they do. The survey also showed significant support for later school start times, with 63 percent of parents and 59 percent of students in support.

In light of research and survey results, the committee’s 60-page report put forward four proposals (find that report here):

Option 1 (no cost)

EGHS and Cole                            8 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.

Frenchtown and Eldredge         8:45 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.

Meadowbrook and Hanaford    9:25 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Option 2 ($143,000 cost)

EGHS and Cole                             8 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.

All elementary schools                8:50 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Option 3 (no cost)

EGHS and Cole                             8:30 a.m. to 2:55 p.m.

Frenchtown and Eldredge          7:50 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.

Meadow brook and Hanaford    9:15 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.

Option 4

No change

EGHS and Cole                                7:32 a.m. to 1:59 p.m.

Eldredge and Frenchtown             8:20 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.

Hanaford and Meadowbrook        9:15 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.

The only option with a price tag was Option 2, which would also make it possible to move away from a three-tiered bus schedule to one that is two-tiered. The cost, $143,000, would go toward the extra buses to accommodate all elementary school students in one time period.

“We spent a lot of time looking at how the bus schedule was driving – pun intended – start times,” said Supt. Victor Mercurio. East Greenwich is not the only community struggling with that – the report cites U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who had urged school districts to make start time decisions based on research rather than bus scheduling.

At the meeting Tuesday night, Katie Sharkey, an EG parent and one of the sleep researchers who presented at the forums and has been a vocal advocate for later start times, said she hoped the School Committee would adopt one of the later start time options.

“I think it will have an impact even if it’s a half hour,” she said. Sharkey also said she hoped the later start time issue would lead to a discussion for less homework.

Colleen Mollicone, a parent of two middle school students including one with special needs, said they both needed the later start time, if for different reasons.

“I’m more concerned with my high level learner because of everything on her plate,” said Mollicone. “My child with special needs, getting up is hard, getting his homework done is hard. He’s not awake until 9 o’clock – he’s here [at the middle school, where the meeting was held], but he’s not awake.”

“I definitely came into this neutral, thinking, ‘What’s the big deal?'” said parent Joy Weisbord. But she said she attended the forums and came out very supportive of the later start time.

“The Sharon principal was very persuasive,” she said.

“The average start time in the U.S. is 8 o’clock,” said parent and ad hoc committee member Amy Snyder. “This is about public health.”

Snyder said that in response to comments from three members of the Durant family, all of whom are against the move to a later school start time.

Matt Durant, a student at EGHS and a member of the ad hoc committee, said he would only go to bed later, especially during football season, when he would get home later from practice and, so, have to stay up later to finish his homework.

Parent (and former School Committee member) Bob Durant echoed his son’s comments, noting that he thought some activities now after school would be pushed before school – “nature abhors a vacuum.”

But his comment about football practice being three hours long caused parent Cheryl Osborne questioned the need for a three-hour practice.

“Why does sports have to be that consuming?” she said, with several in the audience audibly agreeing with her.

“Every team [in the state] practices for three hours,” said Bob Durant. “I don’t think we should expect our football team to sacrifice – ‘We’ll just let Middletown beat us for five years until they see the light.'”

EGHS student Kate DePetro said she really appreciated the later Wednesday start time (on Wednesdays, students don’t need to be at school until 8 a.m.) and she said the Advisory period on Wednesdays was very helpful for being able to contact teachers for help so she hoped it would remain in the schedule.

School Committeewoman Mary Ellen Winter noted that the big difference between East Greenwich and Sharon, Mass., was study halls. In Rhode Island, study halls do not count as part of the required daily 330 minutes of instructional time, so they were eliminated a few years ago. In Massachusetts, study halls are considered instructional time. Study halls, said Winter, allow students to seek out help or catch up on work during the school day.

“That changes the whole game,” she said.

School Committee members did not express how they would vote – and the issue was not up for a vote – but Committee member Yan Sun did say she appreciated that the ad hoc panel was able to come up with ways to move the start time that would not add cost to the budget.

The topic will be on the agenda at the School Committee’s next meeting, April 28.


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New Home for Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar

Greenwich Bay Oyster BarAfter months of renovations, Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar has opened up in its new space at 240 Main Street, just a couple doors down from its former location, with a little more space in the dining room, a more efficient kitchen and the same seaside details that lent the old space its charm.

Owner David Spaziano said he got extra encouragement to move when his old landlord (just two doors down) planned to raise the rent.

As before, there’s a prominent oyster bar. Seafood remains the focus.

“I was born and raised in Rhode Island. I’m always on the bay and in the water. Rhode

Oysters at Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar.
Oysters at Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar.

Island has some of the best waters to fish. There’s also a duty to keep the local economy going,” explained Spaziano.

He said in light of those things, a seafood restaurant “came naturally.”

While Spaziano is a chef, the restaurant’s head chef is Rob Caramonte. The restaurant features $1 oysters from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, among other specials.

Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar, 240 Main Street, East Greenwich, R.I., (401) 398-2462, www.greenwichbayoysterbar.com.


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School Committee to Weigh 4-Day February Break; Hear Start Time Report

egsd school districtOn the heals of a kerfuffle in Cranston over holding school on Good Friday and Providence’s decision to cut short the traditional weeklong February break to a long weekend, the EG School Committee will hear the ad hoc calendar committee’s report at its meeting Tuesday night. Among its recommendations will be that same shorter February break that’s been adopted by Providence and several other school districts recently. Find their full report here.

In addition, the School Committee will hear from the ad hoc School Start Time Committee. Their report, which offers several options but no firm recommendation, can be found here.

The School Committee decided to take up the calendar discussion after several instances in recent years where bad weather prompted schools to close for several days during the year, pushing the last day of school later and later into June. This year is no exception – the district logged four snow days, so the last day of the year is now June 22. And, too, there’s been perennial complaining from some about the before-Labor-Day start date that’s been the practice for more than 10 years now.

Another thing extending the school year was the state’s decision several years ago to require that schools close on primary and election days, which happen every two years. Those, together with Columbus Day, Veterans Day and the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (depending on the calendar year), can mean children don’t attend school for five days in a row more than once or twice until December.

Another consideration is the lack of air conditioning in EG schools. The longer the school year stretches on either side into summer or summer-like weather, the more likely there will be school on days when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees. While some argue that children have long survived without air conditioning, others say hot classrooms provide a less-than-optimal and occasionally dangerous learning environment. Last June, one student was taken to the hospital by rescue and two others were picked up by their parents after becoming faint from the heat on the third floor at Cole Middle School.

One issue raised during a school calendar forum at East Greenwich High School Feb. 25 was the state Department of Education’s rules on delays. RIDE says students must be in school for at least four hours for the day to count toward the 180-day school year. If Supt. Victor Mercurio wants to delay the start of school after a snowfall overnight, he can only delay school for one hour, otherwise the day won’t count.

“It’s really absurd and I would hope the new education commissioner would revisit that,” said School Committee Chair Carolyn Mark at the February forum.

Mark liked the idea of a flexible approach to the school calendar, making changes depending on how holidays fall on a given year. For instance, this year Labor Day falls on Sept. 7, as late as it can. Starting school before Labor Day would make the first day Sept. 3, hardly “early.”

And, too, there will be no election days next year. But both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do fall on weekdays.

In a survey of parents, school staff and students on the school calendar taken last fall (results in the report here), 44 percent of respondents said they would be in favor of having school on religious holidays, with 42 percent saying they would not.

When asked if there were only one weeklong vacation other than the December holiday break, 58 percent said they would want that week vacation to fall in March, 29 percent said April, and 9 percent said February. And when asked when they would like school to start, 55 percent said after Labor Day, compared to 29 percent saying before Labor Day and 16 percent saying they had no preference.

One problem with a March break, said Mark, is it would interfere with PARCC testing, the new standardized tests being taken in Rhode Island. Districts like Providence have kept the April weeklong break but cut the February break to a four-day weekend, adding one vacation day to the Presidents Day weekend and that’s what the EG ad hoc calendar committee is going to recommend at the April 7 School Committee meeting.

The meeting takes place in the library at Cole Middle School at 7 p.m.


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EG Egg Hunt: Sunny Side Saturday

Happy egg hunters at the Main Street Association's Egg Hunt, Saturday, April 4, 2015.
Happy egg hunters at the Main Street Association’s Egg Hunt, Saturday, April 4, 2015.

On a rainy night in early March, 12 people huddled around a conference table in the basement of a Main Street office building. The meeting would have been similar to any other monthly update of the Main Street Association if it weren’t for an update from Doug Truesdell, MSA board member and marketing director. Truesdell shared the news that the East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society had decided to forgo their annual egg hunt, a mainstay in the town for over a decade.

“I saw this as an opportunity for us to continue the tradition of this popular event,” said Truesdell. “The egg hunt is a great family event and it aligns perfectly with our mission to enhance living in East Greenwich and improve Main Street and the surrounding areas.”

Marilyn Kate Grochowski admires her eggs.
Marilyn Kate Grochowski admires her eggs.

The first step towards taking on the egg hunt was convincing fellow members that it was feasible to pull everything together in less than a month.

“We’re fortunate in that our group is small but our members are very dedicated,” said Truesdell. “When I proposed that we take on the egg hunt in such a short time, I knew we would need a few members to really step up and help.”

And that’s just what happened.

The MSA went to work planning the details of the event and were met with an abundance of support from the community.

egg hunt 1
There were actually three different “hunts,” for different age groups, including the youngest kids, getting ready to go here.

“In addition to the planning skills of MSA board members Michelle Clark and Linda Sticca, the Town of East Greenwich came on board and offered Eldredge Field for the egg hunt,” said Stephen Nelson, president of the MSA. “Furthermore, the knowledge transfer from Gloria De Paola and the East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society helped us to understand what worked for them in creating such a great event.”

Other community vendors pitched in as well, including the Batista Amaral Dunkin’ Donuts group and Dave’s Market, providing refreshments for the event, the East Greenwich Senior Center, helping to fill more than 1,000 plastic eggs and East Greenwich Boy Scout Troop #2, assisting in setting up Eldredge Field for the hunt. Special prizes were donated, included Hasbro toys from Gary Aigner, tennis lessons from Matt Marion and piano and voice lessons from Alex Godiksen.

The Main Street Association team.
A few members of the Main Street Association team.

On Saturday, nearly 200 people—the majority of them children ranging from babies to tweens—turned out for the event, colorful baskets in hand, ready to grab the eggs. After a brief welcome, Nelson sounded an alarm and almost as quickly as you can say “egg hunt,” the event was over and children were popping open the eggs to see what they had won.

“For our first year hosting the event, I’d say it was a success” said Nelson, although he acknowledged they need to do a better job making sure every child goes home with some eggs. “We’re eager to hear feedback from residents and are looking forward to an even better event in 2016.”

For more information on the MSA and any upcoming events, check out www.mainstreeteg.org.

Tree Steward Course Coming to EG

Tree Steward Flyer CEUS 2015 (1)The Rhode Island Tree Council is holding its spring Tree Steward course in East Greenwich this year, in part because of the East Greenwich Tree Committee, a new group in town dedicated to preserving the trees we have, planting new trees and providing education to residents.

The course combines learning about trees, caring for trees and understanding how people and trees can best grow together. Participants will learn about tree biology, identifying trees, tree planting and pruning, among other things.

The EG course is one evening session and two Saturdays: Thursday, May 7, and Saturdays May 9 and May 16, at the EGPD Community Room. The course culminates with a tree planting at a yet-to-be-determined location. Suggestions are welcome!

You can register for the course at the www.ritree.org site or send an email to RITree@ritree.org.

If you are interested in trees, perhaps you’ll consider joining the EG Tree Committee. They next meet Tuesday, April 14, at 7 p.m. For more information about the group, contact emac6660@gmail.com.

Muckleball in the Mud

https://mmafootball.files.wordpress.comBy Bruce Mastracchio

Growing up in East Greenwich, as I have said numerous times, was a unique experience. Three separate and distinct areas of town: a shore and cove, a Main Street, and farmlands made it different from almost anything else I have encountered. I have been in all 50 states, and talked to a lot of people so I think I have some cred in saying so. The experiences could have been had by almost anybody, but not quite like those we experienced here.

As kids here just about every day was taken up with sports. On vacations we left the house at 7 in the morning and played and romped ‘til suppertime, then went back out again for more games or whatever adventure or plan popped up.

Most of us dreamed of playing for the Avengers, the Crimson & White of EGHS. We wouldn’t think of going elsewhere to play. Hometown born and hometown bred, most of us were. Not everyone, some still left town for the Catholic high schools, but even some of them came back.

Our training grounds were the fields and streets of EG. We played tackle football in the street, a good preparation for what was to come (another story for later).

Another earlier prep for football was a game called MuckleBall, which was indigenous (to the best of my knowledge) to Eldredge Elementary School.

A while back I introduced a version of this game to the kids in a private school where I worked. I gave them the history of it, and, of course, a little story. Not sure if they understood, but it will reach them down in the depths, eventually, just like it reaches everybody else.

So, today, in this version, I will talk about MuckleBall, and Eldredge, and the game and let you translate it anyway you want. To how you played your version or not, or whatever.

Remember, you only get to dance here for a short time, so always live in the present, and look to the future. But, don’t forget the past, especially the good times. You can learn a lot from the past, and the good memories always make me smile, especially when I am dancing my way across the mountains of the moon. It is good to smile. I have to smile, and dance, just to keep from crying.

Muckleball was a  game that was peculiar to Eldredge School and field. It was kind of like a “King of the Hill” football, and I’ve never seen or heard of it being played elsewhere, though I suppose it was. Of course, now, I have introduced it in a few other climes.

We had our own sandlot football teams. Later it was junior high school football (they wouldn’t let me play – too small), and then, of course, the ultimate for us town kids, who grew up living and dying with the legend and lore of this town.

The realization of our dream. Donning the Crimson and White and playing for the East Greenwich High School Avengers, E>G> or Grenitch as we called it.

But, muckleball was played before that. It was a training ground, so to speak, to see what you were made of. It was only played at Eldredge during our younger years and was played before school or at noontime  recess, which lasted an hour in those days. An hour really being an hour, not 45 or 50 minutes as they say today.

The rules were simple – one ball and 20 or 30 screaming kids. One kid gets the ball. Everyone else tries to muckle him. That translates to tackle him. Pulverize him. Crush him. Make him give up the ball. Once “muckled,” the ballcarrier had one or two choices. He could get up again and give it another try. Or, he could toss the ball to another victim, and give him a chance to get creamed.

For the ballcarrier the strategy was simple. If you were fast you turned on the jets and motored out of harm’s way. Of course, if you were fast enough to outrun everybody then your would hear cries of “chicken” in your ears and your only recourse would be to reverse course and run back at the pack of boys chasing you, who were just waiting to get a shot at you to knock the snot out of you.

Again if you were muckled you could get up again and keep the ball, or toss it to some other unfortunate. You could be tackled in a numerous number of ways. Some boys would hit you with a regular tackle with shoulder and arms around the waist or legs and drag you down.

Some might hit you with a “billy goat” bump to take you off your feet and others would just jump in the air and wrap you with a flying headlock to hurl you viciously to the ground.

Most  times if you were the victim of a single tackle, it wasn’t so bad. But, when a slew of boys hit you at once, it could hurt, and even result in injury. They would pig-pile you to the ground and the boys coming up behind would jump on the pile crushing those underneath.

The best players were usually the best athletes. Mick was among the best I ever saw, along with Pini and Fats. Of course, Mick was full grown in the sixth grade and he just crushed you when he ran into you. Fats was a crusher too, while Pini combined speed, quickness and toughness all in one, and could run away from you, around you, or through you, sometimes all at once. He was only 5’2” tall but started varsity in all three sports as a freshman and, not just played, but starred. Muckleball never got him. High school sports couldn’t stop him either. Grades did though. As big as Mick was he was hurt though most of his high school career. Fats never played. But others from that Muckleball Field went on to don the Crimson and do quite well.

I never saw Ducky play muckleball, but based on what I saw of him on the gridiron, I think he might have done all right. Muckleball was just a test along the road of life as you might say. One of the “rites of passage” for us EG kids. Most of us used it as a proving ground, and tough as it was it never hurt as much as tackle football on the asphalt street at Tar Ucci’s Memorial Stadium. We all wanted to prove we were tough enough to play for the Avengers. EG was the smallest school in the state, with only 90 boys at the time and, in my day,we went up against bigger schools like Cranston HS (not East), which came out with 107 players dressed to our 33. We tied them, but beat bigger schools like Woonsocket, Barrington, South Kingstown and North Kingstown, who were two and three times bigger than we were. We reveled in playing for our hometown team and as kids we couldn’t wait for that to happen.

It’s funny, I’ve been to a lot of places. Kids today don’t seem to have the same feeling for sports that we had. We knew the high school players and what they had accomplished. We knew the legends of the past, semi-pro too. We wanted to be in their shoes one day. They played the high school games at Eldredge Field, too, right where we played our muckleball games.

They walked over from the Academy and we walked with them. I used to collect all the player’s capes and pile them over me  like I was a manager, and thus, walk through the gates without having to pay.

We reveled in their season. Their ups and downs. The rivalries. We looked forward to the Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day games. It took on special meaning when we got to high school and played North Kingstown, our bigger rival from right down the road.

We owned them, even though they were a bigger school, and have owned them over the years. Since 1958, I don’t think they’ve won more than 10 times. We just expected to win and then go home and enjoy our Thanksgiving Day dinner. We relished enjoying our turkey dinner and spoiling theirs.

There was no doubt about it. Sure, the games were tough, but we’d had our training in muckleball and street tackle, and what could be tougher than that? When you’ve taken on the world how could a few paltry Skippers from NK stop you. That’s how we felt. That’s why we won.

Since those muckleball games and high school games, many fields have known my sound.Thanksgiving has been spent in California, Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts and Nevada (and now back in Rhode Island). But the time frames still bring back memories of Eldredge, the high school games and muckleball.

MuckleBall in the mud. In March. What could be better than that?

This story is dedicated to all of the “old gang.” To those who played muckleball, street tackle and ever donned the Crimson & White for old EG High, and put it on the line on those crisp, fall, Saturday afternoons, and especially, on Thanksgiving Day in November.

GOOOOOOOO, GRENITCH ” as Dave Baker’s Mother used to say.

Bonus:

Stand up and cheer     
Stand up and Cheer for
East Greenwich High School
For today
we may
Crimson & White
Above the rest          
Above the rest
Oh give a cheer
OUR BOYS
are fighting
For they are bound to win the fray
We’ve got
THE TEAM!     
RAH RAH
We’ve got  
THE STEAM!   
RAH RAH
For it’s East Greenwich High School’s Day!!!


Bruce Mastracchio grew up in East Greenwich and had the pleasure of growing up among these colorful characters and even knowing more than a few of them. They made life interesting.