Inspectors Deem Eldredge Safe; School to Reopen

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

East Greenwich, R.I. – After spending most of the day at Eldredge Elementary, structural engineers told school officials Wednesday the main part of the building was safe following a partial ceiling collapse in the school gym Tuesday.

“The engineering group came back and said we were cleared to be in the building,” said Supt. Victor Mercurio Wednesday evening. “We’re still looking at the root causes of the actual ceiling collapse itself.”

“The gym is off-limits, potentially through the rest of the school year,” he said. The classrooms above the gym have been deemed safe, he said.

Mercurio said he also submitted a waiver to the state Department of Education to ask if Eldredge could end the school year with the rest of the schools on June 22. He said he should have an answer in a couple of weeks.

Tests of air quality came back negative for any problems, Mercurio said. 

“We dodged what could have been a very catastrophic event,” he said. “Now it’s just a question what the extent is what the repair is for that facility, but it’s going to be extensive. There’s no question about that.”

Here are a couple of pictures of Eldredge from the year it was built, in 1927, courtesy of Alan Clarke.

Painting the third floor hallway at Eldredge School in 1927.
A classroom at Eldredge School before it opened in 1927.


 

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.



 

 

Town-School Consolidation Takes Step Closer to Reality

Sticking point remains School Committee’s desire for a finance staff person who reports solely to the superintendent, but the panel has few alternatives other than to comply.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

A proposal outlining town and school finance and human resources consolidation found a welcome reception before the Town Council this week, while the School Committee continues to struggle with the concept.

Both elected bodies have had a chance to review a memorandum of agreement put together by schools lawyer Matt Oliverio after extensive meetings in recent weeks between Supt. Victor Mercurio and Town Manager Gayle Corrigan.

Members of the Town Council said Monday night they were ready to go ahead with the plan, though Councilman Nino Granatiero said he didn’t understand why the School Committee felt it needed a memorandum of agreement to seal the deal.

“I read through it. It will work. But I just kind of shook my head that we need it,” he said.

Alternatively, the School Committee at their meeting March 6 tabled the MOA, still uncertain about the proposed consolidated finance office reporting structure.

“The deputy director of administration reports to the director of administration, not the superintendent,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, hitting on the issue that has challenged the committee since consolidation talks (under the “One Town” banner) last summer.

“I would have the same access that I have now,” Mercurio responded, noting that the town and schools have been sharing a finance director since June.

“I talk to [school department finance clerk] Christine Spagnoli now, without going through [joint Finance Director] Linda Dykeman,” he said.

Mark conceded that the access would remain the same, but wondered about the hiring process.

“The memorandum of understanding addresses most of my most pressing concerns but it doesn’t address the hiring or firing of the deputy director position,” Mark said. “I’m just concerned about that person not being a direct report to the superintendent.”

The plan, as put forth March 6, closely resembled Town Manager Corrigan’s ultimatum from December, when she said the town and the schools needed to decide whether they would “marry or divorce.” Divorce would mean the school district would need to rebuild staff that had been shared with the town since 2005. Marriage would be complete finance consolidation.

But Oliverio argued that the MOA he drafted and which was approved by Corrigan and town lawyer David D’Agostino provided safeguards for the schools, including a “non-interference clause” for positions that would report to both the town manager and the superintendent.

“In the decision-making process between the town manager and the superintendent, should they not agree, there is a dispute resolution process,” Oliverio said.

He added, “The only way that I could recommend this proposed consolidation was to have an opt-out provision that would be agreed upon by the Town Council and the School Committee.”

If either the town or the schools decided the arrangement wasn’t working, they could opt out at least 60 days before the end of the fiscal year.

However, Supt. Mercurio said at an earlier meeting – and several School Committee members agreed – that rebuilding a standalone school finance department was a fiscal non-starter; several positions were taken over by the town years ago, so it would necessitate hiring multiple staff members with money the school district doesn’t have.

Meanwhile, Dykeman said the money saved through the consolidation would be $70,000.

Another important aspect of this consolidation would be to move some school administrators over to Town Hall. If approved, the superintendent’s office would move to the second floor of Town Hall and special education would move to the ground floor. The Planning Department and IT would move to the school administration offices at 111 Peirce Street. The as-yet unrealized position of director of teaching and learning (i.e. curriculum director) would also be located at 111 Peirce Street.  Public Works would undertake the renovations with the town picking up the cost.

The School Committee will take up the MOA at its meeting next Tuesday, March 20. If the School Committee approves the plan, the Town Council will vote on it at their next meeting, March 26.

You can see details of the consolidation, including the new office plans, here.


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Schools React to Florida Shooting, Offering Support, Urging Vigilance

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Editor’s Note: This story has been amended since it first posted.

Following the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school Wednesday, Supt. Victor Mercurio and EGHS Principal Michael Podraza sent out emails to the school community outlining just what is being done in East Greenwich schools to protect against such an incident here.

… Our first priority is to create and maintain a safe and supportive environment at all of the East Greenwich Public Schools,” Mercurio wrote in his email, which went out to all families in the district. (Read the full letter here: Parent Support Letter.)

Principal Podraza’s letter (which was signed by other high school administrators) was more of a call to action.

“We ask that all members of the EGHS community take time to reflect and reaffirm our commitment to take all actions necessary to keep everyone at EGHS both safe and supported,” it read. (Read the full letter here: Letter to EGHS 2/15/2018.)

The email asks students if they are worried about any other students and tells them, for instance, to not let people into the high school without going through the main entrance. It tells parents who to contact if they are worried about their child’s wellbeing or that of another student.

“We know that taking some of the actions listed above might be uncomfortable. However, we believe that the feelings of being uncomfortable pale in comparison to the weight of emotion one would feel if tragedy strikes and one could have taken action, yet didn’t,” the email reads.

These emails come one week after rumors of potential violence at EGHS prompted a wave of anxiety to sweep through the Facebook page, East Greenwich Parents for Excellence.

Eventually, Principal Podraza issued an email to families to address the issue:

We have been made aware of rumors circulating around various social media platforms about the existence of a video alleging a threat to East Greenwich High School. Upon receiving word of the post, the East Greenwich Police Department was immediately notified. We take any and all information given to us by concerned members of our school community very seriously and turn any information over to the East Greenwich Police Department for investigation. While the East Greenwich Police Department’s initial review did not conclude any threat to the high school, the East Greenwich Police continue to conduct a complete and thorough investigation of this matter. Please know that the safety of our students and staff here at East Greenwich High School is our top priority, and all threats are taken seriously. If through the course of the investigation any information is brought to light were violations of the EGPS behavior code or RI State laws have occurred we will all appropriate and required actions.   

School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark said Thursday said she wanted the community to know the district has been working hard to make EG schools safer.

“The work didn’t start in the last couple of weeks. it’s been going on for several years now,” she said. She acknowledged that the community deserved more information about what the district is doing and said some of that work can be seen in the changes to the fronts of schools across the district. Hanaford was the last school to get a renovated entrance with a buzzer system and visibility to see who is at the entrance – that work was finished just this past fall.

“There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes too,” said Mark, work that won’t be made public for safety reasons.

She said new safety measures (including new drills) should be in place by the end of the school year and that the district would be working harder to communicate with families.


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School Committee Considers Audit as First Step Against Council

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

At the School Committee meeting Tuesday (1/9/18), members dipped their toes into legal waters, deciding to draft a request for proposal (RFP) for a dual audit of both finances and program to prepare for what could be another tough budget year for the schools. The Town Council level-funded the schools this year, while providing some money to help pay for non-educational expenses.

The audit would be the first step toward invoking the Caruolo Act (R.I. General Law 16-2-21.4), in which a school committee brings suit against a town council (or whoever holds the budgetary purse strings) if it determines the approved budget appropriation – together with state education aid and federal aid – is not enough to carry out its contractual commitments, as well as basic mandates under state and federal law and regulations.

Schools lawyer Matt Oliverio suggested that the School Committee consider undertaking the audit.

“I’ve been having some discussions with Supt. Mercurio and Ms. Mark that really started after last year’s budget cycle closed, in light of what the School Committee had requested and the fact that the Town Council had for the most part level-funded the school department. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for any of us,” he said. “I’m not suggesting we get in an adversarial relationship with the council but I think we should be proactive and consider undertaking a programmatic and financial audit.”

He added, “I thought it would be prudent to at least open the discussion about undertaking what is contemplated under the Caruolo Act but is really a pre-Caruolo action.”

The audit would give the School Committee hard evidence to take to the Town Council, Oliverio said. But not just the Town Council.

“If you go through another budget cycle like you did last year, I’m assuming there’s going to be significant hurt to programs, to extracurriculars.”

“It gives the public an indication of what are we willing to pay to fund this level of curriculum and extracurricular activity,” he said. “If you go through another budget cycle like you did last year, I’m assuming there’s going to be significant hurt to programs, to extracurriculars.”

But the audit comes at a cost, both financially and time-wise. Oliverio estimated such an audit – which would involve both an accountant and an outside school administer or former administrator – would cost upwards of $50,000. And it would take a lot of Supt. Victor Mercurio’s time, he said.

“Even thought he’s not going to be doing the audit, he will be supporting it and it’s gonna be a time drain on him,” Oliverio said. “You should understand that. It is a pretty intense process. it’s a time consuming process.”

“What kills me is the prospect of spending a significant amount of money to figure out  what minimum looks like,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. “I feel like we shouldn’t even be having this conversation in this district. At the same time, I think we have to be realistic about the situation that we’re in. If we’re ultimately going to have to it anyway, I’d rather do it sooner than later.”

We don’t know if we will have to do this, Oliverio replied. “We’re just speculating…. But we can’t put our heads in the sand. That’s why I’m raising it now.”

Jeff Dronzek asked if it was necessary to do both a financial and a programmatic audit since so the school district’s financials had been explored extensively just last year (by Providence Analytics, made up of the two consultants who are now the town manager, Gayle Corrigan, and the finance director for the schools and town, Linda Dykeman).

“It really is different,” responded Dykeman. “They’re looking at it through a different lens, they really are. You’re not going to be served if you do half the project. If you’re going to do it, you need both in my opinion.”

School Committeewoman Lori McEwen agreed.

“That different lens would be looking at alignment between the programmatic and the fiscal, looking at return on investment, at waste. . . . ”

Committeewoman Mary Ellen Winters said she thought the district should ask the Town Council to pay for the audit.

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” she said, since it would be “for the schools, which is for the town.”

Committeeman Jeff Dronzek agreed that the committee should push the council to pay for the audit, but he said, “if we think this is important, then we should do it.”

He added, “It sure would be nice for all of us if we had [this] information at our fingertips. If we need more and it’s proven by this … then we really have something.”

Chairwoman Mark asked Supt. Mercurio to have a draft RFP for the audit at the committee’s next meeting, Jan. 23.

To watch video of this part of the meeting, click here. This story was amended since it was first posted.

New Town-School Website Offers View Into Difficulty of Consolidation

Joint Website Gets Thumbs Up on Townside; For Schools, Not So Much

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Part of the new Town of East Greenwich website homepage.

Long before the words “One Town” were first uttered last June, the Town Council had voted to update its website and, working with school officials, they decided to have one website for both the town and the school district. At that time, the town had a website and the school department had a website. The idea was one site would be both helpful for residents and save money. The reality has been more challenging, at least according to school officials.

“The way that the website is set up, we are a department in the town,” said Supt. Victor Mercurio. He and other school officials see that was confusing for school department users. And, they say, the site has not been as easy to use as the old site.

How did we get here?

“This entire project was at the behest of the council,” said Wendy Schmidle, the town’s director of technology. “Councilor Todd was interested in having a mobile app for the town. We investigated a number of different solutions to satisfy that requirement. As we got into that whole conversation, we realized that in order for a mobile app to work properly, it needed to link back to a website that was more mobile dynamic.”

Mobile dynamic or mobile friendly websites are designed to be read easily on a small screen, so instead of opening to a website and having the whole home page show up as it would on a desktop-style computer, it would be immediately readable (no using your fingers to enlarge the screen to see or read something).

“That started the investigation into, ‘Can we find a company that can satisfy not only the mobile app piece but can it satisfy our other requirements as well?’” said Schmidle.

It turned out South Kingstown had just gone out to bid for a new website design and had received eight responses.

“We piggybacked off that process,” said Schmidle. East Greenwich interviewed three of the bidders and went with CivicPlus. South Kingstown did as well. Schmidle said Barrington and Westerly also use CivicPlus, which she said has designed websites for more than 2,400 communities across the country.

“They know local small government,” she said.

Up until now, the town had been spending $3,500 a year for its website and some technical support. The schools had been paying $5,000 a year. The new combined website costs $30,000 over three years – $10,000 a year – and that includes the website design, website hosting, some technical support and the mobile app.

“It sounds like a lot of money, but for what we are getting, if we had bought two separate sites and a mobile app, it would have been a lot more expensive,” said Schmidle.

“The whole goal was to co-brand the site, get the cost down, have one vendor, have one tool if you will, one way for the resident or student or business to access information … and have it look like it was from the same town,” she said. “CivicPlus could do all of that for us and also provide the mobile app.”

(The mobile app has not yet been designed. Schmidle said it won’t be until CivicPlus determines the website is “done,” at which point CivicPlus’s app development team will pick up the project.)

For the schools, the website rollout has been difficult. One challenge was the transition itself. Originally, the website was to go live in mid-October. The School Department said no, since the switchover would be taking place during the first weeks of school. The town offered to push it back to mid-December, but the School Department wanted it done over the summer so that it would be live by August, when use would be ramping up in preparation for the start of school. However, that meant the site launched a little prematurely.

“I have no issue with the municipality and the schools having links where I can get to their stuff and they can get to my stuff,” said Mercurio. “When they start to get inter-tangled, that’s when it starts to get confusing for folks.”

School Committeeman Michael Fain agrees.

“The way it works now is you think you’re on the school website, but as soon as you go to a different menu, it brings you back to the town. There should be a step. Ok, here’s the town, but in the school site, you should stay within the schools,” said Fain. “You shouldn’t click on the calendar and have it bring up the town calendar for you to do your searching to try to find the school stuff. When you’re at the school site, I want the school calendar. I don’t want to have to go through all this other stuff.”

He continued, “Think about a large corporation that has subsidiaries. Can you imagine going to one of the subsidiaries and clicking on the calendar and being kicked back up to the main corporate site?”

School officials spoke with Civic Plus a couple of weeks ago and learned they could have a site-within-a-site but it would cost an additional $8,000.

“In other words, the whole implementation of this would be pointless,” said Fain. “We would be better off going with what we had.”

School and town officials have not yet sat down to discuss problems with the website. In an email to Supt. Mercurio a few weeks ago, Schmidle recommended such a meeting and at the School Committee’s Oct. 17 meeting, Supt. Mercurio said such a meeting was the next step.

Schmidle said switching to a new website is always hard but, beyond some of the headaches of implementation, a single website for the town and schools will require a different mindset.

“This will be a cultural work in progress because we’re not separate,” she said. “Before we were separate.”

(Read about registering for on the new website here.)

After Summer Exodus, School Department Welcomes 4 New Administrators

The resignations came in a bunch over the summer – first Special Ed Director Brad Wilson and Frenchtown Principal Cheryl Vaughn, then Eldredge Principal Dom Giusti and EGHS Vice Principal Tim Chace. In a district with only six schools, the number of departures was daunting.

But, with the appointment of Dan Seger as Eldredge principal Sept. 19, Supt. Victor Mercurio has managed to fill all four positions. Now, he only needs to find a replacement for Seger, who had been vice principal at Cole Middle School. (Thomas Montaquila is serving as interim vice principal.)

“I have been deeply appreciative of how quickly Victor’s been able to move those hires forward,” said School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark in September. She and Mercurio credited the Transportation Subcommittee for taking on the nitty gritty transportation details this year.

“Last year, I put my head up and it was October,” Mercurio said, referring to the very complicated transportation picture in September 2016 that resulted when the district moved from three tiers to two as well as pushing back the start times for the middle and high schools.

“We’ve been trying to support our superintendent so that he could really do his work,” Mark said.

Here are EG’s new school administrators:

Frenchtown Principal Maryann Crudale

Maryann Crudale is the new principal at Frenchtown School.

For Crudale, being named principal at Frenchtown has been a homecoming – she spent 10 years teaching second grade at the K-2 school. In her final year at Frenchtown, she entered the Principal Residency Network (PRN) and worked closely with then-Principal Vaughn. Feedback from others in the program convinced her that she needed to broaden her elementary ed experience. So, when an opportunity arose to teach fifth grade at Eldredge, she took it.

Then-Eldredge Principal Giusti had also gone through the PRN program.

“I asked if he’d be willing to be my mentor in my last year, and he said absolutely,” said Crudale. After she finished the program, however, she stayed on at Eldredge. She’d been thinking she needed to try to pursue an administrator post when she learned Vaughn was leaving.

“To me, the dream would be coming back to Frenchtown and being able to move it ahead and be that leader of education and of learning and teaching here. But did I ever think that dream would come to fruition? No!” she said.

“I am thrilled.”

According to Rita McGoff, who teaches at Frenchtown, the feeling was mutual. McGoff said she and her fellow teachers gave Crudale a standing ovation at their first meeting of the school year.

Crudale is happy that many of the staff at Frenchtown saw her go through the PRN program.

“The last they knew of me, I was transitioning to be an administrator so it wasn’t as if they didn’t recognize me as a leader. They immediately knew I was here to lead them,” she said. “There’s an excitement about being able to be part of the future of Frenchtown School. This is the foundation – Pre-K to 2. This is the foundation of what our children become in middle school and high school. What better place to be?”

Crudale lives in Cranston. She and her husband have two adult children.

Eldredge Principal Dan Seger

Dan Seger is the new principal at Eldredge Elementary School.

Dan Seger is familiar to anyone who’s had a child at Cole over the past several years. He taught social studies there (on the Rip Tide team) then became vice principal under Principal Alexis Meyer in 2012. Last year, he served as acting principal while Meyer spent the year on a Rhode Island Department of Education fellowship. Seger was planning to resume his role as assistant principal when Eldredge’s Giusti took a job in Coventry (Coventry got Brad Wilson and Tim Chace as well).

“I have a passion for this work, serving kids and families in this respect, so it was a really big opportunity,” Seger said of being a school principal. After a career spent on the middle school level, moving to a school of third through fifth grades has been a change, but it’s not entirely new to him either. He has two children and they happen to be in second grade and third grade.

“There was certainly a draw to this age group,” he said, but he acknowledged he will miss both his colleagues and the students at Cole.

That’s the toll you pay when you transition to a new place,” he said. “The saving grace is they are about a minute’s drive from here.”

Seger said he was very lucky to have worked with Meyer and Giusti (with whom he served on the administrators council).

“They are both principal mentors,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to watch them model this job.”

Seger said he and Giusti share a common philosophy and approach so it was a “natural fit” coming to Eldredge.

“You can certainly see [Giusti’s] impact here. Eldredge has a strong familiar relationship and bond here with the faculty and the rest of the community,” said Seger. “From day one walking in as acting principal, the culture here is so warm, so positive. It immediately resonated when I walked in how tight knit the community is. It’s wonderful to be a part of it. I’m looking forward to many years in this community.”

EGHS Assitant Principal Jeff Heath

Jeff Heath is the new assistant principal at East Greenwich High School.

Jeff Heath thought he wanted to be a college professor. Even in middle school, that had been his dream. But by the time he reached that goal, he’d already had a taste of working with high schoolers and, it seems, the dye was cast. So, after two and a half years teaching at Rhode Island College, Heath took a job at EGHS as vice principal. He started in mid-September.

At RIC, he said, “I had some great conversations with kids that really kind of pushed my thinking about educational philosophy, just education in general and what it could be.”

But, he said, “one of the things I was missing was the teenage age demographic…. I had a hard time personally going through middle school and high school, just finding myself. So I really sympathize with this age group and what they go through on a daily basis. That socio-emotional component was missing when I was at the college. I didn’t expect to miss that but I did.”

He also missed “the daily application of education and seeing the practical fruits of a teacher’s labor,” he said. “On the college level it’s really theoretical.”

Heath found East Greenwich attractive because of the district’s strategic plan.

“I read the strategic plan on the website and I love the focus on the integration of restorative justice as a discipline practiced here,” he said.

Restorative justice is an approach to discipline in which the focus is shifted from punishment to learning and from the individual to the community.

“It places a heavy emphasis on the school community and how every person in this building – staff, student, faculty – has a position in the sense of you’re valued, you belong here. This is a place for you,” said Heath.

“When you deviate from norms that are established in the school then you cause damage,” he explained. The harm may not be tangible – maybe it’s a student who skips class – but it affects the school community so it is looked at from that prism.

Heath said he liked that approach as opposed to demanding that a student sit somewhere for an hour or a day.

As something of an acknowledged tech geek, Heath said he was really happy to be at EGHS, where each student has a Chromebook and teachers and students are encouraged to use technology to further their learning.

“It’s really progressive,” said Heath. “Those are things I don’t see around a lot of schools in Rhode Island.”

Heath and his wife live in Portsmouth with their 8 month old daughter, Jaden, and their dog, Jax.

Director of Student Services Lisa Hughes

Lisa Hughes is the new director of student services for EG schools.

Lisa Hughes was named director of student services for the EG school district on Aug. 18 and she hit the ground running. She had to. In charge of special education, Hughes has a caseload of students in every grade and school, and even a few students who have needs that require schooling out of district.

This is Hughes’s first administration job. Before this, she served as the special education department chair in Scituate.

“Special education has been my life’s work and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said recently. “I have always been drawn to students who learn differently. I’m passionate about inclusive practices and developing a growth mindset for all learners.”

Being director of student services can require a number of skills – listening to parents, working with students, and dealing with sometimes harsh budget realities. Hughes appears undaunted.

“I am honored to be working in this capacity in the East Greenwich schools. The welcoming school community has been wonderful in my transition to this position. I look forward to the challenge of working collaboratively and creatively with all stakeholders to continue the legacy of excellence in this community,” she said.

When asked what she’d found in her first weeks on the job, Hughes said the first month had been “exhilarating!”

She continued, “I have been across the district in meetings, classroom visits, and interacting with our incredible faculty and staff, students, and parents. I love the student-centered problem-solving school culture in East Greenwich. I look forward to continuing to support this rigor and determine other ways in which to advance and celebrate the excellent teaching and learning in this district.”

Hughes – who is in the Educational Leadership Doctoral Program at Johnson & Wales University – lives in Scituate with her two children and, she said, “way too many pets.”

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Better Than Last Year, But School Transportation Problems Persist

Last September, the EGSD bus situation was a dumpster fire – buses late to pick up kids, late to arrive at school, late to arrive back in the neighborhood, caused by the move from a three-tier bus system to two-tier, with the addition of later start times at Cole Middle School and EGHS mixed in (mainly a headache for after-school away-game buses).

This year, the transportation picture is a lot brighter, but not without its kinks. In particular, three weeks into the school year, several buses heading to Cole are arriving inside the 10-minute-before-school goal. A week ago, the administration requested that students across the district arrive at bus stops five minutes earlier. That should help.

But the biggest issue seems to be for those families whose children used to receive bus transportation but this year do not because the district is now enforcing stricter walking perimeters. The loudest voices – but not the only voices – have come from the Hill and Harbor neighborhoods for children who attend Cole. Some of those students now have a 1.5 mile walk to school via routes (Post Road or First Avenue to Middle Road) some parents argue are not safe.

Why just add another bus, or two? Each additional bus would cost $75,000, a prohibitive sum when the EGHS library is without a librarian and other staff cuts were made this year.

School Committeeman Jeff Dronzek, at the School Committee meeting Tuesday evening, wondered if certain transportation-related issues were not really school issues at all, but were more about public safety involving the town.

“The kinds of conversations that are coming to the [transportation] subcommittee are broader than our scope,” he said. “We’re being asked to make decisions on safety … and the quality of our roads and sidewalks.”

Dronzek said the schools need to work with the town.

“If we need more resources, they need to come from somewhere. If it’s crossing guards, does that become a supplemental appropriation?” he said.

In funding the schools considerably less than the School Committee requested this year, the Town Council said the School Committee could come back and seek “supplemental appropriations” for needed expenses. In particular, they were referring to special education, for which spending is notoriously hard to predict.

“I agree. I think it is a bigger discussion. It’s a joint discussion,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. She said she and Supt. Victor Mercurio would talk with Town Council President Sue Cienki and Town Manager Gayle Corrigan.

Transportation Subcommittee member Anne Musella also spoke up about safety issues for walkers.

“Many of the safety concerns relate to traffic violations,” she said. “To what extent should the kids’ education money be spent on safety for drivers who violate traffic laws?”

She also said Ocean State drivers need to be held to account when it comes to school arrival times.

“This is not a function of the routes,” she said. “We need Ocean State to work with us and we need the district to enforce the routes.”

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

High School Library Space Is Open, Not Staffed

The School Committee took up the issue of the lack of a library media specialist at East Greenwich High School at its meeting Tuesday night. While Principal Michael Podraza has figured out a way to open the library space itself – technology staffer Donna Wales has moved her office there – it remains without a library media specialist.

“There’s no substituting the lack of a library media specialist in that space,” Supt. Victor Mercurio conceded.

The cut of a library media specialist was made in June. The Town Council level funded the schools this year but did provide some budget relief by taking on some non-educational school expenses (such as the salary for the finance director). Still, the contribution from the town was considerably less than the schools had requested. In June, the School Committee was faced with cutting French at Cole, some athletics, Chromebooks at EGHS or cutting a library media specialist. At the time, according to School Committee Chair Carolyn Mark, the hope was that Cole and EGHS could share a librarian.

“The scheduling threw a monkey wrench into the process,” Mark said. She was referring to changes to teacher planning time made to the schedule at Cole Middle School.

So, in August, it was decided to cut the library media specialist at the high school.

Mercurio said the lack of a LMS at the high school was concerning but that the high school would not lose its accreditation. Still, he said, the accreditation organization (NEASC) would “in all likelihood” tell East Greenwich it needed to “figure this out and figure it out soon.”

School Committee member Matt Plain asked how the lack of an LMS might affect the district’s effort to meet the Basic Education Plan (BEP). Mercurio said he wasn’t sure.

“If we’re falling below our BEP obligation, we would certainly want to contemplate going to the Town Council for a supplemental appropriation,” Plain said, referring to the Town Council’s offer to give over additional funds if the School Committee felt an education requirement was at stake.

“I would cringe to see us go a whole school year without a library media specialist,” said committee member Jeff Dronzek. He also encouraged the committee to consider asking the Town Council for supplemental money.

When Mark opened up the meeting to public comment on the issue, Hanaford library media specialist Beth Gorter spoke of her extensive duties and about the importance of that role both for students and teachers, helping with technology as well as more traditional book cataloguing. But she also addressed the specific needs of high school students.

“The librarian is the person whose duty it is to teach our students, at all age levels, how to be responsible, ethical and efficient users of information, wherever that information comes from and especially if it comes from the internet,” she said. “Having students go from a high school with no certified library media specialist into college is unthinkable.”

“I think it’s just a shame that there hasn’t been another idea of how we get around this,” said resident Nancy Semonian Day. “Kids have only one place they can go for academics.”

“We all understand that the School Committee was placed in an impossible position when the Town Council level funded the budget last year,” said resident Kate Goldman. “But I’m disappoint to see … a lack of innovation …  a lack of energy around these issues.”

Goldman referred to a comment made by a resident during the spring about what he saw as an excessive budget line for photocopies and printing, and she mentioned the possibility of negotiating lower electricity rates with National Grid.

Like Day and Gorter, Goldman also touched on spending on athletics. While all three said they supported school athletics, they questioned the lose of a librarian to spending on sports.

“You could take 10 percent off the top of every team,” Goldman suggested.

She encouraged the School Committee to be creative.

“We need to start thinking differently about this stuff.”

Chairwoman Mark said the School Committee would “explore other options.”

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

New Schedule at Cole, New Principal at Frenchtown, New Special Ed Director for District

School starts in just over a week but the schedule for Cole Middle School was only recently finalized and made public, causing frustration for some parents. Two administrator jobs, however, have been filled, which cuts in half the number of open administrator jobs in the district.

Maryann Crudale was named principal of Frenchtown School for the upcoming school year, taking a leave of absence from her teaching position at Eldredge. Crudale took part in the principal’s residency program under former Frenchtown Principal Cheryl Vaughn a few years ago.

Lisa Hughes was named director of student services. Hughes served as special education department chair in the Scituate Public Schools. Her first day was Monday, Aug. 21.

Both appointments were made by the School Committee in a special meeting Friday, Aug. 18.

The schedule for Cole Middle School was only made public on Friday, in the Superintendent’s Memo, including notice of a 1:25 p.m. dismissal on Wednesdays. That detail, released so soon before the start of the school year, rankled some parents on social media.

“I’m very disappointed right now to be reading about a change in school times from a Facebook post only a week and a half before the beginning of the new school year. Why did the district not send out a letter to middle and high school parents?” wrote one parent over the weekend.

“I’m sorry but how is it that a week before school starts this is not known among the parents? How are those who have to work supposed to adjust for yet more hours that the kids are out of school AND have a shorter lunch time??? Why does none of this need to be approved or debated? I thought we put all this work into elect school committee officials that were going to be in the know and keep people (parents) in the loop,” wrote another.

Supt. Victor Mercurio acknowledged that the schedule was late this year. After the teachers contract was settled in May, a team of teachers and administrators got to work on the 2017-18 schedule, but that was still a couple of months behind when the team would usually get to work on the following year’s schedule. (Had the contract not settled, Mercurio said, the schedule for this year would be the same as last year.)

One of the goals was to lower class sizes at the middle school, which was accomplished for the “core content areas” like ELA, science, and math. Class sizes had been in the mid to high 20s last year. This year, they will be in the lower 20s.

In order to fit in the mandated instructional time, lunches were shortened from 25 minutes to between 21 and 22 minutes, depending on the day.

At the high school, the only difference is the early dismissal on Wednesdays. In recent years, Wednesdays started later for high school students. Now that time, used by teachers as common planning time, will be shifted to the end of the school day.

“There’s no question it’s a change,” Mercurio said. “What I’m happy about is we were able to maintain teaming. We were able to maintain elective offerings in 6, 7 and 8. Overall, it’s a different schedule then what we previously had but I’m pleased with the work the team did.” 

He also praised Cole Principal Alexis Meyer and Asst. Principal Dan Seger for their help in restructuring the schedule, which was done with the help of a consultant.

Mercurio said the job postings for both principal of Eldredge and assistant principal for EGHS remain open. He plans to appoint an acting principal for Eldredge Tuesday (8/22). As for Tim Chace’s former role at EGHS, “If we have candidates and we can move forward this week, we will.”

Needing to fill four administrative positions has been tough.

It’s not unusual to be down one administrator. To be down as many as we are down … is a challenge to say the very least,” Mercurio said.

The admin team of principals and department heads had been remarkably constant in recent years.

“This will be the first year we have to do introductions on the first day,” Mercurio said.

He said he is holding a “Superintendent’s Meet & Greet” on Monday, Aug. 28, for all the teachers and staff of the district, for first time in several years.

“There have been lots of changes in a very compressed period of time. Our goal is to maintain focus and to make sure we’re continuing to do the good work we’ve been doing,” Mercurio said. “While there have been lots of other things that have been taking place in the community in the last several months and coming off of last year – there was a lot going on last year – I think people need to take a breath. I think hopefully they’ve had the opportunity to refresh and recharge over the summer.”

– Elizabeth F. McNamara