From the Superintendent: Hope

by | Dec 11, 2023

Editor’s note: This column was submitted Dec. 8.

I drove back from Sharon Memorial Park last Thursday, Nov. 30, lost in thought. Growing up just outside New York City, I’ve been to many Jewish rituals but never to a funeral. One of the mitzvahs in the ceremony happens during the burial. Each mourner has the opportunity to put three shovelfuls of dirt on top of the coffin after it has been lowered into the ground. The first is done with the shovel upside down. I asked a dear Jewish friend about that. She told me: “The shovel is held so that the back of the shovel faces upward to show that it’s being used for a purpose that’s the opposite of life. And that it also takes time, showing our reluctance to bury a loved one. This tradition of having family and friends fill the grave also ensures that the deceased is not buried by strangers.” This is how we said goodbye to Dr. Steven Arnoff, director of technology in East Greenwich Public Schools. 

I could not stay lost in thought for long because my phone, previously on Do Not Disturb for the funeral, came alive with all the notifications from email and text messages. Thursday was the second full day we could not have staff or students in the high school due to a leak in our boiler system, which meant there was not enough heat in the building. I drove straight to the high school to meet with EGHS Principal Dr. Patricia Page and Director of Facilities Robert Wilmarth. There was some optimism in our conversation – the crew had been able to visualize and isolate the problem and was hopeful that we would feel the heat coming on and holding throughout the building in a few hours. We then walked every classroom space together, and I stood by as the high school leadership team made a plan for the rooms impacted by the ongoing repairs to be relocated elsewhere. Once that was in place, the safety evacuation plan was updated to reflect these new circumstances. Shortly before 5 p.m. that evening, Dr. Page sent a message sharing the good news with the high school community. Ninety minutes later, I sent a follow-up to our entire EGPS community and various media outlets. 

All of Wednesday was spent collaborating on alternative plans to accommodate almost 900 humans (students and adults) who spend their days at the high school, teaching and learning. We do not have approval for remote learning from the Rhode Island Department of Education. We chose not to apply for that collaboratively with our Teachers’ Association after reviewing the requirements for remote learning. We know there is an emergency approval process should we face another circumstance like the one we saw at the high school. 

While we were planning for alternative ways to guarantee teaching and learning would continue somehow, Mr. Wilmarth and his team spent Tuesday afternoon, all of Wednesday, and most of the day on Thursday trying to find the source of the leak. Since I have zero expertise in this area, I stayed out of the way and only communicated with Mr. Wilmarth via text and phone calls. The last thing a professional needs is a neophyte interrupting the process. Until I was invited, all I offered Mr. Wilmarth and his team was space and resources. 

When I did get a chance to recap in person with Mr. Wilmarth and his team, after bringing me up to speed on the latest, he could not say enough about the collaboration between the Town of East Greenwich. He said, “Every time we called this week, the answer was ‘Yes!’ If they had a maybe, it turned into a yes, or it was an alternative to what we were asking for.” I am so grateful for these concrete actions that supported and helped solve the problem at the high school. We could not have welcomed all the humans back to EGHS on Friday without their help. We are better together!

As I drove home on Friday afternoon, I thought about where my week started. It started in a pew at Our Lady of Mercy. Ryan Casey, the husband of Dr. Michelle Casey, a special educator at Cole Middle School, and the dad of Kathleen, William, Grace, Riley, and Caroline, passed away in November. I cannot comprehend the deep sense of loss that the Casey family, friends, and family must be feeling during this time. Still, something that Fr. Bernard Healey said during his homily stuck with me, and I reflected on it as I made my way back to my family. Fr. Healey mentioned that when we start a sentence with “if only,” we’re looking back. E

Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.
ven in death, there is hope, albeit challenging, in the Catholic faith of reuniting in everlasting life. Hope was a central theme during Dr. Arnoff’s funeral as well. While there was not a lot of hope at the high school on Tuesday and Wednesday, we found it through the collective effort to restore heat to our building. 

I am not in any way comparing the hope of opening a high school after two days of no heat to the hope of reuniting with loved ones who have passed away. The depth of sadness that the Arnoff and the Casey families, as well as their friends and loved ones, feel is nothing compared to two days of no school for our high school staff and students. And, to not look back, in the words of Fr. Healey, we have to have hope. 

Education is an act of hope. The very nature of what we do is hopeful. We plant seeds that we may never, ever see blossom. Educators face countless moments every day, in every classroom, in which we interact in the lives of the learners in our buildings. In the lives of our colleagues. In the lives of the families of our learners. Every interaction is an act of hope. Hope for the future. Hope for better. Hope for growth. Hope for reconciliation. Hope for greater understanding. Hope for humanity. 

Last week was a long week. And I have hope that this one will be better. 

Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.

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