By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.
One of the aspects of East Greenwich public schools that I am proudest of is the power and simplicity of the title of our strategic plan, “All Means All.” It attracted me to EG during the interview process and is something I’ve been able to refer to regularly in my first year. It’s not just lip service, either. Our district has absolute clarity around these words regarding teaching and learning. Are we perfect? No – not even close. But these words mean something to all of our employees, who are responsible for creating an environment for all students to learn to their fullest potential. That means three things to me: All students must feel safe, welcomed, and included when they come to our buildings.
If we do those things, our students will achieve what they are capable of, and they will be able to grow and improve from last year. One of the things that almost all students wonder about on the first day of school is, “Will my teacher like me?” To find out quickly that this is a non-issue opens up endless possibilities for our students, embracing them exactly the way they are as they come through our doors. It doesn’t matter who they love, what their skin color is, what gender they identify as, how much money their parents’ house cost, or what their grades were last year – all that matters is that they are here in front of us now, with a brand-new school year ahead of us.
When students feel safe, welcomed, and included, they can be thoughtful about answering the questions that will come at them this year, most importantly, “Who are you?” If I think about that question, my first two answers have nothing to do with my job: I’m a husband to Michal and a father to Patrick and Brendan. Those come first. So, instead of asking our students the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We need to ask our students instead, “Who are you?” and let that inform what paths to consider pursuing for possible future employment.
Given the realities of our world, it is probable that this year’s class of 2024 from East Greenwich High School will have multiple jobs across different fields in their lifetimes. Some of the jobs they may be applying for don’t even exist today. Given that alone, the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” does not age well.
In addition, we want our children to grow up to be people others can also feel safe around. We want our students to be the kind others turn to in need. We want them to take care of themselves, each other, and this place. The future of our planet depends on stewardship from this generation because we, as adults, have not done our part. Perhaps there is a budding environmentalist in one of our elementary schools, Cole, or the high school. We want to create the conditions for that passion to flourish, for those conversations to happen, and for that spark to be lit.
Those conditions are cultivated, nurtured, and maintained by all of the employees of East Greenwich public schools. Not just the teachers. Not just the paraeducators. They do the bulk of the work. They’re supported by our administrative support staff, facilities staff, those in technology, the leadership team, and everyone in our district office (finance, human resources, and student support services). We are all supported by the School Committee and Town Council.
Collectively, it’s our job to ensure that All Means All is not just the title of our strategic plan but the lived experiences of all our students PK – 12. To do that, all students must feel safe, welcomed, and included when they come to school. When we do that, we can ask our students who they really are and be inspired by their answers.
Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.