A Concerning Pattern?

Why do we hire experts for their opinions and experience when we completely disregard them as it suits our own personal agendas?

After watching the last several school committee meetings to say I have concerns feels like an understatement. The current majority on the school committee is not listening to the administrative staff that is there to directly carry out the policies put into place by this authority that is appearing to rule from on high. Instead, the majority of the current committee is cherry-picking the community and staff feedback that “feels right” to their own personal agendas and ideas of how a school system should run and they are acting swiftly on those feelings.

This began with the overturning of the facilities plan that had been thoroughly vetted for over a year with extensive community feedback and expert insights and analysis. We are already feeling the repercussions of this decision in the delay of our funding application through RIDE due to inadequate information among other factors. Additionally, the harmfully small class sizes and potential need to combine grade levels at not one, but two, of our elementary schools is a direct reflection as to our district having too many buildings for our ever shrinking population. And yes, I refer to the exceedingly small class sizes as harmful because just as too large a class is detrimental so are classes that are too small. There are only so many combinations of personalities and learning styles that can be grouped together both between classes and within a classroom when you have class sizes as low as 13 kids. Then there is the inequity resulting with the remaining two elementary schools full yet still not able to shuffle students around due to a small number of monolingual students.

The problems with not considering expert opinions continued with the budget discussions, particularly with the last round of cuts relating to the literacy coordinator. As stated in the approved minutes from the February 12th school committee meeting, “the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent expressed concern in implementing a K-8 Reading and Writing program in compliance with RIDE regulations without the support of 3 literacy coaches and a full time Literacy Coordinator. TCRWP is not a textbook approach to reading and the Committee has already eliminated the professional development from TCRWP. SK will be required to implement a grades 9-12 Common Core aligned curriculum material and that will be nearly impossible to do without a Literacy Coordinator. [The Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent] expressed concerns about who would train new teachers and teachers new to a grade level.” Despite being told repeatedly that such a cut will likely impact our K-8 literacy curriculum, this cut was made and the social/emotional learning (SEL) coordinator was prioritized over the literacy coordinator should funding be available for adding positions back to the budget. While I do not wish to undercut the value that the SEL coordinator brings to the district, I do not see how effectively carrying out our non-textbook based curriculum does not take priority. The primary purpose of school is to educate our children in core subjects. A secondary, and wonderful, purpose is to enrich social/emotional learning that begins at home. In a perfect world we could do it all, but in an environment where we must choose, the core subjects need to come first.

Have you taken a look at the literacy program in depth? A non-textbook based curriculum requires support staff to implement this effectively. No, they are not teaching the teachers how to be teachers, rather they are showing them how to be most effective given the curriculum we are using – a curriculum that encourages the joy of independent reading starting in kindergarten with a goal to not only instruct the students in “how” to read, but also to foster a LOVE for reading that will serve them for years to come.

Most recently, swift action has been taken at the April 9th school committee meeting to change the personnel assignment policy without a second reading as indicated in the school committee by-laws. The vote to temporarily suspend the by-laws to allow such an action (for the first time in at least 6 years according to Committee Member Brousseau) preceded this action and was questionably justified. The result significantly impacts how teaching assignments and class distributions are configured for the upcoming 2019-20 school year. The rationale for such a decision being made to improve teacher morale could not be any more short sighted. As many noted, the personnel assignment process has already begun. With this new policy in place (once approved by NEASK) the finality of the letters which some teachers have already received is questionable. Instead of alleviating the stress that accompanies this time of year with the inevitable uncertainties of what the new school year will bring, this sudden change has added to the chaos. Administrators, teachers, and parents alike have been given no time to process and digest if this is a beneficial change or not nor how this will impact the current planning process already underway. A wiser move would have been to follow the by-laws as they are written and provide time for a second reading before adopting such an impactful and complex policy. If this means the final approval needed to wait for implementation next school year, so be it. If this was such a crucial decision that needed to be in effect for this year, perhaps it should have been prioritized with the same fortitude that changing legal counsel was given.

In closing, I implore you, members of the South Kingstown School Committee, to take pause and listen to those experts working in and for our district with the knowledge to run our excellent schools. Do not discount their time, effort, and opinions because of only your own personal perspective or the anecdotal stories of a few in your personal circle. The students and the town deserve better.


Melanie Reppucci

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