2016-11-03 / Election News

Newport School Committee Candidates



Newport This Week asked the School Committee candidates to answer the following two questions in 200 words or less. #1) What issue do you feel is the highest priority facing the Newport schools and how will you address it? #2) With a recent open space study indicating that the North End is home to 44 percent of the city’s residents, is it time to consider a new high school in that area to replace Rogers in the not-too-distant future? Furthermore, could a new high school spark a renewal to discuss a unified high school with Middletown? Why or why not?

Rebecca Bolan

60, married with six children
Resident of Newport 23 years
Elementary teacher/homemaker
Newport School Committee,
2009 – present

#1) Our failing math and science proficiencies, especially at the middle and high schools. New strategies have been implemented at Pell. Scores are improving in all cohorts; Thompson and Rogers must be addressed. If elected, I am committed to seeing this happen, and will focus my efforts on the initiatives of the strategic plan. I will advocate for necessary resources to invest in our children, and I will remind my fellow School Committee members if we get off track.

#2) The idea to build Pell at the Sullivan site was my idea originally. I presented it at a forum entitled "Newer and Fewer." My reasoning was to build a school where the majority of students live, and in the process help revitalize the North End. Jack Ambrogi's response as he shook his head was "Becky, this will never ever happen in my lifetime or yours!" It's 2016, and we have a beautiful new school in the North End! If you can dream it, it can happen. It will be a difficult choice to abandon Rogers, having just added a $3 million roof. Middletown voted against a joint high school. It will take RIDE to step in to make this happen.

David R. Carlin

46, married
Resident of Newport 44 years
Vice president Northern Rhode
Island Chamber of Commerce
Newport School Committee,
2010 – present

#1) A lack of appropriate STEM/ STEAM coursework and a failure to partner with the business community to determine what skills are needed by employers. Also, a dismal attendance and tardiness rate at Rogers and a less-than-acceptable attendance and tardiness rate at Pell. Further, while Rogers does an excellent job of preparing many students to move directly from school to good jobs in the world of income-producing work, we don’t do this for all non-college-bound students. We don’t want to leave any kids behind. Finally, a lack of appropriate information technology resources for students, teachers, and staff.

#2) No. Eleven candidates were present at an Oct. 18 School Committee candidate forum and were asked a similar question regarding whether we are in favor of building a new high school. Despite the fact that we are currently spending $3.2 million to fix the roof at Rogers High School, almost all candidates said they favor building a new school. This type of response by the other candidates is fiscally irresponsible. The city’s taxpayers would be throwing away the $3.2 million we just authorized to fix the Rogers High School roof. I will not be a part of spending the public’s money in an irresponsible manner.

Sandra Flowers

73, lifelong resident of Newport
Retired teacher
Newport School Committee,
2009 – present

#1) Assuring equal opportunities for all students – K through high school – calls for recognizing factors affecting learning, especially among transient, economically challenged, and/or English language learners. With private and public partners helping to secure funding, increased resources must be sought, such as family outreach personnel, academic help, and exposure to the arts beyond the regular school curricula – all in safe, stimulating environments. The summer and vacation learning and creative activities, which help the youngsters overcome the loss of reading and math skills, must be continued. With our One Newport strategic plan as a basis, I intend to see our students use their innate abilities and interests to strive for success.

#2) Having served on a study committee about possibly regionalizing with Middletown public schools (recommendations that voters rejected), I do not foresee this happening nor do I wish to pursue it. Newport and Middletown schools’ administrators do communicate productively; a case in point is the location of our pre-K classes in Middletown’s Kennedy School. However, the idea of replacing Rogers High School does not sit well with many who view its stature as almost irreplaceable; furthermore, considerable time, energy, and money have been invested in restoring the building and increasing and improving programs.

Jo Eva Gaines

80, married, 4 children
Resident of Newport 57 years
Retired teacher
Newport School Committee,
2000-present
RI Board of Education K-12 Council,
2013 – present

#1) Truancy is the single most important factor in students’ lack of academic success. This is a national concern and considered a crisis in American education. Students who miss 18 or more days are deemed chronically truant. Intervention must happen as soon as absence patterns appear. Once students fall behind it is extremely difficult to reverse the trend of absence. We must nurture a culture of school attendance by helping parents to understand the importance of being in school all day, every day during the early grades so that “going to school” becomes the norm for the life of the student. Even though we have seen some decrease in truancy, Newport should continue the work with community partners and grant funders, and the Chronic Early Absenteeism & Truancy Reduction Initiative (CEATRI). This issue is not one-dimensional; therefore. one-faceted strategies will not be successful. I will continue to solicit community partners to decrease incidents and break the family cycles of truancy.

#2) This might be the ideal time to promote two 9-12 (14) magnet schools, one each in Newport and Middletown, in the not-too-distant future. I believe we must first solve the housing problem of pre-K – second grade. There’s no more room at Pell.

Raymond Gomes

51, married, five children
Resident of Newport 41 years
Building Code/Fire Code Property
Consultant, Retired Capt. Newport
Fire Dept.

#1) The most important issue for the School Committee is a lack of confidence in the school system based on performance. I believe that the emerging strategic plan will help this as it details four primary goals. The plan details the role of all stakeholders from students to community leaders and business. The plan provides a framework for the stakeholders that will allow all to be able to track and understand their roles toward achieving the goals. This framework allows all to work toward the goals of the plan in a measured cohesive manner. I would make adoption of the strategic plan and achieving the goals my priority.

#2) I don’t see an imminent need for a new high school and while I would support a unified high school I don’t see that in our immediate future as well. I do see the possibility of some type of satellite campus to the high school that would be in the heart of the developing businesses in the North End. This satellite campus could serve as a base for the student interns working in these businesses and the various P-TECH and cyber-security related programming. Allowing freed up space at the high school to be used to expand NACTC programming.

David C. Hanos Jr.

47, married with four children
Newport Fire Captain
Resident of Newport 46 years
Graduate of RHS 1987
Vice Chair Newport School
Committee, 2014-present

#1) The largest problem I see with our schools is that we are unable to accurately test or gauge our kids. Newport is statistically the most diverse community in the state. The fluctuation in enrollment every year makes it difficult for schoolchildren to fit into a standardized test. (I don't agree with the standardized testing process). We need to be able to find a way to prove how we are performing. We owe it to the taxpayers. We are making big strides at Pell in our math scores, up 19 percent from last year, but have much room for improvement.

#2) I do believe we need to put in a better effort in the next few years on replacing or overhauling Rogers High School. It would be good if residents of Newport and Middle-

town could realize the potential of student success by combining their high schools. The sports teams would be D-1 with scouts watching, and the facilities would be state-of-the art. Now is the time for a serious look. I know voters said no last time, but I think we could do a better job presenting our case. If we cannot do this we must keep repairing Rogers, as it clearly needs major upgrades. According to the four-year plan prepared by our facility subcommittee, approximately $20-25 million in repairs need to be addressed over the next several years.

Adrienne Clemente Haylor

70, Rogers graduate
Resident of Newport 33 years
Retired educator

#1) The Newport public school's five-year strategic plan address's at least six strategic issues. Starting with pre-K enrollment and early education, expanding the ability for enrollment in all-day certified pre-kindergarten programs in the Newport community, enabling all three- and four-year-olds participation, collaborating with providers to guarantee all students be kindergarten ready, with emphasis on reading and math ensuring every student is proficient by third grade. I would support the implementation of the strategic plan.

#2) The upgrading, revitalization, expansion, and maintenance of the already existing campus could serve all Newport residents, without the huge cost of a new facility. I support the addition of a technology plan providing all students with computers, elementary through high school, preparing them for 21st century jobs, academically and vocationally, as well as the support financially, and building of, more extensive programs in PTECH and NACTC.

With or without a new high school, I would support a regionalized high school, providing students of Aquidneck Island with multiple opportunities, career development, and academic expansion at lower cost to each municipality, as well as pooling resources and financial supports.

Thomas Phelan

63, three children
Retired
Lifelong resident of Newport
Newport School Committee, 1998-
2001, 2003-2008, 2011-2014

#1) I would like to see our elementary school students reading at grade level by the time they leave the third grade. This has been recognized as a problem for many years, yet little to nothing has been done to fix the issue. To address this, we need to have an open dialogue with elementary school teachers. They are the front line of education, having the expertise and firsthand knowledge to best utilize resources to address these challenges.

#2) Rogers should have initially been built in the North End. Of that, there is no question. Regardless, at this time the student population is not at the level to warrant a new school. Doing so would be prohibitively expensive. With a unified school, the projected $100 million cost would also be exorbitant, even if it were to be shared with Middletown.

Jennifer Jackson

40, married with two children
Resident of Newport nine years
Office assistant at pre-K Pell Annex

#1) I feel that there isn't just one issue that is highest priority. In order to fix a issue, you have to address all the issues, because everything connects. I feel that a great way to start to fix the issues is to acknowledge that we have an issue and have open honest communication with everyone about it. We set the example. If we can't even come together to honestly resolve issues, then how can we expect our children to think we care? In the end, the only ones who suffer are our children.

#2) I don't think we need to relocate Rogers to the North End. Rogers does need a lot of renovations. I would like to see Rogers completely renovated. If a new high school would spark a discussion toward a unified high school with Middletown, then we should make sure before building that it's built to house all the children, unlike Pell.

Henry Kniskern

69, Single
Resident of Newport 16 years
Retired leadership consultant

#1) We must prepare our children for the future by dramatically increasing student achievement. We can do that by expanding early childhood education, bringing technology into the classroom, developing high-value and creative curriculum options, and providing continuous professional development for our teachers and staff. On the School Committee, I will try to exhibit leadership that implements the strategic plan, ensures collaboration and monitors progress.

#2) It would be exciting to explore a range of possibilities to confront the dilemma of an aging Rogers High School and its increasing operational expenses. We could determine what factors to consider beyond costs and location. Perhaps a new school might be part of a community complex that also includes business incubators, garden centers, craft shops and small manufacturing. Should it be environmentally self-sustaining with solar, wind and design efficiencies? Could these things be part of the students’ learning experiences? In 2014, the ballot question to continue to study the possibility of combining resources with Middletown was narrowly defeated. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the concept. Neither district has sufficient resources to invest adequately in the critical areas of technology, AP classes and career labs. Maybe together Newport and Middletown could lead the way for Rhode Island.

Robert Leary

69, married with six children
Lifelong resident of Newport
Retired educator
Newport School Committee,
2001 – present

#1) Our highest priority encompasses two points that are tied together. We must improve our test results, and tied to the test results are absenteeism and tardiness, with more than 50,000 incidents last year. That is unacceptable! We must have a truancy officer, among other things. It is often said, “You are what your test results are.” The PARCC test results from Rogers, in math, were that only 5 percent of students met or exceeded expectations. Clearly math is a huge concern in our school system. The district must analyze the data and make changes that must produce results. We need to start holding everyone accountable. No more excuses. You have to ask yourself this question of the Newport School Committee: With a total budget of $40 million, are you satisfied with its results?

#2) At the ALN forum this question was asked and I was one of only two candidates who said no. What a slap in the face the other 10 candidates just gave to Newport voters. The voters in 2014 approved a $10 million bond, part of which was to spend $4 million on Rogers' roof. The project will soon be complete, and now we want to combine with Middletown, whose voters by the way in 2014, rejected any idea of combining with Newport.

I would suspect the Newport voters would be in an uproar. I know I am, to even think we would waste $4 million of taxpayers' money. It would be hard to convince me that we would save money by doing this. I say this, because we told the voters we would save $875,000 by building one big school – Pell. That never happened. In fact, it cost us more money. So now you're going to tell me we will save money by combining high schools with Middletown. I was born at night, but not last night.

Kathleen M. Silvia

70, two children
Lifelong resident of Newport
Retired in 2014, Newport City Clerk
after 36 years
Newport School Committee,
2014 – present

#1) It is difficult to identify just one area as the top priority; truancy, expansion of pre-K education, and raising PARCC scores are all extremely important. However, the current truancy/absenteeism rate, especially at Rogers High School, is unacceptable. With initiatives currently undertaken we should be able to realize more immediate results. I will continue to support the efforts undertaken though the CEATRI (Chronic Early Absenteeism and Truancy Initiative) grant from the van Beuren Foundation whereby absenteeism is monitored weekly and interventions are implemented. In addition, family-service coordinated efforts by each school to foster parent interaction must be expanded. A parent’s active participation in a child’s education plays an important role in student attendance and achievement.

#2) Although I would support such efforts, I don’t foresee in the not-too-distant future the relocation of our high school to the North End or a unification with Middletown. However, I do think there are opportunities where Rogers and Middletown could share facilities with each school having a strong concentration in certain areas of study, such as technology and science. Newport is already providing opportunities to Middletown students at the Newport Area Career and Technical Center. When Rogers High School was built, it served as a countywide high school for the school-age baby boomers, who are now well beyond school age. It is time to look at all the options and what will best serve all the students of Aquidneck Island.

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