The mission of the Warwick Public Schools, working cooperatively with families and the community, is to provide challenging learning environments that enable all students to develop skills and knowledge necessary to become self-directed, life-long learners, highly productive responsible citizens, and contributors to a technological and diverse society.
(Warwick Public Schools Mission Statement, 2001-)
Superintendent, Philip D. Thornton, Ed.D.
From the desk of Philip Thornton
Headline: MOVING FORWARD
Cutline: Workers are already busy replacing the floor as part of a renovation to Pilgrim High School's gym.
As students depart for the summer break, I want to give you an update on what’s happening over the summer here in the schools, and what parents and students can expect when school opens this fall.
Consolidation has certainly taken up most of the headlines these last few months, transforming Warwick Vets into a junior high school, closing Gorton and repurposing it into administrative offices, and Aldrich will be closed. This will result in significant savings for the district, and allow us to become a more efficient and effective educational program to the students we serve.
INVESTING IN OUR SCHOOL BUILDINGS
This also allows us to finally invest in our improving the schools. For example, work is beginning in earnest on a new gymnasium at Pilgrim High School. The Pilgrim cafeteria is getting renovated. The auditoriums at both Pilgrim and Vets are scheduled for long overdue updates. Hallways, entrances, and classrooms across the district are being updated.
EMBRACING 21ST CENTURY CLASSROOMS
More than 2,000 Chromebook laptops will be handed out to incoming sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students this fall as part of the “1:1 program”. We are excited for middle school students to come to school next fall, Chromebooks in hand. With the help of the Highlander Institute's Blended Learning trainers, teachers will be implementing various models of blended learning in their classrooms, enabling students to create, collaborate, and learn in new and exciting ways.
Education technology has progressed to the point where it is affordable to have devices in both the teachers' and students' hands, as well as classrooms with advanced presentation technology that allows for enhanced power and flexibility during lessons. For Warwick, this means using Chromebooks and Google Apps to access various educational apps, websites, and documents in a way that is appropriate for each teacher and subject.
In our junior high schools, it also means replacing the overhead projectors many parents remember from their own educational experience with internet-connected and even touch-enabled flat panel displays. But these are just the tools - the impact on the classroom is to differentiate and personalize instruction for each student. Using the data collected from students' online work, teachers will be able to hone in on what students have already mastered and what they need to work on more.
This sort of educational feedback loop has always existed, but the technology enables us to take it to new levels and be very focused on giving each student the best chance for success in the classroom. It will take some time to train teachers and students in this new style of learning, but we're confident that the district is taking the best first steps toward realizing this blended learning vision.
SCHEDULING COURSES STUDENTS WANT AND NEED
We have taken a district wide team approach to improve the course offerings to students at the junior high and high school levels. This allowed us for the first time to tap the best talent from schools across the district, and work towards consistency in all schools. And we’re ahead of schedule in building the teacher schedules, student schedules, and course offerings.
At the junior high schools, we are offering a number of new exploratory classes including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Current Events, Robotics, 21st Century Skills, and Contemporary Art.
Creating new course offerings, and improving how they are scheduled, allows all students to take the classes they need and want. For example, numeracy and literacy classes are now filled with students who need support in those areas. In years past, students sometimes took these classes even if they didn’t need the support, because there were no other courses to take during that time slot. Now students have choices like Robotics, STEM, and Art classes that they can take. As I’ve said since I started here last fall: all decisions are now based upon what is best for the students.
We continue to meet with the teachers union in the hopes of reaching compromise on a new contract. There are 10 items that we are working on. We’ve tried our best not to negotiate through the media or in other public forums with the hope that taking a professional approach to talks would result in reaching an agreement sooner rather than later. But we’ve had several requests from community members asking for more information so let me share a few of the items that have held up reaching agreement.
Here’s one example: We are proposing that teachers receive 18 sick days per year. The WTU does not want the sick days in the expiring contract to change. In that contract, teachers have 90 sick days each year.
Here's another - the WTU's expired contract limited teacher layoffs to no more than 20 a year. We are currently closing two schools as we right size the district for efficiency and effectiveness. We believe - with two less schools and far less children in the schools than even ten years ago - that a reduction is necessary and warranted. We have identified 60 positions to be cut. Through retirements and some modifications, the actual number of positions cut is 38.
And one more: Principals – our building instructional leaders – want to be able to meet with the teachers in their building once a week outside of classroom time, to talk about expectations, curriculum, and student learning. Yet the union doesn’t want to give principals access to these meetings. Principal participation happens all over the state and the nation, and is a state department of education regulation, yet the expiring contract prohibits principals from working with teachers in this manner.
Change is difficult for some people. Consolidation and the closing of schools impacts everyone in a community in some way. As we move forward, we have one goal driving our decisions: what’s best for our students.
On behalf of everyone here in the Warwick Public Schools, I hope you have a great summer. We will see you in the fall.