Future school projects discussed
Building issues that have been on the Block Island School Committee’s agenda for some time may finally be resolved.
Superintendent Robert Hicks provided the committee members with an update at the June 16 meeting. Hicks said that he was working with representatives of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to gain necessary approvals that would ensure the island school “was eligible for state reimbursement, [which] would gain us approximately 35 percent of the cost for use on future projects.”
Noting there were improvements to be undertaken related to the façade of the school building, the roof, drainage issues and the elevator, Hicks said that to become eligible, the school must first establish a building committee. It must be comprised of a minimum of eight people, which should include the superintendent, a principal, a local official responsible for building maintenance, a town representative authorized to construct school buildings, an individual familiar with the educational mission and function of the school, a finance or budget official and a member with architectural, engineering or construction experience.
In anticipating who might fill these posts, Hicks and the committee discussed possibilities and suggested several names: Hicks and Co-Principal Kristine Monje; two volunteers from the school committee, School Committee Chair Bill Padien and Chris Willi also came forward.
After the names are submitted to the state for the first stage of approval, the building committee has to do a facility study focusing on the specific areas of work to be addressed, Hicks said. The second stage will be to seek local approval from the Town Council.
“We may be able to qualify this summer’s work if we can move rapidly and receive stage one approval,” Hicks said. He said he has spoken with Town Manager Nancy Dodge, who arranged to place the issue of creating a building committee before the Town Council at this week’s meeting. Hicks added his hope that the façade can be “done by next summer.”
Returning from classroom at sea
Crediting middle school teacher Shannon Cotter Marsella as a phenomenal fund-raiser, Hicks asked her to introduce three of her seventh grade students, who recently spent almost a week at sea on the schooner Harvey Gamage. Cotter Marsella said it was “a little hairy raising $19,000, but we did it!”
The adventure was part of an experience offered annually by the Ocean Classroom Foundation. Julia Gasner noted the “best part of [the experience] was night watch, from midnight to 4 a.m.” She added, “We sailed to New Bedford and went to the maritime museum and also visited with kids from Shelter Island.”
Mary Conant said: “The most challenging part was night watch; I had to strap into a harness and got soaked, but it was memorable!”
For Andrew McGarry, “The scariest part was getting up to the Crow’s Nest.” Thinking about whether he’d like to repeat the experience, he added, “Would I do it right now? No, because it’s exhausting, but I’d do it again. Once a year!”
Cotter Marsella thanked Cliff Payne for providing dock space so the Harvey Gamage could tie up on its return, allowing island friends and families access to the boat. She noted the schooner’s crew “said such amazing things about the Block Island kids.”
Appointments and recognition
“I take pleasure in recommending Kelsey McRae to the grade six position,” Padien said. He was referring to the post that’s being vacated by Marlee Lacoste. McRae earned a bachelor’s degree from Bridgewater State University and a master’s degree from Leslie College, both in Massachusetts. The committee voted unanimously to appoint her.
Padien recognized Lacoste for her 31 years of service to the school. “You are to be commended for all of those years, teaching and the ones in which you served as building facilitator during site-based management,” Padien said. Wishing her well during retirement, he added, “I hope you’re not a stranger to these halls.”
Noting she would not be, Lacoste clearly relished looking forward to the start of retirement: “I do have tickets for a Red Sox game in September!”
Discussion turned to housing as a factor in hiring teachers, and Hicks acknowledged that in advertising for the positions, he usually included a “blurb describing the housing situation here. We want to deal with that up front.” Chris Willi, who indicated he was also serving on the Large Assets Committee, felt it was very important. He asked, “If you have an applicant and you have an [available apartment] does that do it?”
Concurring, Hicks said, “That’s part of our job: How can we keep teachers we want to keep?”
Hicks highlighted a number of other appointments: Maura Cousins and Molly Nolan to the Summer Reading/Math Program. Extended school year appointments were as follows: Victoria Carson, Martha Velie-Gass and Kate Mello as special education teachers; Jessica Pollard, Speech/Language Pathologist; Kathleen Schlenz, Occupational Therapist; Patricia O’Leary, Physical Therapist; Katie Tarpey, Social Worker; Henry Hewitt, Camp Aide; Caitlin Dutson, Teacher Assistant and Megan Hennessey, Music Teacher. All appointments were approved by the board.
In addition, Hicks asked for the reappointments of the following personnel: Laura Breunig, Administrative Assistant; Pamela Buol, Teacher Assistant; John Canole, Co-Principal; Scott Comings, Educational Consultant; Maura Cousins, Teacher Assistant; Lynne Cunningham, Office Manager; Sarah Deane, Food Service Helper; Betsey DeMaggio, Bus Monitor; Amy Dugan, Teacher Assistant; Lynn Fletcher, Custodian; Elizabeth Gomes, Guidance Counselor; Marsha Gutierrez, Administrative Assistant; Mark Hawk, Special Education Director; Robert Hicks, Superintendent; Bernice Johnson, Custodian; Cindy Lasser, Teacher Assistant; Kelsey McElroy, Teacher Assistant;, Kristine Monje, Co-Prinicipal; Shannon Morgan, Cultural Activities Coordinator; Scott Nelson, Custodian/Maintenance Supervisor; Melanie Reeves, Finance Director and Jill Seppa, Cultural Activities Coordinator. All reappointments were approved.
Students praised for replacing flags on Vets’ graves
Padien shared a letter received from Bill McKernan, who is the adjutant for American Legion Post 36. The letter thanked island students for helping to place flags on the graves of local veterans.
He added that since one of the Legion’s purposes is to “help our young folks appreciate the nation’s history,” the post involved island students. Pleased with the way the project turned out, McKernan also acknowledged the school staff — Lacoste, Bonnie Swienton and Cousins — who “were able to use the exercise to challenge the students on identifying related historical events … But the best part was the students themselves. They were interested, curious, respectful and more than helpful.”
McKernan closed by saying, “We were so proud of your staff and our Block Island students. What wonderful kids and effective teachers. I’m sure you are proud of them as well.”