School Committee discusses security and administrative restructuring
In the aftermath of the horrific attack on an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Block Island Superintendent Robert Hicks reported to the School Committee that Police Chief Vincent Carlone had come to the school that day, December 17, to assist in a drill. Earlier, he said, “We had a moment of silence.”
“We went to all classrooms today,” Hicks said, “and practiced a lock-down drill with the Police Chief.” Hicks added that the school staff is discussing "how we can improve and streamline the protocols. We’re looking at the school as an entity and trying to figure out what is the weakest point.”
Acknowledging it was the front door that was the most vulnerable, he said the question then became how to make it more secure, whether or not “we should put in double doors, etc.” Any new design, Hicks pointed out, would have to be approved by the Fire Marshall.
As to psychological counseling or responses for students and families, Hicks said, “Starting Friday evening, December 14, we received supportive materials from the state for teachers and parents, which we put up online.” Though school personnel would be available to students and parents, most administrators and educators throughout the state felt that the best place “to have these conversations was at home — between kids and their parents,” Hicks added. At the island school, teachers, counselors and the guidance counselor all made themselves available, he said.
Following his proposal at a meeting last month to restructure the school’s administration, Hicks elaborated based on questions that he'd been asked regarding the reshuffle. The idea would be to create one year-round, full-time, 200-day principal, eliminate one 90-day co-principal, reduce the hours of the remaining co-principal from 90 days to 75, and reduce hours of the superintendent from 90 to 75.
With these proposed reassignments came an initial increase of costs at $27,359. However, Hicks indicated how cost cuts would come from reassignment of duties with a projected savings of $24,186, leaving a shortfall of $3,174, which he felt could be made up by an influx of federal funds that currently “support curriculum and professional development.”
At the center of this reorganization is the attachment of a curriculum development component to the responsibilities of the new full-time principal. Hicks explained the new role would allow “the integration of curriculum (development and delivery), material, professional development and student assessment,” by assigning them to that principal.
Hicks was careful to point out the reorganization would not be a return to site-based management as some have supposed. Rather, the new position “is administrative and will evaluate and supervise staff,” whereas site-based managers did not do evaluations.
To the suggestion that the school simply go to one full-time principal, Hicks responded that there were currently too many administrative demands to call the principal away to mainland meetings, without adequate coverage. However, he suggested that in the future, with the educational environment “constantly changing,” such a position might be conceivable.
Town councilors ask questions
The five recently elected members of the Town Council attended the School Committee meeting, punctuating the discussion with their questions. Councilor Sean McGarry asked about the life expectancy of the roofing above the older parts of the school, which eventually would need to be replaced. Chair Bill Padien said he hoped the school “might extend the life of the roof for another three to five years.” He hoped that work to replace it would coincide with the installation of solar panels, which are intended to go on the roof over the high school classrooms (above the old gym).
McGarry suggested that in thinking ahead, it would be necessary to realize the cost to redo an entire roof was estimated at $75,000. Town Manager Nancy Dodge thought that figure high, noting some estimates on roofing for the beach pavilion had come in between $35,000 and $40,000.
In terms of the upcoming budget, while he foresaw no unusual budgetary increases, Hicks said that he and his staff were already planning for a new student with exceptional needs, which would raise costs.
With no teachers’ contracts coming up and having looked at rearranging the administrative structure, he said he was more concerned about future property and liability insurance costs in the event of catastrophic weather, “which we’ve seen over the past four years,” with a series of hurricanes and fierce snow storms.
Among the ongoing high expenses at the school was electrical service. Councilor Chris Warfel suggested the replacement of traditional lighting by LED lights, noting “it is a good option to follow that will lead to lower building operating costs.” Hicks agreed it was a worthwhile proposal and said he would contact Warfel to investigate the idea further.
Norris Pike, another newly seated councilor, asked whether the heating system was working well. Padien said the heat in “Barby’s room (second grade teacher Barbara Michel) is better.” Hicks said, “Heating in basement rooms is not as easily controlled.”
Warfel asked, “Are there areas you think the town can help you with? What areas can we do better with?” Pausing, Hicks said he’d like “a little time to give the question some thought.”
On heating costs, Hicks said, they were “running neck and neck with last year,” which were high.
Lunch “rebellion” in the wings
In an effort to balance the luncheon fare prescribed by the state with some more palatable offerings developed by the school’s local food service staff, Hicks said, “We have been trying to create our own menu to be certified by the state.” To do so, the school must send off two weeks’ worth of menus.
Hicks explained that recent federal regulations placed strict guidelines on “both nutritional content and portion size.” In an effort to comply with these rules, ARAMARK, the school service company used by the local school as by many nationally, has switched to “a prepared item menu where foods arrive at the school… essentially a processed food meal.” Padien suggested, “We might have a rebellion.”
Hicks noted that in a meeting with ARAMARK, the school indicated “the corporate solution would be unacceptable here at the Block Island School.” As a result Hicks said the school was selecting “an option in the regulations to create and certify our own menu.” Hicks expressed his thanks to Food Services Manager Glen Pence for developing the alternative menu. Warfel asked what the certification process was, and Hicks said, “We develop a menu and serve it up for two weeks." He added the school is “not due for a state visit for several years.”
Discussion continued on coming changes in curriculum alignment with Common Core Standards. Hicks acknowledged that the Common Core did bring more prescriptiveness with it — for example, the shifting balance of fiction to non-fiction reading assignments. It is now 50-50 percent in the elementary grades and 70-30 (fiction to non-fiction) on the secondary level, but will eventually change on both levels where more emphasis will be placed on non-fiction.
Hicks noted that emphasis was being placed on the student’s capacity to read critically in order to build analyses upon specific evidence drawn from the text.
The board approved the appointments of the following individuals: Mark Mollicone as Varsity Boys Basketball Head Coach; Paul Hemingway as Varsity Boys Basketball Assistant Coach and Junior High Boys Basketball Head coach; Robert Closter as Varsity Girls Basketball Head Coach and Co-Junior High Girls Basketball Coach and Tim Keane as Co-Junior High Girls Basketball Coach.
Padien shared a letter from the Block Island Girls’ Basketball team, who wrote to Brian McMahon thanking him for donating $1,000 toward the purchase of new uniforms. The team said, “We are proud to represent Block Island... and so thankful to proudly represent our school in our new uniforms.”
The next meeting was set for January 14, with budget work sessions being scheduled for January 22, 28 and February 4.