The Block Island Times

School considers blending grades

By Gloria S. Redlich | Jul 07, 2013

Responding to a request from the Block Island School Committee made at an earlier meeting, Superintendent Robert Hicks this month announced that he is continuing to investigate whether or not to blend grades within the same classroom, as well as expanding the use of technology as a teaching tool.

“We are [looking into] blended classes that may include some variation of a teacher here [interacting] with the Virtual High School (VHS),” Hicks told committee members at the June 19 meeting. Many island students currently use VHS as a way to expand their elective choices.

With the island school confronting declining enrollment projections for the coming decade, Hicks believes the school administration must examine many options, including variations of grade combinations. He added, “How you do it is as important as what you do.”

Regarding the multi-grade classrooms, Hicks said, “It is a well-researched matter.” Noting that many small schools faced similar problems and were examining classroom rearrangement, Hicks said that it would be “very good to look at the different programs and think about what the impact can be on island.”

English teacher Nancy Greenaway said, “When I first came here, there were multiple-grade classes.” Hicks said that consideration of the past would be “a part of the discussion.” Pat Doyle said that while she was a “supporter of multi-grade classes, it demands a lot of work from the teachers.”

Reached after the meeting, Hicks added, “It’s important to look at the different technology options for the school — how we can better use technology and what the current trends are in [its use] in other areas.”

VHS past history

Chair Bill Padien asked, “Is there a history of doing this?”

In response, Hicks said, “Not here, but it is a practice growing around the country, and there is a school in Providence that is doing so.”

That school is Pleasant View Elementary, which in May of 2012 received a $470,000 Rhode Island Innovation Powered by Technology Model School Grant.

The Innovation Technology group’s charge is to expand opportunities for small-group and student-centered instruction through the increased use of technology within the classroom, in the process, reconfiguring “classrooms” as “flexible learning environments.”

A component of the program would be “to look at the interface of technology learning” with more traditional methods and determine what is feasible for Block Island School. Hicks said, however, the school’s immediate challenge is inadequate bandwidth. Elizabeth Connor suggested Hicks contact the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for assistance. Hicks noted that the people at the state agency were “well aware of our problem.”

As the changes go forward, Pat Doyle hoped that parents would be invited “to get involved at all levels.” Hicks concurred.


Reviewing VHS

Reporting to the committee on student use of VHS to date, Hicks explained that since the 2009-2010 academic year, BIS students have taken a total of 33 online classes, with enrollment in classes growing “consistently from year to year.” While students haven’t done “quite as well as they do in our own courses,” Hicks said, “overall” the students taking VHS classes have a Grade Point Average of 85.

Summarizing student usage, Hicks pointed out that “VHS coursework is a growing part of our high school program or studies, that students are appropriately successful in the courses and that they are using it to expand upon the offerings of the school and not to replace or supplant them.”

Hicks noted that he and Guidance Counselor Betty Gomes had developed a memorandum that outlines the conditions of the classes, but leaves the ultimate decision as to whether to enroll and which classes to enroll in up to the students and family.

Parent Molly O’Neill said there had been a number of technology issues when the program first began, specifically “with technological support from the school.” She said many students had been confused by the difficulties, and she suggested increased support and more structure on the part of the school.

She agreed that eventually the difficulties were resolved. However, she added, “It’s a lot of expectation for the kids to take charge while many of them weren’t able to do so.”

Resignations and appointments

Hicks and the Committee accepted with regret the resignation of Shannon Booth as high school social studies teacher. Booth has been with the island school for three years. Padien expressed his deep regret, observing about Booth, “She was an absolutely fabulous teacher and we’re going to miss her.” Agreeing, committee member Annie Hall said, “She’s a fantastic, positive teacher who really motivated the kids.”

Hicks recommended and the committee voted to approve the following appointments to extended school year positions for summer 2013: Victoria Carson, special education teacher; Martha Velie-Gass, special education teacher; Donna Smith, speech/language pathologist; Kathleen Schlenz, occupational therapist; Patricia O’Leary, physical therapist; Henry Hewitt, camp aide; Amy Dugan, teacher assistant, Nathaniel Shaw, math tutor and Molly Nolan, reading tutor.

For the full academic year, 2013-2014, Hicks recommended and the Committee approved the following faculty appointments: Stacey Henshaw, second grade: Elizabeth Wall, fourth grade and Lisa Robb, art teacher. Hicks also recommended and the committee approved the appointment of a new finance director, Melanie Reeves.

Hicks and Padien expressed their gratitude to Yordanka Martin for covering the post on a temporary basis during this past month, after the most recent director, Renée Meyer, stepped down. Martin will overlap with Reeves for a short transitional period this summer.


Staff reappointments

Hicks and the committee confirmed the reappointments of staff for the 2013-2014 fiscal year: Marianne Brown, bus monitor; Laura Breunig, administrative assistant; Pamela Buol, teacher assistant; Virginia Collins, food service helper; Scott Comings, educational consultant; Lynne Cunningham, office manager; Sarah Deane, food service helper; Amy Dugan, teacher assistant; Lynn Fletcher, custodian; Betty Gomes, guidance counselor; Marsha Gutierrez, administrative assistant; Mark Hawk, special education director; Bernice Johnson, custodian; Cindy Lasser, teacher assistant; Shannon Morgan, cultural activities coordinator; Scott Nelson, custodian/maintenance supervisor; Jill Seppa, cultural activities coordinator, and Hank Woodward, technology specialist.

Hicks also presented the Committee with an employment contract for incoming Principal Kristine Monje for review. The three-year contract takes effect on July 1, 2013. The principalship is a 12-month position, with a work year to consist of 210 days. Yearly compensation for the position is set at $96,000 for the first year and to be determined for subsequent years.

The next two meetings were set for July 15 and August 19, each at 7 p.m.

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