November 26, 2014
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Lack of teacher pact not expected to affect school opening
Warwick Beacon photo
HOW IT IS GOING TO WORK: Elementary school teachers are briefed on English Language Arts curriculum during one of several teacher development workshops held yesterday. This session was held at Oakland Beach School. Teacher orientation is scheduled for today with the commencement of classes tomorrow.

When students return to classes tomorrow, they’ll hear how they’ll be tested on Chromebook laptop computers, rather than on paper, as the district phases out the NECAP tests and transitions to the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).

And there will be plenty of other changes, too, said Dennis Mullen, director of secondary education.

But although the Warwick Teachers Union and the School Committee have still not reached a contract agreement – the current three-year pact expires on Aug. 31 – there is no talk of an interruption in the opening of schools.

Both sides have agreed to a news blackout on negotiations, so specifics on the status of talks and the key issues are lacking. Nonetheless, the parties continue to meet, and neither side has declared an impasse.

“As long as talks continue, it will be OK,” speculated Mullen, who is not a member of the negotiating team.

Rosemary Healey, director of human resources and a member of the school negotiating team, said yesterday she didn’t foresee any problem with the opening of schools.

Does that mean talks continue?

“One could conclude that,” she answered.

That should be good news for the community, which has had its share of teacher contract disruptions over the past 25 years.

Students who may wish for a few more days of summer vacation aren’t likely to get them for lack of a teacher contract.

“Everything is a go,” Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said yesterday.

He said that fire code improvements have been completed at a number of elementary schools, a new roof at Vets is “in the final stages” and that the walking track at Oakland Beach School is ready. A handicapped ramp at Toll Gate was built during the summer.

What they will find are fewer students overall, as enrollment totals continue to decline. Total district enrollment as of Friday was 9,179, of which 4,295 are secondary students and the balance elementary students. This is a drop from an enrollment of 9,393 as of last October.

As this academic year starts, the topic of how the district should respond to declining enrollment remains in the forefront. After a study commission comprised of educators and citizen and city administration representatives unanimously recommended closing Gorton and Aldrich Junior High Schools and Veterans High School and re-purposing Vets as a middle school, the School Committee voted to hire an outside consultant to study the issue and come back with a plan. Over the spring and summer, a subcommittee drafted specifications for bid proposals.

That request for proposals has been advertised, and bids are to be submitted by this October. According to specifications, the firm awarded the contract will have 90 days to complete its work unless the School Committee agrees to an extension.

Meanwhile, one benefit of a reduced elementary school population, which was only seen as achievable with creation of a middle school system with grades six through eight, is taking place anyhow. With a middle school system, elementary schools would gain the classroom space to offer all-day kindergarten. With reduced numbers of kindergartners, the department has been able to achieve the same goal without adding classrooms. Five more of the city’s elementary schools are providing all-day kindergarten this year.

Teachers are returning sooner than students.

For the past couple of weeks, teachers have been using their own time to prepare for the opening of schools, preparing classrooms and reviewing schedules and other materials. That continued yesterday on a formal basis, with three hours of staff development being conducted at different locations throughout the district for teachers, guidance counselors, special education teachers and even school nurses. Teacher orientation is being conducted today.

Mullen said much of the development sessions would focus on the Common Core state standards and the use of data and how it impacts decision-making. With the use of RTI (response to intervention) and EWS (early warning system), he explained, educators are able to make correlations between tardiness, attendance and other student behaviors to academic performance.

“The whole goal is to improve student success,” he said.

On a more global perspective, the district is seeking to assess whether students are engaged and whether they are improving. Although the NECAP tests will continue this year statewide, Warwick is already transitioning to PARCC, which will become the new state standard. Students in grades 3 through 11 will be taking the tests in March and May of next year. Mullen said the tests would be conducted on Chromebooks for English language arts and math. All of the schools have been wired for wireless Internet access, thereby enabling the use of Chromebooks and existing computers for testing purposes. The NECAP test will be used for science.

Kathy Desrosiers, coordinator of English language arts, compared the Common Core state standards to stairs that start in kindergarten and continue through high school. She said at each grade level, students are required to have a working knowledge of the standards.

As an example of a Common Core standard, Desrosiers said students as early as those in kindergarten are introduced to the practice of citing evidence when answering a question.

“Evidence-based answers start as early as that,” she said. “It sets the foundation early.”

In later grades, she explained, students are exposed to other media such as video clips in addition to reading to garner information to answer a question. Looking ahead, she sees more silent reading on the part of students, followed by discussion as well as a greater dependence on non-fiction material.

“This is not a Johnnie-come-lately for the district,” she said. The district has been working on integrating the Common Core standards for a couple of years. Race to the Top funds won by the state have underwritten much of the cost, she said.

For the second year, the district will use the STAR program to assess student performance during the year. The first of these assessments in early literacy, reading and math will be completed during September with additional assessments twice more during the academic year. STAR assessments last year showed steady improvement throughout all but a few schools in the district.


Comments
11 comments on this item

If they don't reach an agreement, the teachers can just work to rule. That way neither the teachers not the administration are hurt in any way.

Justanidiot,

I hope work to rule would be a last resort; do you do your job with the compensation your due? I know I would not that is for sure teaching is a job and people work jobs for pay.

I do not begrudge any teacher raises in pay, as well as, excellent benefits. Teachers are not volunteers, they are professionals. I wouldn't begrudge anyone who works hard, and receives said benefits and pay, whether in the private sector, or the public sector. That being said, hopefully, we will never see "Work to Rule" again. The last time the union advised teachers to "Work to Rule," resulting in many Seniors not receiving recommendation letters for college applications, this practice went on from 2002-2006, or thereabouts (I do not have the exact dates, they can be found easily found online). However, when the contract was settled in the Fall of 2006, I was relieved, my daughter was due to graduate in the Spring of 2007, and was able to benefit from some great letters written by her teachers. The Seniors, who graduated in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, did not (although, I am sure there were a few exceptions). Of all the things that were missed out on (no comments on report cards, no field trips, no chaperoning of dances etc.) that was the toughest one for the Students and their Families. It left a lasting impression, not a good one, but a lasting one. Both parties need to come to an agreement quickly, and with a reasonable end result, so that the Students (K-12) in this City don't have to carry the weight of adults not knowing how to compromise.

But with work to rule, only the students suffer. You wouldn't want teachers and administrators to be put under so much stress without proper compensation, would you? The students can do a lot of this stuff on their own anyway.

Besides, if you want the students to have a rounded education, you should send them to private school as do many teachers and administrators who live in Warwick.

Jackie it wasn't as dire as your making it sound during those years. It certainly wasn't good, but the "lasting impact" wasn't felt by many people I know. If the school committee doesn't negotiate in good faith, then it is an option that teachers have. Teachers are many times demonized by the public so it's easy for the committee to try and squeeze them because they can (at times) be an easy target.

Now that school committee members are endorsing political candidates for mayor, should we (taxpayers) even expect them to negotiate in good faith? It's a shame that 3 committee members put themselves and there own political motives ahead of every single Warwick student, teacher and taxpayer. Shame on the 3 of them and I only hope the public outcry is for all 3 to step down.

Scall024,

I do agree with you about the three School Committee members (supposed to be non-partisan) endorsing the Mayor. Completely inappropriate. Although, I am not surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. On the other issue, regarding the prolonged WTU labor dispute, that began in August 2003 and lasted well into the Fall of 2006, I respectfully disagree. My hope is that we do not revisit those days again, and that is all.

Having no contract is a difficult way to start the year; and, given the lack of any leadership from the superintendent, I hope the staff can continue to take care of the students as they always have done and not let his mediocrity get in the way. They care, he doesn't; so lets hope that the students don't get caught in the middle. The School Committee should realize, hopefully, that the educational staff in Warwick is extremely talented and professional. Warwick is lucky to have such dedicated personnel. Perhaps if he had better leadership and caring skills this could have been worked out before coming to the end of the contract, and where was Healey while the clock was ticking?

Having no contract is a lot better than having no job. Put the children FIRST always in all things and you will find happiness.

Better not pull that work to rule crap! Greedy!

Hey, hepdog. Your boss called. He wants you to work every night for four hours, weekends for a couple each day. During your vacation. All with no pay. It is for the good of the company and your shareholders.

Hepdog = jealous basement dweller.... Loser.

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