Schools need to see plans through
To the Editor:
The recent extension of some administrators' contracts has understandably created some controversy in the community and I owe it to my constituents to explain why I voted in favor of this.
Ever since the state began measuring how school districts perform nearly 15 years ago, Warwick has consistently ranked at the top of the bottom third of school districts. Frankly, if one looks at the racial and socioeconomic demographic makeup of Warwick, we should at least be in the top ten, but that’s another story. This is, and always has been, unacceptable to me.
Dr. Thornton and his team have initiated some significant changes to begin to change this and those involved moving away from many of the old ways and/or practices that have kept us mired in that lower third ranking, and as a parent who has put three kids in this system, I welcome that.
At the secondary level they’ve added AP classes and plan to add more, increased CTC programs, added Pathway programs (Studio 107) and have more in the works such as Robotics, Advanced Computer Science, Biomedical Science and Technology, and Transportation, Distribution and Logistics, to name a few, and next year 9th graders will be able to sample many of those CTC offerings. Warwick was woefully behind many other districts in what it offered in these areas and I’m very glad that we’re finally addressing this.
They’ve also offered exploratory courses at the middle schools and instituted middle schools sports, which has been hugely successful. We’ve gone to a one-to-one technology initiative. And we have an upcoming consolidation happening that finally moves us to a middle school model. Since my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, I’ve been hearing “We’re going to get to a middle school model.” Well, that was 15 years ago.
These are among the many good things that have been started over these last couple of years and that needs to continue. Has it been perfect? Of course not and with any change comes upheaval, uncertainty, controversy and even fear – that’s understandable and to be expected.
It should be noted that over the last ten years, Warwick has had five superintendents – five. No organization, whether public or private, can initiate anything of substance, let alone see anything through with that high of a rate of turnover. For me, we’ve charted a course and we need to stay that course, and that’s where continuity comes in.
Continuity and consistency in leadership matters. Any new team will need time to acclimate and, invariably, want to put its own stamp on things and I just don’t see how another delay would benefit our students. I’ve researched the tenure of superintendents in the 36 school districts (it’s all public record info) and, as of last year, the overall average tenure of a superintendent was five years. The top half of districts in terms of tenure (ranging from 19 years to 4 years) have an average of 8 years.
Further, if you look at where those districts rank in both ELA and Math scores, nearly every one significantly outperforms Warwick. Of course, it would be silly to state that a superintendent is solely responsible for that but it would be equally, if not more silly to discount their role in their district’s success.
As mentioned before, with change comes uncertainty and, sometimes, controversy. No one or no thing is ever perfect and we simply can’t let the “perfect be the enemy of the good” but personal animus can never be a factor in decisions like this. The idea or notion that I or any of my colleagues are under some kind of "Thorntonian spell" or that we want to somehow diminish or destroy this district is simply ridiculous on its face.
Speaking for myself, I don’t think, as some have suggested, that this team is one of the “best things” that’s ever happened to this district but, in my view, it is far better than any team I’ve seen in my 15 years of having kids in our schools.
And the notion that somehow they will have no incentive to do their best or work as hard because their contract has been extended by two years is a curious one. So, if I understand this correctly, an administrator who receives an extended or new contract suddenly has a diminished incentive to do their best? Similarly, would anyone say that once teachers receive an extended or new contract, their incentive to do their best or work hard is somehow diminished? Of course not. That argument is sophomoric and makes no sense.
For me this is all about students, what we teach them, how we teach them, how many opportunities we offer them, and how we make ourselves one of the best districts in this state.
Though I truly dislike the term "change agents," the fact is that Dr Thornton and his team are making changes – some that were long overdue. I think there are those who agree with the path we’re now on and there are those that don’t but, for me, on balance I like what I’ve seen and I want them to see it through. The next School Committee will have ample opportunity to render its judgment on whether or not the changes are working and act accordingly.
I know there are people who wax nostalgic for the old days and “how we’ve always done it” and claim that “Warwick used to be the best.” That may or may not be true. But what is absolutely true is that for the past fifteen years, based on the state’s common measuring tool used for all districts, “how we’ve always done it” wasn’t working and we’re not even close to being among the best.
At the end of the day, we’re all in this together and to be overly dramatic and quote Abraham Lincoln, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I firmly believe that the changes made will, over time, make us a better district and allow us to sit among the highest performing districts in no small part because those higher performing districts have been doing much of these things for years.
We can either choose to work together to get there or not, but the cost to our students of the latter is simply too high.
School Committee Member At-large