Corey Smith has been an outspoken participant on matters relating to the Warwick School Department in the past, and now he is looking to take his advocacy onto the School Committee itself, as he has announced he will be making a run for the District 3 seat, currently held by committee chairwoman Bethany Furtado, this November.
“It's my overall frustrations with how the school committee has operated up to this point,” Smith said of his motivations to run. “I feel a responsibility to run and try to bring some positive change to the entire process.”
Smith is a certified CPA and has four children currently attending the Warwick Public School system. While he is a staunch believer in the quality of education delivered through Warwick schools, he feels that there are ways to improve the way that education is currently being delivered.
“I think there is a terrible lack of transparency with how very significant decisions are made,” he said. “I understand their prerogative of having closed sessions and the necessity of that, but I still feel they should be answering to the citizens and parents and teachers into how they’re making their decisions, and I don’t feel that level of transparency is in existence right now.”
Smith most recently became involved in the school department hemisphere when he led a large group of petitioning parents who called for the removal of former Cedar Hill Elementary principal Colleen Mercurio for what they alleged was multiple instances of serious misconduct regarding the handling of student-related issues at the school.
The petition began last July, with Smith taking to the pulpit during school committee meetings and asking for the committee and administration to take their allegations seriously and investigate. It would be about four months later that Mercurio was arrested by Warwick police for failing to report an incident of student sexual abuse at the school, a charge she pled no contest to in March. She is no longer employed by Warwick.
Smith said during an interview Monday that he still believes the school committee and school administration could have handled the situation better, and that they did not act quickly enough when they had good reason to believe there was significant weight to the claims being made by parents. At its height the petition calling for Mercurio’s removal accrued nearly 400 signatures online.
“With that many signatures and with us being that vocal, I would have thought they would have tried to get a one-on-one understanding at least, rather than just my exact two minute’s worth of public comment,” he said. “I think the actions taken by judicial system and law enforcement validated that our concerns were warranted.”
Smith said that he feels the administration also does not properly value the input from the district’s teachers, who he said should be considered “subject matter experts” and that “a lot of weight should be given to what they have to say.”
“It seems every concern the teachers bring, whether it's something that has now been resolved like the contracts, or removing the [elementary] guidance counselors, any of the issues the union president [Darlene Netcoh] brings up when she speaks, I feel they're just dismissed,” he said. “And my feeling is that the school committee is meant to provide some level of governance and oversight but they are not necessarily micromanagers of the entire district and that teachers should be empowered, within reason, to express what they feel is necessary.”
For Smith, cultivating a more respectful and cooperative environment between the school committee, school administration, the Warwick City Council and the teachers is a top priority. Smith recalled a recent meeting where Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur spoke during public comment and openly expressed his distrust towards the honesty of the school department in regards to fiscal responsibility.
“There needs to be some repair of that relationship which needs to be in existence, the working relationship between the teachers, administration and school committee and between the city council, which has a major impact in terms of funding,” Smith said. “That working relationship, right now, seems to be somewhat broken.”
Smith suggested that following the November election, the council should meet in person with the new school committee and try to dispel the ghosts of the past in order to blaze a new trail moving forward that is in the best interest of the students of Warwick.
“Whatever has been done in the past is in the past,” he said. “We need to be clear we’re looking to turn over a new leaf and establish a working relationship and remove whatever thorn has caused such friction and find out what can be done moving forward to mend those lines of communication. I would give them our word, my word, that we'll be transparent and act as fiduciary agents of this spending.”
Smith looks to begin fundraising and organizing his campaign and has set up a candidacy page on Facebook. He attended his undergraduate studies at Bryant University and received an MBA from UMASS Lowell. He grew up in Massachusetts before moving to Warwick.
“I have a vested interest, number one,” Smith said in response to why he is a viable candidate for the position. “I’m a citizen and a parent and my children are going to be in school for quite a long time…I will actually listen and realize that this is a position of responsibility, not a position of lording over others.”