While School Committee members were prepared to discuss graduation by proficiency and differentiated learning, Tuesday night’s committee meeting ended up being a platform for parents to urge for the return of three full-time librarians in the junior high schools.
The meeting’s first order of business was an update on graduation by proficiency (GBP) by Denise Bilodeau, technology applications assessment coordinator, who oversees GBP.
Bilodeau said out of 664 seniors, 660 had submitted their proposal letter for senior projects.
“We’re well on our way this year,” said Bilodeau, clearly excited about the progress.
She also took a few moments to address those seniors who received a 1 on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) in math and are at risk of not meeting graduation requirements. Bilodeau said there are 227 seniors in need of intervention regarding their NECAP scores. She said progress plans had been sent home, parents had been notified and those students are enrolled in a remedial math class designed to help improve scores on NECAP. She also said 35 students took part in summer programs, a summer school class in Warwick or a free program at Community College of Rhode Island.
“Six girls were able to be taken off that list,” said Bilodeau, explaining that those six were able to receive an acceptable score on the ACCUPLACER, an acceptable alternative assessment to the NECAP.
The diploma system also came up when Secondary Education Director Dennis Mullen explained the new waiver process that was up for first reading by the committee.
“RIDE [Rhode Island Department of Education] passed a ruling that all the districts create a waiver process,” said Mullen.
The waiver is a safety net for students who fail to bring up their NECAP scores and meet the state assessment graduation requirement.
The Warwick Waiver system says that if a student does not demonstrate proficiency on the state assessment or other alternative test, he or she must present evidence to a district-based appeals committee that they mastered the material needed but the test does not show it. Mullen explained the student would have to “show what they have done to make up for NECAP, math or reading.”
This proof includes serious attempts on NECAP and alternative assessments, attempts at intervention activities such as summer programs and ramp-up classes, and passing grades in courses and on assignments.
Also on the agenda was a presentation by Assistant Director of Curriculum Anne Siesel on differentiated learning. Following the cancellation of the Accelerated Learning Activities Program (ALAP) during budget discussions, Superintendent Richard D’Agostino and Siesel encouraged differentiated learning in the classroom as a viable alternative.
During her presentation, Siesel described the method as “an instructional design model” with a goal “for teachers to focus on processes and procedures that ensure effective learning for varied individuals.”
The basic idea is that during regular class time, a teacher is able to tailor his or her teaching to each of the three levels of learners in a classroom: advanced learners, average learners and those who may struggle with the material.
Siesel said this method could be applied to four elements: Content, process, product and learning environment.
For example, content could include using varied reading materials for those with different reading levels or meeting in small groups to re-teach or expand on a topic.
Product means the activity the student engages in to understand the content, and Siesel said this could be done through tiered activities with the same skills but different levels of challenge and complexity.
While the entire committee appreciated Siesel’s presentation, committee member Eugene Nadeau, a strong supporter of the ALAP program, questioned if it was putting too much strain on teachers that are already pushed to the limit.
“I have that concern that we’re asking too much of our teachers,” said Nadeau.
Yesterday, Nadeau also spoke about his concerns about differentiated learning in an interview.
“In a 45-minute period, I don’t know how teachers are expected to mobilize their classroom,” said Nadeau. He said Siesel is one of the “best” and this idea could prove to be successful, but he still has concerns. “I worry that it won’t have the benefits of the ALAP program for those students who need it.”
One item on the evening’s agenda that passed through with no discussion was pay raises for administrators. Chief Budget Officer for Warwick Schools Tony Ferrucci explained that these raises were always budgeted for.
“They were part of my April documents, and they were maintained [through the budget process],” said Ferrucci. The total change was an increase of $27,000.
D’Agostino explained during the meeting that the step increases were for 11 administrators moving from either step 3 to step 4, or step 4 to step 5, a process that needs committee approval.
The raises were approved 3-2, with Jennifer Ahern and Nadeau dissenting.
The item that appeared to dominate the meeting was not even on the agenda: The use of only two librarians for the three junior high schools.
Due to budget issues, it was decided that only two librarians would be used at the three junior high schools this year.
“I really want the Warwick School District to have a full-time librarian at each of the three junior highs,” said Nadeau, before he attempted to make a motion and force the committee to discuss and vote on the issue. However, because he did not give 48 hours notice and have the item put on the agenda, it was not able to be discussed.
That did not stop the issue of the librarian from being the main focus of audience comments. Almost every person who stood up to speak spoke about the librarians.
“We have three busy, well-utilized library media centers. Isn’t that what we want,” said Mary Tow, one of the two library specialists still working at the junior highs.
Tow also pointed out that differentiated learning occurs most often in the library, when teachers are able to provide their students with different resources.
Most of those who spoke out were parents of junior high students.
“I’m a taxpayer and I’m mad,” said one parent who previously volunteered in the library with the library specialists. “Those two women are doing the work of six.”
“They want consistency. They want something they can count on,” said Maureen Kinsley, a parent, speaking about how students are unable to access the library at all times because of the situation. “Library media helps students through college years; where are our priorities?”
Most had the stance that since a librarian is not at each school every day, students are not able to have access to resources, both books and computers. They fear that the lack of access is putting their children at a disadvantage and will hurt them in the long run.
D’Agostino explained in a phone interview yesterday that the two remaining librarians are splitting their time between their home school, Aldrich Junior High or Winman Junior High, and Gorton Junior High. He said it is split three days at the home school and two at Gorton.
D’Agostino also pointed out that on days when a librarian is not at a particular school, a substitute clerk is and the library is open for teachers to bring their classes to.
“They can’t take the books out, but they can go in and use the resources,” said D’Agostino.
That is not enough for Nadeau.
“It’s something that needs to be remedied,” said Nadeau, pointing out that librarians play a vital role in a school and need to be there every day. “Every time I’ve been in one of the libraries, it’s a beehive of activity.”
Nadeau says the substitute clerks are not enough and are simply “caretakers” for the library facility.
“They can’t do any part of what the librarian does,” he said.
Nadeau plans to put in a request for a special School Committee meeting to discuss this matter that he says is obviously important to the people of the community. He hopes to have the meeting at the end of the month but before the November committee meeting.
“It’s important to me. I don’t know if it will be approved, but I’m hopeful,” he said.