September 19, 2014
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Loss of smart kids program questioned
Jennifer Rodrigues

The School Committee’s tie vote that resulted in the elimination of the Accelerated Learning Activities Program (ALAP) from Warwick schools has left parents questioning how their advanced learning students will be taken care of.

Sarah Lockhart, president of the ALAP PTA, has two sons, Luke and JT, who were in the program.

“I am very, very sad and very disappointed in the decision,” said Lockhart. “It really shows us where the priorities are.”

“It really upsets me the more I learn about it,” said Liza Glick, whose daughter was planning to participate in ALAP for the first time this fall.

“These kids deserve a program like this. I can’t believe they can’t find a way to make it work,” said Ted Larson, a former president of the ALAP PTA who still volunteers with the organization.

According to School Committee Chairwoman Beth Furtado, the motion presented during Tuesday’s meeting was to reinstate the ALAP program. Because the vote was 2-2, with one abstention, it did not pass and the program remained out of the budget.

“If you don’t have majority, it fails,” said Furtado.

Furtado and School Committee member Terri Medeiros voted against the motion. While she says she understands the value of ALAP and called it a wonderful program, Furtado said resources need to be utilized to benefit the greatest number of students.

“It pains me to eliminate that program,” she said.

There are close to 300 students in the ALAP program, and Furtado said the cost was about $350,000 to serve .5 percent of the student population.

“I believe that we need to take care of the educational needs of all students,” said Furtado. “We need to challenge the teacher to challenge all their students in the schools.”

While parents are upset that the program was eliminated, many are even more upset at Karen Bachus’ decision to abstain from voting.

“That is the one that really upsets us,” said Glick. “She had the power either way, to make it go or make it stay. I don’t understand how [abstaining] is allowed.”

“That was really shocking,” said Lockhart about the abstention. “That’s why you’re on the committee, to make choices and to vote.”

Bachus was unable to be reached for comment.

Committee member Jennifer Ahearn, who voted to keep the program, said she has no problem with eliminating ALAP, provided there is something to replace it. However, implementing a substitute could be problematic from her perspective.

She said teachers spent a lot of classroom time working with those who are having difficulty meeting standards.

“It’s the kids at the lower end that need intervention,” she said. She said it is just as important to recognize students with higher levels of achievement need to be challenged and if that doesn’t happen, they can become bored and even be disruptive to the rest of the class.

Ahearn inquired about the cost of ALAP and said she was told the program is in the range of $275,000 to $325,000, differing from the amount said by Furtado. She also said 398 elementary students are enrolled in the program, almost 100 more than others say.

“I’m not OK with it,” she said of the decision. “We don’t have anything in its place.”

Kathleen Ogni, parent of an ALAP student, understands cuts have to be made and there will always be outcry.

“It’s not an easy decision,” said Ogni.

However, she wishes there was more clarity when it comes to what was saved because ALAP was cut.

“If it really has to be cut, you have to be clear on what you are saving,” said Ogni.

As a concerned parent, Ogni attended the Tuesday meeting and was surprised when an actual breakdown could not be provided. “What does that cut mean? What does that keep?” questions Ogni.

She said a fuzzy answer was given by the administration naming different things that may or may not be saved because of ALAP’s elimination.

Patrick Maloney Jr. is also questioning the committee’s math. As the former ALAP PTA president, Maloney said the only cost to the school department regarding ALAP is the salary of the 2.5 teachers; programming such as ALAP University, an all-day program that allows ALAP students to take three special courses, is paid for through PTA fundraising.

Maloney, a former school committee member himself, said the committee’s savings estimate of $325,000 is incorrect. He said although they eliminated the 2.5 ALAP positions, those specific teachers were put back into the classroom and maintained their current salaries. So in actuality, Maloney said the savings are equal to the salary of 2.5 new teachers, which he estimated to be $180,000.

“I want to see where they are getting [$325,000] from,” said Maloney, adding that the committee needs to realize the value of the program and try rescheduling teachers or reducing the program to two teachers before elimination.

Maloney also pointed out that a 1.5 percent increase in WISE Union salaries was given before the newest school committee members even went through a budget process. While he is not saying the $437,000 annual increase was not deserved, Maloney believes the school committee should have done their due diligence and found that money. It is his personal opinion that the raise was given in the hope that Gorton Junior High would be closed and money for programming found that way.

“If I knew this program was being cut and I knew the savings was going to go back into the classroom and used to educate all students, I wouldn’t be fighting so hard,” said Maloney. “But it’s going to salary and benefits. It’s already been spent.”

Eugene Nadeau, who voted to reinstate ALAP, was the only member of the School Committee to vote against the final budget. Not only was he against the elimination of ALAP, but Nadeau was also against keeping the librarian position at Gorton vacant, and cuts to art, music and sports.

“The vote to eliminate this program is heartbreaking,” said Nadeau, who has received and responded to over 30 e-mails regarding ALAP since Tuesday’s meeting.

Nadeau said he knows money is an issue, but in a budget of $158 million, he has to believe there was another way to save ALAP, referencing a past Beacon article in which the Warwick Teachers Union president Jim Ginolfi said he would be willing to talk with the school department and help with funding if he could.

At the meeting, when Nadeau asked if Ginolfi had been approached, the administration said no.

“I don’t know why we didn’t talk to the WTU to try to make up funds,” said Nadeau. “Why didn’t we take advantage of that? We perhaps lost an opportunity.”

Nadeau is hopeful there will still be an opportunity to save the program, which he said benefits so many students. In the past two-and-a-half years that he has been on the committee, Nadeau said he has only heard good things and success stories coming out of the program.

“I think they deserve our assistance just as much as the other students,” said Nadeau. “Part of our duty is to create a climate, a learning climate, where we teach students to their potential.”

Nadeau feels the argument of only serving a small portion of students is not the best.

“You can say the same for every sports team,” said Nadeau, pointing out that teams cannot take everyone. “The ones that feel it doesn’t cover enough students so it should be cut, they don’t say it when it comes to the other programs: arts, music, sports.”

Larson agrees.

“If this was an all-star baseball team, everyone would say well we need to have an all-star team,” said Larson.

The former ALAP PTA president and vice president, whose daughter was about to enter her final year in ALAP, also argues against the claim that only a certain number of students are allowed in the program.

“If 1,000 kids were tested and 1,000 kids got into ALAP, we would have 1,000 in the program,” said Larson.

He believes the teachers are not testing enough students because they see the program as disruptive to the school day and “non-essential.”

“If the teachers had more kids tested, there could be more kids in the program,” said Larson, adding that more parents should request to have their child tested to see if they meet qualifications.

Larson also pointed out that ALAP is always on the chopping block, but in past years where there was no $2.5 million surplus, the program survived. Now, however, it is being eliminated.

“With no ALAP program, there is no opportunity for kids to shine like this,” said Larson, referring to kids who participate in special science fairs, represent Warwick and Rhode Island during National History Day and other opportunities. “We are basically telling these students there is no need to reach.”

“There is a better way to challenge all of the students in all of the classrooms,” said Furtado, adding that she would hope to invest in classroom technology such as wireless and tablet computers to encourage growth in students at all performance levels.

Superintendent Dr. Richard D’Agostino also believes the benefits of ALAP can be integrated into the classroom.

“ALAP made them grow and look at things differently,” said D’Agostino. “Teachers can do the same.”

D’Agostino believes through professional development and new materials, regular classroom teachers will be able to provide additional enrichment work and opportunities for those students who wish to take advantage of them.

“Everyone needs to be worked and stretched a little bit more in the classroom,” said the superintendent.

Providing examples, D’Agostino pointed out that current classroom materials often feature additional challenging questions, specifically in math, that students can be encouraged to take on when a teacher is working with students who may be struggling with material.

There are also opportunities for students to find additional ways to come to a solution to a problem.

“Just because a student came up with a solution different from the teacher’s doesn’t mean its wrong,” said D’Agostino, saying students who solve a problem quickly can be encouraged to look again and find a second or even third solution.

D’Agostino has seen this process in action, recalling seeing a lesson plan from a first grade teacher. The teacher provided one handout to her class and catered the one handout to different learning abilities.

“They don’t need busy work,” said D’Agostino. “They need assignments to make them grow and think.”

Current ALAP work done by students in the program is not graded, however D’Agostino said enrichment work integrated into the classroom could be considered as extra credit opportunities.

Maloney doesn’t believe his daughter will benefit from D’Agostino’s proposed model.

“My kid is already doing [the enrichment work]. They go through the regular stuff so fast,” said Maloney. “So what added value is my kid going to get if she’s already doing it?”

Nadeau is also concerned about giving more responsibilities to teachers.

“It seems we expect more of them through the years, and it’s not fair to teachers,” he said.

He also feels providing more work to some students but not others in a classroom can be tough.

“Is it fair to be singled out in the classroom like that?” asked Nadeau.

Lockhart fears the additional work could just be forgotten.

“It’s scheduled and it’s not going to be missed,” said Lockhart on the current ALAP program. She feels if it is integrated in the regular classroom, it will be easier to be skipped over if time does not allow for it.

She also said removing the high-performing students from the classroom can change the dynamics of the classroom, even if it is just for a little bit of time.

Nadeau believes the elimination of ALAP will result in more than just the loss of a valuable program that brings distinction to the district. It could result in the loss of more students.

“A lot of these parents are going to send their children to Hendricken, to Bay View, to LaSalle, to Prout.”

He believes programs such as ALAP prove that a school district is doing their job to help students at all levels of learning ability and will show parents that their students do well in Warwick schools.

Maloney agrees with that idea.

“Valuable programs like ALAP make our school system stand out in the state to people who are moving to Rhode Island. When we cut programs like this, we are telling them to move somewhere else,” he said.

“We want to have faith in public schools, but when a program like this is cut, it makes a statement,” said Lockhart.

Looking forward, it appears the ALAP parents will not give up hope. Lockhart explained that there has been a lot of discussion on the Warwick ALAP PTA Facebook page.

“It sounds like people want to huddle together,” said Lockhart, adding there are preliminary plans for a meeting to discuss the next steps parents want to take.

Lockhart said she is hopeful for the program’s future, but knows she and the other parents have an uphill battle before them.


Comments
14 comments on this item

It is very, very disheartening that this program has been cut. As the son of a resource teacher, I can say I truly believe teachers have super powers, but the paradigm shift needed in order to successfully integrate the ALAP curriculum into the classroom is patently unrealistic. My 10 year old daughter was at that meeting, and despite being an introverted bookworm she chose to face her fear of crowds and speak her heart and mind because it was that important to her. I agree that in hard times we all must make sacrifices, but in no way were we told where the so called savings is going, or offered alternatives of any sort.

I'm sorry, but I think in time we will see that the classrooms are going to suffer for this, and I do not just mean for the kids that seem somehow to pick up on lessons a little more easily. I believe that the teachers are going to try their hearts out, and we are just going to prove the old adage 'nothin gets done for tryin to do everything', and then the teachers will be undeservedly bla med for it.

The Warwick school system is indeed poorer for the lack of ALAP, and for the lack of consideration shown to nearly 400 students simply because they excel. The article states there are kids who really need the attention. I agree. I think 398 of them will not be getting what attention they need in Warwick, however. Maybe it is time to start looking for scholarships to pay for schools we cannot afford, and further a negative and useless social dichotomy. As parents it is our job to advocate for our children's best interests, but that is extremely difficult when those we are supposed to trust as working in our family's best interest do not trust us with facts and figures in order for us to make our own decision. It seems much more like the program was railroaded.

Just realized I was logged on as my wife rather than myself, sorry!

How awful that this program is disappearing. And if you're expecting that these exceptional students will simply move into private schools, imagine the divide that this will create. Those who can afford to can advance; those who can't get the bare minimum required by law. Our city can't do better than that?

This is such a shame. I guess it is just one more reason to move to another town that protects those that try hard. What a way to show the kids that its ok to do just enough to get by, well like the Warwick school committee . I guess it all makes sense? Being a former high school athlete , I can now say that honors classes is more important to a child's future than sports!

While ALAP may serve 0.5% of the school population as Furtado says, it serves there unique educational needs and is the only service that does so for elementary students; the entire program, staffing and resource was cut in one fell swoop. I don't know what percentage of the school population utilizes the ice rink, but I would venture to guess it isn't much more than the percentage who uses ALAP, yet there is a line budget item for 45,849 dollars that is in the approved budget. Do I think that that should be cut, not necessarily, but I don't think you can say that we are making decisions based on the percentage of the entire school population of Warwick it serves when determining what to provide.

Thank Goodness we have someone with the stature of Mr. Nadeau on the committee. He has his priorities straight. Contrast his demeanor with that of Backus and Mederios . What a contrast. The other two fail miserably.

So according to Dr. D'Agostino, solving a math problem 3 or 4 different ways is a good use of their skills? That is not the way differentiation works. You do not give the students who need extension work MORE work to do, rather you should take that math concept and delve deeper into the concept. This is what was being done with ALAP. Having 28 students in a classroom also will make differentiation difficult for classroom teachers.

Wow, there is a glaring problem that I see with the numbers and it doesn't take a math wizard to see it. The percentage given is not appropriate. If you look at the total population of the schools, 300 of 9700 students is 3%. How do they get .5%????? Maybe they should have the ALAP kids show the school committee and administration how to figure out the percentages, they can certainly get that right. In fact, the school committee shouldn't be comparing the 300 against the total population of the schools as the elementary schools have their own portion of the budget and the secondary schools have their own portion of the budget. I believe there are approximately 4800 elementary students and the 300 students are a part of that budget. So 300 out of 4800 is 6.2% not .5 percent.

If they want to look at a fair comparison $325K is 0.002241of $145,000,000. Alap is 2 one-thousandths of a percent of the total budget. They are putting 2 one-thousandths of the budget into 6.2% of the elementary kids.

I had asked for the School website to be updated several times while on the committee to save money on time, paper and toner. $15,000 was set aside in the budget. The website was not revamped. Where did the money go that was set aside for the website.

Do you know we spend about $35K on toner for the elementary budget and $35 on toner for the secondary budget.

Do you know that on the first day of school my child came home with almost 35 different notices, all of which could have been put online? and forms that could have been filled out online?

35 pages per kid X 9700 kids is 339,500 pages of paper that come home THE FIRST DAY. That is 679 reams of paper. How much toner is used to make those pages, one toner cartridge prints approximately 12,000 pages? How long would teachers and staff have to sit in front of the copy machine to print 339,000 copies? At one copy a second, that comes out to 94 hours spent standing on front of the copy machine. This is 94 hours that could be spent doing other things. That is almost 2.5 weeks of "work" spent making copies. When you add up the time ($2403 if the person makes 50K annually), the paper (679 Reams at $5 a ream is $3395), the toner alone (the average toner prints 10-12,000 copies, 29 toners at $100, $2900). The first day of school costs in paper notices that most parents throw out, $8698. All this information could be put on the website, GO Green? There are many places to save money.

I suggested having parents who drop off and pick up their kids to sign a waiver allowing the number of buses to be reduced. Each bus costs $65,000. How many have seen empty buses pull up to the school to let off 8-10 kids when the bus fits 55 children? If 5 buses were cut from the transportation it would save $325,000. Transportation was outsourced 2 years ago, why is there still a director of transportation? That is $95,000 salary if you include benefits.

There are many places to save money. The school committee can still find the money and choose to save this program. The amount of money that administration claims will be saved is incorrect. The number of students served by this program is stated incorrectly. Quite frankly, the money saved has already been spent on salary increases given out in February with the new contract and 2 members of the committee didn't even know we were in negotiations. Communications is the key to running any successful enterprise. Communicate to the committee that this program has value and should be kept if at all possible.

Finally, the title for this article is wrong. It is written this way to divide people. The title should simply have been, "50 Year-Old School program to be Cut", or "Warwick Accelerated Program to be Cut". To say "Smart kids" program to be cut is offensive to me. Two of my 3 children were in the program, and all 3 of them are extremely smart. Each kid has their own talent and expresses it in different ways.

I think this reporter might just be upset that she probably wouldn't qualify for an ALAP program. The headline needs an apostrophe to show possession of the program by the kids, and the first paragraph ends with a preposition. Neither indicates good writing skills. I was going to let this pass, but after reading a different article in this edition with erroneous information and inflammatory false accusations, I decided to point this out.

HI Dave66. I met with Jen Rodrigues and did an interview with her Monday for the story in Tuesday's beacon. I think she did a good job putting the story together in a short time, she took time to meet with multiple sources. It is my understanding that all of the headlines for the stories are chosen by the editor not by the reporter.

The editorial in the issue also supported keeping ALAP. This program has a lot of support. I hope the school committee finds the money to continue the program.

What would happen if the School Dept. didn't have a $ 2.5 million surplus in the school year that just ended? $159 million should be more than enough to provide an education to Warwick students. It's true that some difficult cuts are/may be necessary, but Warwick is not the only school system operating with tight, monetary issues. Everyone wants to keep their particular education preferences, no matter how small(ALAP, etc.).

I personally, can not imagine how the Warwick School Committee can not "find" the $350,000 to offer/continue the ALAP program for at least another school year(maybe freeze new administration hires/freeze salary increases?). But the Warwick School Committee/Schools/Teachers' Union/staff/parents/students need to look at future years; money will not be there for EVERYTHING. Start the committee meetings to decide which schools and/or programs will be closed/cut-its called PLANNING.

MarkyC, (Chief of staff and former city planner Mark Carruolo), I agree, it is called planning. What has the city cut from their budget, what do they plan to cut from the budget? The city budget has gone up $30 Million more annually. The city council publicly berated the School Committee for talking about closing Gorton but then didn't support the schools with funding to keep it open. Over the last 5 years while the city budget has gone up, the schools have close or repurposed 4 schools, cut the Family and Consumer Sciences program, The Marine Sciences Program, cut back music and sports programs, delayed buying much needed books, laid off over 100 teachers, implemented the 20% co-pay across the board, outsourced Transportation, etc. What has the City done again besides give no pay increase to police and fire this year (while giving them the same amount of money in other forms)? Please enlighten us, city planning? a joke?

I can see it every year, How can the city plan to screw the schools this year? I know, let's tell them they have less students so we will give them less money even though every other cost goes up. Yeah, that's the ticket! Poor school systems lead to people moving out. How does that help Warwick? Poor school systems mean people will not move in. How does that help Warwick? What will we tell potential residents? Well the schools aren't that great and they have had to cut a lot of programs lately but wait, the sewer system around here is going to be GREAT!

From a Warwick Beacon Article form March 2011, Titled: City population drops 3,136.

"With a population of 82,672, Warwick has a fingernail grip as the state’s second largest city, according to 2010 Census figures released last week.

Since the 2000 Census, Warwick’s population dropped 3,136 while its upcoming neighbor and the state’s third largest city, Cranston, grew by 1,118 for a total of 80,387.

Warwick’s population hit a high water mark of 87,123 in the 1980 Census....

Chief of staff and former city planner Mark Carruolo attributes Warwick’s loss of population to three major factors: acquisition of 300 homes by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation during the 10 years; declining tracts of land for new housing; and an aging population resulting in fewer people living in a dwelling unit as children move out. Another factor is the number of vacant homes reflective of the recession and increased foreclosures."

Markyc, I would have added, "People move out when they feel they are paying much more for Taxes but are getting much less services.", but hey, what do I know.

You do go on to blame the schools for spending too much because we have 3 Jr High Schools and 3 High Schools. Surprisingly, you make no mention of the additional $30 Million annually collected from taxpayers. Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! Tell me again how the schools should plan better? Enlighten us on the wonderful city planning.

How are the repairs going on the essential clock tower at city hall going?

http://warwickonline.com/stories/City-population-drops-3136,53664?print=1

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