October 21, 2014
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Parents, D’Agostino meet to discuss ALAP alternatives
Jennifer Rodrigues

On Monday evening, parents of students who were in the Accelerated Learning Activities Program (ALAP) in Warwick elementary schools came together to discuss alternatives for their children now that ALAP has been cancelled.

All School Committee members and school administrators were invited to the meeting, organized by ALAP PTA President Sarah Lockhart and her fellow board members, however only Superintendent Richard D’Agostino and Committee member Eugene Nadeau joined almost 25 parents for the meeting. Two former ALAP teachers were also there.

Lockhart addressed the group, saying the goal of the meeting was to come up with ideas in a positive way to support their children.

“I do want it to be positive because there’s only so many things you can change from the past, but we can certainly have a voice for the future,” said Lockhart.

D’Agostino said he is willing to listen to any and all ideas but also wanted to hear the parents’ opinions on differentiated learning, a concept he introduced at last week’s School Committee meeting, and the after-school Creative Enrichment Program proposed by Committee member Karen Bachus at the same meeting.

Parents were quick to express their disagreement with the after-school program because many students are not able to participate in after-school programs due to working parents and because the program would be open to all students. Parents are looking for a program that will address the needs of their gifted and talented students as ALAP did, which many did not believe would be possible if the program was open to students of all levels.

Many parents also scoffed at Bachus’ proposal, saying it was simply her attempt to “save face” after abstaining from the vote that could have reinstated ALAP last month.

D’Agostino seemed to take that into account, admitting he would not pursue ideas that are not supported.

“I don’t want to pursue a recommendation that you get 90 percent of the people that are not comfortable with it, won’t bring their kids there and it would not be a feasible type of thing,” said D’Agostino.

The discussion of differentiated learning lead to more ideas. D’Agostino explained that the idea would be to group classrooms in elementary schools so there is an even, or close to even, number of students at the various learning levels.

“Then the teacher teaches to all three levels at different times,” explained D’Agostino.

While the parents appeared to agree with differentiated learning in theory, they questioned its ability to prove successful.

“I think there is a great value to differentiated instruction and that it works,” said Tracey Wyzor, who teaches science content at Roger Williams University. “It’s hard to accomplish in a class of 28 students.”

Lockhart and other parents questioned just how much attention could be given to their high-achieving students if the teacher also needs to spend a great deal of time with the other two learning levels.

“It’s human nature to teach to the ones who have trouble with things, and absolutely they should get more help. But it’s also that you’re just excluding all of these children that have so much potential,” said Lockhart.

D’Agostino said the vision would be that high-achieving students would be able to complete enrichment projects or use programs on the computer after they finish their work and teachers are working with other students. He says being told that high-achieving students are teaching their fellow students or simply reading another book is a problem.

“When you start telling me that your students are not allowed to go on the computer [after they finish their work], we need to look at things like that,” said D’Agostino. “Those are things that need to be addressed and explored in the classroom.”

The parents seemed open to the idea of allowing their children to partake in additional enrichment assignments, however they pointed out that ALAP provided much more than just “extra work.” ALAP allowed their children to interact with other students that are like them, taught them different ways of critical thinking, and gave parents guidelines on how to help their children.

“A new program, hopefully, would not only get them together socially so they feed off each other, not only challenge them intellectually, but also give us a way to continue to challenge them when they’re home doing their extra projects,” said Wyzor.

D’Agostino said that he believes differentiated education could lead to more accountability on the part of the teacher because they would have to show their high performing students also learned more through the new student growth model, but he also brought up the potential of using the new Response To Intervention (RTI) model to benefit the former ALAP students.

The RTI model, which is coming to Warwick schools, is designed to allow for intervention blocks during which teachers can meet and work with those students that are struggling.

“Why could not, say, the gifted and talented kids at that school then meet?” said D’Agostino. “Take that block of time and use it for other purposes in the building.”

D’Agostino threw out the idea of training one teacher per school in professional development for gifted and talented students and using the RTI intervention time to provide for these students.

Jeff Lockhart, Sarah’s husband and a special education teacher in Warwick, seemed to think that idea could work.

“That would be great if we could assign one teacher to work with students who are accelerated learners and one teacher working with on-level learners, and then another teacher or other teacher assistants to work with the struggling students,” he said.

Jeff also pointed out, however, that resources and money restraints would have to be considered.

During the meeting, D’Agostino said the only cost would be professional development, something that will be in the budget when the surplus is finalized because it is required by teacher contracts. Although professional development is voluntary, D’Agostino said it could be made a requirement if necessary for the gifted and talented education.

“I think it would even be a little bit better than just an isolated gifted program that they are pulled out and that’s not aligned with the classroom,” said D’Agostino of combining differentiated learning in the classroom with the use of intervention blocks to provide addition instruction for the students.

There was also talk of providing gifted students with Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs), the gifted student equivalent of IEPs for students with special needs.

“The teacher and the parents sit down together and they go over goals and objectives for that year with that student and the student will receive the instruction, the support and the materials in that classroom,” said D’Agostino, adding to his message that teachers need to be aware of the various learning levels in their classroom and which students need which kind of help.

While parents seemed to be in support of this idea, they still wondered what could be done for their students by the start of school on Wednesday.

Nadeau said he hopes the ALAP program will be reinstated for the coming school year until the administration is able to come up with a viable replacement. He plans to put the topic up for discussion and to a vote at a yet-to-be scheduled special School Committee meeting before the start of school.

He added that the 2-to-2 vote that failed to reinstate the program was “heartbreaking,” and although he thought D’Agostino presented great ideas, they are not formulated and something needs to be in place for this year.

“Those students who excel in the classroom need to be encouraged,” said Nadeau.

The gathered parents also had some tough questions for the superintendent regarding when the discussion to eliminate ALAP was even had, the true cost of the program and if the administration would even support ALAP returning this year.

“I was totally surprised when I heard there was a vote to reinstate ALAP when I hadn’t even heard ALAP was going to be cancelled,” said Cyndi Smith, a former ALAP parent who attended the meeting in support of the program.

D’Agostino explained that the elimination stemmed from the elimination of teacher positions, something discussed in closed session.

When questioned about the savings of $325,000 by eliminating ALAP, D’Agostino simply said yes that was the cost and yes that was the savings.

“Had we got the money, had the school closed, I don’t think this would have come up,” said D’Agostino.

When asked if the administration would support the return of ALAP for this year, D’Agostino said other options were being explored to help all students.

“What we’re saying is we can do better in another direction,” said D’Agostino.

When parents asked what to do for this year with no ALAP to help their students, D’Agostino said parents need to make their students’ teachers accountable for their children’s education.

“Where does it say on their certificates that they will only teach one kind of kid?” asked D’Agostino. “It says that they will teach all children.”

He continued to tell parents to meet with teachers, principals and administrators to make sure their child is learning.

Moving forward, the parents planned to write letters to their school committee members to encourage them to reinstate ALAP for this year. There was also talk of writing to Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist to encourage legislation or state backing for gifted and talented education, as there is for students on the lower side of the spectrum.

Pam Dillon, another ALAP parent, said she contacted Gist for advice, and Gist suggested speaking to the school department or charter schools.

“As long as we don’t have backing from the state,” said Dillon, “we’re never going to get backing from the school department because they don’t need to help us.”

There was a lot of hope looking toward an emergency School Committee meeting, which may or may not be in executive session if the only meeting items are personnel matters. D’Agostino and Nadeau seemed unsure if the meeting would be open to the public, but Nadeau believed it should be.

“We don’t have the money to do it,” said D’Agostino. “When you’re given lemons, make lemonade. I’m trying to make lemonade.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the special School Committee meeting was listed on the school department’s website but no date or time was set.


Comments
2 comments on this item

It should be noted that the school committee still has a chance to reverse their decision but time IS running out. I believe they intend to have a special meeting to discuss personnel. Please continue to reach out to the committee to let them know what you think they should do. They have an opportunity to keep it for the year and come up with a plan if they eventually chose to go without it. They are putting more time, effort and thought into keeping a building open than what programs to keep.

Another fact is, this much thought was NOT put into the new WISE contract that gave the union a raise of approximately $500K over the next 2 years and each year afterwards. I am not saying they didn't deserve it, I am saying they didn't find a way to pay for it. The cart is pulling the horse on this one.

Also, in my calculations, 300 of 9400 students (the estimate for this year) is 3.1%. Remember that ALAP services the elementary school only and the Jr and Sr High schools have honors programs in place for accelerated students. If you consider only the elementary students, 300 of approximately 6000 students is 5% of the students.

How do we make Warwick Schools more attractive? We keep programs other cities have cut due to budget constraints, we celebrate the success of our students and we promote the fact that we not only have the best special education in RI, we challenge the average students but also provide accelerated instruction for our students that need more.

I would like to explain further the problem Warwick Schools have with the

educational gap between Warwick's highest performing students and our lowest

performing students. Warwick schools have received deficiencies by the

Department of Education for multiple years and are in a "Warning" status. I have

talked with several administrators in the last 6 months and they have confirmed this

for me. I first became aware of it while I was on the School Committee. A Jr high

school was placed on warning and if the Jr High school did not close the gap

between these 2 groups the Dept of Ed would take corrective action just as action

was taken in Central Falls. It was explained to me by an administrator that in the

last 2 years not only was the gap not closed but the gap increased because the

lowest performing students did not increase performance, and the highest

performing students (ALAP and Honors students) did increase performance.

Warwick Schools have been under a warning status and according to the

administrator I spoke with, if the gap is not closed by the end of the year, the State

will take corrective action. The schools have the money to keep ALAP. They are

choosing not to keep ALAP.

I find no reasonable explanation why they would not want to keep it. I have heard

that principals have complained that ALAP creates a scheduling issue as they must

use a classroom and there might not be room so they have to work to find a room

for them. This is a complaint that has been forwarded to the Director of Elementary

Ed. I have heard that teachers don't like students being taken out of the classroom.

Karen Bachus is doing interviews with students? She should be talking with the

parents not the students. If you ask any student a question the right way, you can

get the answer you want. Her solution, after school program with stipends for

teachers. More money for teachers? I'm not surprised. There is no reason NOT to

keep this program until a real solution is found. This program has existed for 30+

years.

I believe that Warwick schools has given up on trying to close the gap by

increasing the performance of the lowest performing students and they are

attempting to slow the learning of the highest performing students to correct the

gap. Why would they want to do this? It is simple. According to the administrator

that I spoke with, the Department of Ed will come into the schools that have not

closed the gap and they will relieve all administrators at the school from their job.

The principal will be relieved of their job and will lose their certification in the State

of RI. The teachers can be let go and only 50% will be able to be rehired. It will be

just like Central Falls right here in Warwick.

This is a very real problem for the Warwick Schools. If the lowest performing

students can not increase their scores at the elementary level, then the

Superintendent should be let go. The director of Elementary Education should be

let go, the Principals at those schools should be let go, the teachers should be let

go and the School Committee should take action to NOT renew all of the people I

have listed. Instead, they will attempt to correct the problem by cutting the program

that benefits the highest performing students. It is immoral, and I will not stand for it.

I am surprised that we have not seen a full story on this in the Beacon. It would

take a simple call to the Dept of Ed to ask which schools are under warning and

what the consequences are if they do not improve performance.

It should be noted that all students by RI policy are to be provided a free AND

APPROPRIATE education. This means students at each level of the learning

spectrum. I fought for every special education student while on the committee, I

fought for every accelerated student while on the committee and I will fight for every

student even if I am not on the committee. It is appropriate that these students

receive this instruction. If they do not receive this instruction, I expect each parent

of an ALAP student to go to the school immediately and ask for an IEP for their

student. Request... demand an IEP for your student. The Warwick Schools must

provide a response by law as to why they will not provide an appropriate education

for your student. It will certainly cost much less to provide ALAP to every student

who qualifies than to create an IEP for each student.

I know this seems like a drastic course of action to preserve the program but

administration does not care about the program, finds no benefit to keeping the

program and the program will be lost forever. Switching to an after school program

is a temporary solution as the after school program will immediately be cut.

Finally, Warwick administration insists that the program costs $325,000. The fact is

that outside of the 2.5 Teachers assigned to the program only $2650 is spent on

the program. If the 2.5 Teachers are returned to the regular classroom which is the

plan, only $2650 will be saved. $2650 plus the salaries of the 3 teachers that do

not need to be recalled from the lay off list. Ten of the lowest paid teachers have

been laid off and of these 10, 3 will stay laid off if the ALAP program in not

reinstated. The salaries and benefits of these 3 teachers is approximately

$165,000 at a maximum. So, if the 3 ALAP teachers return to the classroom, the

schools save $165K plus the $2650, a total of $167,650. The school committee

currently has a $170K surplus that must be placed somewhere. They can easily

reinstate the program. In fact, if they take the 2.5 ALAP teachers and place them in

the classroom, they increase costs because the .5 teacher becomes a full time

teacher so they have a net loss because the ALAP teacher is a higher step than the

teacher that would be recalled from the lay off list.

The argument to take the ALAP budget, $2650 for supplies and disperse it among

all the Warwick students is a joke as well. If you take $2650 and divide it amongst

9500 students, that is 28 Cents per student. I believe 28 cents buys a pencil today.

So, we can provide a pencil to each student on the first day of class, let

administrators keep their jobs by closing the gap between our highest performing

students and our lowest performing students by lowering the bar rather than

working harder to prepare our low performing students or we can keep a program

that has served the Students of Warwick for decades. What do you think is the right

thing to do. Please contact your School committee member and let them know

what you think. Jennifer Ahearn and Eugene Nadeau have already voted to keep

ALAP. Contact BEth Furtado, Karen Bachus and Teri Mederios. Contact the

Superintendent too. Let him know you are want this program in the Warwick

Schools.

Great schools are the back bone of a Great city and many people relocating look at

schools as a primary reason for choosing where to live. When we have a school

system that people can be proud of then people will move here and this will

stabilize our finances by broadening our tax base. I want people to move here and

I don't want people to leave. Cutting this program is a terrible choice and once it is

cut people will chose not to come here and more will chose to leave. Saving this

program is a step in the right direction to making this city stronger.

Former School Committee Vice Chair,

Patrick Maloney Jr.

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