The School Committee approved updates for the business and technology education curriculums at the junior high level at its meeting Tuesday night.
Dr. Anne Siesel, assistant director of curriculum, said the two curriculums were the only ones that hadn’t been updated, so teachers and department heads from all three junior highs got together this fall and worked on coming up with a uniform curriculum that would be common at junior highs across the district.
Siesel said the Junior High Business Curriculum consists of one semester in grade 7, split between two quarters, one each of Keyboarding and Introduction to Digital Tools, which exposes students to Word, Excel and PowerPoint-type software. The Junior High Technology Education Curriculum consists of one quarter in grade 7 and two quarters in grade 8, starting with Graphic Communication in grade 7 and continuing with Pre-Engineering Robotics and Introduction to CAD [computer-aided design] in grade 8.
Siesel said the keyboarding course used to be part of the senior high curriculum but was moved to the junior highs two years ago when the digital tools course was created at the senior high level.
“They need those courses for the Grade 8 Technology Test that all eighth graders must take,” she said.
School Committee members were impressed with the level of detail and praised Siesel for her work.
“This format is very comprehensive and I commend you for that,” said Jennifer Ahearn.
“Thank you for this comprehensive curriculum package,” said Karen Bachus. “I enjoyed reading it. It was like a walk down memory lane since I used to do some curriculum work myself.”
Eugene Nadeau said he read both curriculums, which he called “very extensive,” but asked if what was contained in the curriculums is in addition to what teachers are already doing?
“This is what they are to be doing,” Siesel explained. “They must teach the concepts and units of study that are detailed in these guides. If they get through all of that material and have time left over, they can expand on that, but this is the minimum of what’s expected.”
Siesel was also quick to turn the praise around to her staff.
“The credit goes to the teachers and department heads [of the junior highs] who worked hard and put a lot of time in on this,” she said.
Siesel said teachers may have been doing different things with the course material in the past depending on how they approached it, but now a uniform curriculum has been established that will be featured at all junior highs throughout the district.
School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado also offered words of praise.
“This is great work and will do an excellent job of moving our students forward,” she said.
In other committee news, First Student, which the district now contracts with for its busing, was asked to appear before the committee to answer questions and concerns that arose since First Student took over the bus services from school department staff.
Bill Roche, regional director for First Student, said he was provided with a list of specific questions to answer and areas to address, which mostly dealt with the amount of experience and training First Student staff undergo, as there had been some concerns when the company first took over.
“We have four certified trainers on staff that conduct training sessions after undergoing their own certification. [Collectively], our staff has 170 years of experience in Warwick, and 50-plus years specifically of safety and special needs training,” he said, adding the special needs training alone is 12 to 18 hours.
Roche said monitors and drivers are also trained and certified in CPR and First Aid.
Addressing concerns of whether or not bus drivers would suspend students in the event of an incident, Roche said that is not something drivers will do.
“If there’s an incident on the bus, the driver will document it and submit it to the administration for review,” he said.
Roche continued, “Address any questions of professionalism to Sue Barbour [location manager for First Student] and they will be investigated and acted upon if an incident did occur. We don’t condone any negative behavior.”
Roche said the First Student staff is courteous and caring and only has the best interests of the students at heart.
“There are countless hours of training, early mornings, late evenings; it’s a thankless job, but our staff takes pride in what they do and cares about the kids,” he said. “We feel the relationships between the bus staff and students have grown. We understood that the relationships that had been built up over 30 years [between Warwick school department staff and students] weren’t going to be replaced in 13 months.”
Mary Townsend, secretary of the Special Education Advisory Committee, said she was grateful that Roche and First Student answered the questions that were asked of them but wanted to clarify a point.
“I have a question about [First Student] providing a CPI instructor. I feel it’s the responsibility of First Student to provide that, as Warwick Schools had to do it for our staff,” she said. “We were sure that they are training their people the way that they should, but I couldn’t get over the fact that there were some poorly trained individuals when it came to dealing with medically fragile students [early on], but we are making progress.”
Townsend said the school department’s transportation staff and teacher assistants were always trained in CPI.
Tracy McDermott expanded on Townsend’s comments, explaining the difference between CPR training and CPI training, which stands for crisis prevention intervention.
“I just wanted to make the distinction between CPR training and CPI training because it seems like whenever we bring up CPI, First Student’s response always deals with CPR,” McDermott said. “CPI training deals with de-escalating behavior problems. Currently, I believe the [First Student] aides are not trained in that; our staff receives that training. Based on what I’m hearing from my buses, their aides don’t have that training and it’s imperative that they get that done.”
Committee member Terri Medeiros said it’s good to know training DVDs and manuals, but it’s another thing to actually put the training skills into practice.
“I hope we’re seeing the personal touch and creativity that’s needed on an individual bus with individual students to foster a better relationship with students,” she said.
Furtado thanked First Student for coming back before the committee and answering questions.
“Transporting our kids is an important responsibility and we need to work together to make sure any concerns or problems are addressed immediately,” she said. “I look forward to continuing this ongoing dialogue.”
In other committee action, a resolution was approved authorizing the execution and delivery of documents and agreements in connection with the issuance of bonds and notes of the city for the repair and renovation of school facilities, specifically those repairs and renovations needed to bring school buildings in line with fire code regulations.
Anthony Ferrucci, chief budget officer for Warwick Schools, said the City Council was set to authorize a similar resolution at its meeting on Monday but tabled it for next Wednesday, Feb. 20.
“The Finance Committee was looking favorably on the resolution, but when it came to the full council, one of the council members wanted more information about the breakdown of cost per building for the work to be done in the summer, but they’re prepared to make a motion on February 20 once that’s been received,” he said.
“We’ve previously provided them that information and quoted it, chapter and verse, but I have no qualms about doing it again next Wednesday,” Furtado said, adding she would accompany Ferrucci to the council meeting.
During public comment, David Testa cautioned the committee about past practice of having the school department foot the bill for interest on bonds.
“It’s been the past practice, established by prior school committees, to have the school department pay the debt service on approved bonds, and I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, you have to be careful,” he said. “When you have major upgrades to a school, the city will say the school department should pay the interest on the bonds. We have old buildings that are in need of repair and we will have to approve more bonds before we pay off the current ones. Pretty soon, we’ll be looking at $800,000 or $900,000 and that money can buy a lot of technology and programs for schools, so keep that in mind when you’re going out for future bonding.”