Eva-Marie Mancuso, chair of the Board of Education, was dressed in CCRI green Friday and talking like a member of the team.
And, like a coach, CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale extolled Mancuso’s commitment to education as a star player to an auditorium of faculty at the college’s 11th annual professional development day.
Di Pasquale called it an occasion to celebrate the college’s successes and “think about where we want to go.” He talked about the impact of the college’s 48 years and 60,000 graduates on the state. And he touched on the college’s near-highest enrollment of 18,000, which he doesn’t see declining, and its dependence on tuitions and fees to meet 60 percent of its budget.
His list of highlights included the faculty’s involvement in community service days; the fact that more than 1,700 students received degrees last spring, the largest ever graduating class. He said the graduation rate has increased by two points and that, with 33 percent, CCRI’s percentage of minority students is second only to Brown University in Rhode Island.
And then Di Pasquale, Mancuso and union leaders got down to the future of the college.
Mancuso, who taught at CCRI in the 1980s, and whose youngest child, Emily, attended CCRI, said she and the governor are committed to education. She said many high school students aren’t prepared for college and that there need to be changes in elementary and secondary schools.
“We’ve got a system that’s broken and you have a chair who is going to work on that system,” she said, after the applause subsided. She further pledged to get the job done. “I’m not retiring to Florida,” she said, “with your help, we’re going to get the job done.”
But she made the point that money is essential.
“You can have all the ideas in the world but, until you have the money, it’s only ideas,” she said.
Money was also on Di Pasquale’s agenda.
Referring to the refurbished Bobby Hackett Auditorium, he said there would be more rehabilitation projects and the college will see “a change in landscape … this building hasn’t been touched in 40 years. It’s got to happen.”
Di Pasquale said plans call for the renovation of Warwick and Lincoln facilities in 2014. He noted that voters approved of a $50 million bond issue for Rhode Island College, adding, “We’re going to have to do that for ourselves as well.”
While confessing reservations about the combination of the Board of Regents and the Board of Governors that oversaw the state’s schools into a single state Board of Education, Di Pasquale sees the new system as capable of addressing the critical issue of preparing more students for college courses.
“She gets it. She knows what has to be done,” he said of Mancuso. “She is the right leader at the right time.”
Also speaking at the opening session were union and faculty representatives, including Lynn Gudezauskas, president of the Educational Support Professional Association, who left no doubt what’s on her agenda. She said the union is “pushing for a substantial wage increase, which is long overdue.”
Her comment was greeted by applause, but not nearly as loud as those that followed the remarks of Deborah Nortarianni-Girard. Nortarianni-Girard co-chaired the development day committee with Michelle O’Brien. The day included scores of workshops with topics ranging from iPad Basics for General Users; to Best Practices in Online Teaching; to retirement and investment strategies. There was even a walk for fitness session where participants were told to bring sneakers and walk at their own pace.
But Nortarianni-Girard really had the audience’s attention when she outlined the day’s schedule and highlighted lunch. Her announcement that there would be desserts from Gregg’s restaurant brought cheers and laughter.