If elected, Cobden would look to repair school relations

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There are some unintended benefits that can occur when your dog runs away and you have to run through the neighborhood to catch him, especially if you’re running for school committee in the upcoming election.

“Talk about a good way to meet constituents,” said Judith “Judy” Cobden, who has announced she is running for the District 2 Warwick School Committee seat currently held by Terri Medeiros. “At least they’ll know I’m a normal person with normal problems.

A Warwick native and 1986 graduate from Pilgrim High School with dual citizenship to England through her father, who was born across the pond, Cobden has lived an interesting life. She has been a standup comedian during her college days in New York City, getting serious enough about it to the point where she asked her parents for a loan to hire an agent to pursue it further.

“The hardest thing you can do is get up in front of hundreds of people and try to get them to laugh,” she said. “So, giving a speech? No problem.”

The comedy career fizzled out when she traveled abroad to England and found out that British humor was a stark contrast to back home, especially when it was being delivered by a young American woman.

She traveled back to Warwick to spend time with her ailing father, who passed away in 1998. Afterwards she moved back to New York, where she worked as a financial investigator at the New York and American Stock Exchange.

Those familiar with Cobden and her story probably know her by the next marquee moment that occurred in her life – as she was among the thousands of terrified individuals who experienced 9/11 as it unfolded from the streets of downtown Manhattan. Cobden has spoken at multiple 9/11 ceremonies and tributes in Warwick in the years since.

Through her experiences and professional work, which most recently includes white collar crime private investigating and pro bono work as an educational advocate for parents, Cobden believes that she can make a lasting and important impact on the school department, which she thinks has lacked certain crucial elements in recent years.

“The first thing I hope to bring is teamwork. We're lacking teamwork,” she said. “We're lacking a lot of transparency. That comes with a lot of communication issues that are happening amongst everyone, from school administration and the school committee, to the public and even the children. We need to change that.”

Cobden has advocated during public comment portions of school committee meetings in the past that the department needs to be more vocal in voicing their concerns and needs to the state legislature, primarily in regards to how Warwick receives funding through the state’s funding formula.

“Why aren't we lobbying to get more money?” she inquired. “I believe nothing can happen if you don't ask. If you don't ask, you're never going to know...We're not trying. I want to bring that aspect to the Warwick School Committee.”

Lobbying for more money, Cobden said, is one part of a bigger picture that curtails a need for better fiscal responsibility. She questioned the ethics of air conditioners being installed at the Gorton administration building, despite her recollection that the school committee didn’t approve that expense. She was also highly critical of the time it took to replace malfunctioning fire alarm systems at Holliman and Norwood Elementary Schools, calling the situation a “debacle.”

“It did happen, and it's not something that can be overseen,” she said. “People do make mistakes, but it's due to a lack of transparency between all people in charge…It [went unreported] long enough that it was wrong. It shouldn't have even been a week.”

Cobden said that, if elected, she would try to repair relations between the public, the school administration and the school committee, which has – to say the least – been strained in recent years during a prolonged contract dispute and disagreements from teachers about the implementation of new educational strategies from administrators.

Distrust is also evident with the Warwick City Council, multiple members of which have been critical of the school’s ability to responsibly spend money. Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis and Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla have, particularly, voiced their distrust of the department in recent meetings regarding an $80 million bond to help repair the district’s schools. Partially out of what they described as being cautious, the Council ultimately halved that request and approved a bond request of $45 million.

“I think there is a huge distrust between everyone, including the students. We need to bring some cohesiveness there. It's not there right now,” Cobden said. “There's animosity between the school administration and the school committee and the city council and it doesn’t need to be like that. If this city as a whole works as a team, we could be the greatest again.”

Cobden’s parents were both schoolteachers. Her mother taught in Warwick her entire career and her father in Providence. She was a three-sport athlete in high school and played on the only statewide girls hockey team in Rhode Island. She would go on to become captain of a traveling hockey team in New York – the only girl on the team. She said such experiences showed her the importance of establishing leadership by example.

“I'm not awesome, I just know how to treat people and deal with people,” she said.

Cobden said it was important to her to become an advocate for parents who feel intimidated to speak up about issues they perceive within the schools.

“Everybody deserves to have a voice,” she said. “The constituents that voted for these individuals don't have a voice.” Cobden said it was problematic that people can only voice their opinions at meetings through public comment after the committee has already voted on all the measures they may want to speak about. “By the time we get there, what is our griping going to do?” she asked.

This advocacy would extend to teachers who feel alienated or disadvantaged by certain school policies being implemented without their input. She pointed to the updating of school technology as a good example of school administration being too forceful with their changes and not considering the different ways certain teachers might be more effective in the classroom.

“The teachers are the heartbeat of our schools and they deserve to be respected and for their ideas to be heard,” she said. “If there's a tool that the administration thinks is out of date and don't need anymore, I don’t believe in just taking it from someone. I think there should be a discussion…Just because it exists doesn't mean it's the best way.”

Cobden will be having her first fundraiser on Wednesday, May 23 at 5 p.m. at the William Shields Jr. Post at 662 West Shore Road in Warwick. She is hopeful that as more people learn of her campaign, the more support she can gather.

“I think I can make our schools better,” she said. “It's going to take time, it's not going to happen overnight, but I think we can do better.”

Comments

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CrickeeRaven

It is highly instructive that Ms. Cobden does not once mention the teachers union as a factor in what the article writer calls the "strained" relationships within the school department. Ms. Cobden seems to be relieving the WTU of its responsibility for the two years of work-to-rule, pickets outside of City Hall, sick-outs, and ongoing bitter rhetoric from its president that preceded the final agreement to a new labor contract -- all of which, arguably, resulted in the same deal the WTU could have gotten two years ago.

The Warwick School Committee does not need another member who will point fingers at everyone except the union.

Tuesday, May 8
richardcorrente

Judy Cobden said " The teachers are the heartbeat of our schools and the deserve to be respected and for their ideas to be heard." That, in my opinion, is how every School Committee member should feel. They don't. She does. She will win the election. Her opponent once told me "The Ragosta Report is all verbal. It's not a written report." From the moment of that lie on, I have hoped for her replacement. Judy Cobden is an excellent choice. The School Committee couldn't have a better candidate.

Happy Spring everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Tuesday, May 8
richardcorrente

Dear CrickeeRaven,

I didn't notice Judy Cobden point the finger of blame at anyone. She seems to want to work on the solution, not focus just on cause of the problem.

You, on the other hand, are blaming ONLY the Warwick Teachers Union. Her approach is unbiased. Yours is VERY biased.

Happy Spring everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Tuesday, May 8
CrickeeRaven

"I didn't notice Judy Cobden point the finger of blame at anyone," writes the make-believe mayor.

And yet, Ms. Cobden is quoted in the article as saying: “We're lacking a lot of transparency. That comes with a lot of communication issues that are happening amongst everyone, from school administration and the school committee, to the public and even the children... There's animosity between the school administration and the school committee and the city council..."

Contrary to the make-believe mayor's claim, Ms. Cobden blamed every other party that is involved in running the school system -- except the WTU -- for the "[lack] of transparency" and "communication issues."

As the make-believe mayor continues his hopeless attempt to gain more attention for himself in advance of what is certain to be another overwhelming loss in the expected Democratic primary, he is only showing how desperate he is to spin and twist information that somehow justifies his past union pandering.

Council President Solomon, an actual elected official and leader in the city, will easily defeat the make-believe mayor and his complete inability to acknowledge facts. Honest, taxpaying voters will again soundly reject the make-believe mayor at the earliest opportunity.

Tuesday, May 8
Bob_Cushman

Since 2006 when I was on the Warwick School Committee the entire School Committee has turned over several times. Three Superintendents have been hired. The Elementary and Secondary education directions have been replaced along with many other central administration staff and school principals. Yet the same issues that plagued the school committee a decade ago continue to plague all other seated committee since then. What does that tell you?

CrickeeRaven is correct. The common denominator after all these years is that the power players in the WTU leadership are virtually the same people from a decade ago. Some such as the current WTU Presidet have simply moved up in the ranks gaining more power.

Until the younger generation of teachers take control of the WTU leadership and strive to work together with the WSC, the superintendent, mayor and City Council, to streamline the system, the difficult financial challengers facing schools will continue.

Exasperating by problem by electing another pro WTU supporter to go along with Ms. Backus will only make matters worse and the quality of education in Warwick continue to deteriorate.

For some reason Richard Corrente can't seemed to acknowledge these facts.

Wednesday, May 9
CrickeeRaven

Thank you, Bob_Cushman, for confirming the truth about the WTU. As we've seen, the make-believe mayor seems to think he will improve his chances in the election by pandering to the teachers union; that's the reason he is so intent on ignoring reality.

Wednesday, May 9
JohnStark

From what I gather, Ms. Cobden sees the two primary issues to be a lack of money, and a need to "repair relationships". Good Lord!!!

Warwick taxpayers will spend $19,000 per student in the 2018-19 school year. That is over 20% greater than either East Greenwich, West Warwick, or Cranston. And what do taxpayers have to show for it? Deplorable levels of proficiency in both Language Arts and Math, including a 12.7% rate of Math proficiency at Pilgrim per 2017 RIDE PARCC results. Put another way, about 1 student in 8 is proficient in Math at Pilgrim!! 1 in 8, and "proficiency" is a rather low bar. In fact, students at both Tollgate and Pilgrim lag behind their peers in neighboring communities at alarming rates when assessed for basic levels of proficiency. The response from the school committee? Nothing. No investigations, outrage, or even curiosity. Nothing. The response from Ms. Cobden? Not a word. As more and more students leave the Warwick public schools lacking basic literacy skills, the silence on the part of both elected officials and candidates is simply breathtaking!! Is Ms. Cobden prepared to shine a light on this dirty, glossed over little secret? Based upon this article I wouldn't bet on it.

Wednesday, May 9
DannyHall

I'm pretty positive that Ms. Cobden lives in Ward 7 but Ms. Bachus owns rental property in Ward 5....I can see how that's perfectly ok.

Wednesday, May 9
ideashaveconsequence

Yep

Wednesday, May 9
ideashaveconsequence

I wonder why there is no mention of Ms. Cobden being in a domestic relationship with another member of the school comm.? Think that's a conflict of interest?

Wednesday, May 9
warwickmom

Mr Hall and friends, maybe you should all get your "facts" straight. Ms. Cobden lives around the corner from Ms. Medeiros, in Ward 5. Why don't you ask Terri to verify that for you. Such a sore loser you are!

Thursday, May 10
PaulHuff

2 things jumped out at me....

1. She can’t keep control of her dog and wants me to trust her with the well being of children?

2. She listed in her “lack of transparency” everyone under the sun but WTU. So it is apparent whose water she is carrying.

Reading the comments she may be in a domestic relationship with a current SC member and did not disclose that??? Talk about a lack of transparency.

I’m all set.

Thursday, May 10
richardcorrente

Dear Bob Cushman,

I have often said that you are one of the most intelligent people in Warwick. You also have the integrity to use your real name adding to your leadership status. Therefore when you speak, I will always listen as I have for the past several years, both in writings like this, as well as in person. I believe that others feel the same way about you and they should.

However, in this case, you state that there has been much turnover in the School Department (SC) and little in the Warwick Teachers Union (WTU) and you ask "What does that tell you?"

Well Bob, it tells me that the SC has been mired in turmoil for years and the WTU hasn't. It tells me that the SC is UNstable while the WTU is VERY stable. It tells me that the SC changes their minds far too often (even when they give their word that back-pay will arrive 4 days before Christmas and then they reneg on it) while the WTU can always be counted on to be consistent in their views year after year.

Bob, according to Salary.com, Warwick teachers get the same pay as top-rated Barrington. (within $200 per year). However, Barrington has a $14,594 annual dollar-per-student cost while Warwick has over $18,000 and Barrington is listed as the best school system in Rhode Island according to MSN. I think the question to ask is "Where is all that extra money going in Warwick?" Factually Bob, it is NOT going to the teachers! Maybe Barrington doesn't have a massive overload of administration like an Assistant Principal of Climate and Culture, or an Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning. Maybe Barrington's SC knows how to spend their taxpayers money way, way, way more efficiently than Warwick's SC does?

Maybe.

Barrington has a budget of approx. $50 million with approx. 3,500 students costing Barrington taxpayers approx. $14,500 per student per year. Warwick has a budget of approx. $161 million with approx. 8,500 students costing Warwick taxpayers over $18,000 per student per year,and if the SC gets another $40 million, that figure jumps up to over $22,000 per student.

Bob, you accurately complained about the lack of everyone "working together" but as I recall it, the WTU was willing to "sit and negotiate" FOR OVER TWO YEARS with zero cooperation from Mayor Avedisian OR THE SC!

Bob, don't the Warwick taxpayers deserve better treatment than this?

I think so. I think Judy Cobden does too.

Happy Spring Bob Cushman.

Good luck on your campaign Judy!

Happy Spring everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, May 10
ideashaveconsequence

Again the make believe mayor is wrong. The Ragosta report was a verbal report!

http://warwickonline.com/stories/school-brass-failed-parents,110947?

Thursday, May 10
Thecaptain

One fact that Mayor Dumbness completely forgets to give notice to is that graduating seniors from Warwick Schools have a math proficiency of 17% and a science proficiency of 11%. He fails to mention that with new contract the Warwick teachers are in the top 1 % for compensation in the country out of 14,000 school districts, but have the 4th overall lowest grades.

Again, the fake mayor will stoop to any level to pander to unions in the hopes that he will garner some favor. What a joke. Cant wait to see what kind of questions he will ask the department heads at the budget hearings. My guess is none !

Thursday, May 10
CrickeeRaven

Bob_Cushman, don't fall for the make-believe mayor's attempts to rewrite history. The WTU did nothing but delay and pull PR stunts while the school committee and the mayor met with them 25 times (according to Vincent Ragosta) to get a deal.

After all other avenues -- including court cases and an attempt to rewrite statewide contract law -- failed, the WTU grudgingly accepted the mediated contract after it was clear that the arbitrators' decision was going to be an even worse outcome.

That type of opportunism by the WTU is another reason the make-believe mayor panders to them so enthusiastically.

Thursday, May 10
richardcorrente

Dear ideashaveconsequence,

You're wrong.

The Ragosta Report was a 600 page transcribed written report. I personally called Attorney Vincent Ragosta; spoke to him for about a half an hour, and learned that Allied Court Reporters produced that report. I then wrote about it in the Warwick Beacon. Ultimately the entire report was published in the Beacon. The words were given in a deposition verbally but the report was absolutely written. Look it up in the Warwick Beacon. Put "Ragosta report" in the search bar.

Happy Spring ideashaveconsequences. Please get a shorter name.

Happy Spring everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, May 11
CrickeeRaven

ideashaveconsequence: Don't be bothered by the make-believe mayor and his inability to contradict himself.

"The Ragosta Report was a 600 page transcribed written report... The words were given in a deposition verbally but the report was absolutely written."

Here's a link detailing the verbal report, since the make-believe mayor is too lazy to provide one: https://warwickpost.com/ragosta-report-school-administrators-ignored-dismissed-allegations-against-atoyan/

Friday, May 11
CrickeeRaven

Ideashaveconsequence: Correction -- his inability to keep from contradicting himself.

Friday, May 11