Citing a desire to improve lines of communication between city officials and Warwick Public Schools, Mayor Joseph Solomon announced last week he would launch a program in December of monthly “coffee-hour style” meetings between himself and members of the city’s various Parent-Teacher Associations and Organizations (PTOs).
“Our parent-teacher groups are a very important part of our school system,” Solomon said in the release. “We are fortunate to have tremendously active parents and dedicated teachers throughout our community who give generously of their time and talent. It's important that the city work together with them to help them further succeed in their efforts on behalf of our students.”
Solomon indicated that, since there are 14 elementary schools in the city (plus the Early Learning Center at the former John Brown Francis Elementary School), it would work best to meet in two groups for the elementary level and to meet with a third group comprised of the parent-teacher groups from the middle and high schools. These three groups would meet “on a rotating basis within the monthly schedule,” the release stated. At some points, he suggested having all parties meet at the same time.
“I think it's very important to have the ability not only to be able to see the larger picture of the work of all of our parent-teacher groups, but to afford them the opportunity to share their concerns and ideas in a smaller group setting so that we can address them proactively rather than reactively,” Solomon said. “I look forward to meeting with them to hear directly about the activities and events taking place and to let them to bring to light any difficulties or improvements that can be achieved at their respective schools.”
The idea sparked compliments from Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix and Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, and prompted an inquiry from Rep. David Bennett, who wondered if state representatives might have the opportunity to sit in on the meetings as well. “Communication is the first step to improvement,” he said in an email.
While the original press release regarding the meetings went out on Oct. 8, Sarah Theberge – the president of the Warwick Council PTA and president elect of the Rhode Island PTA – hadn’t heard of the proposed idea until the Beacon reached out to her for her thoughts on the matter.
“That's news to me,” she said, but added that, “I think what he is proposing is great. I see a huge potential value in that.”
According to Theberge, the Warwick Council PTA has recently organized a mixer that brought together all the different PTOs from various schools in the city, and has traditionally invited school administration to their meetings as well. However, adding in the element of meeting directly with city officials struck Theberge as a valuable concept above what was already occurring.
“While we've done it on a smaller scale than what he's suggesting, I already know there's value to them. And I can guarantee they'll be well attended,” she said. “These are the people who really have a stake in what's happening. They're already willing to put aside time to volunteer and run these boards for the PTAs and PTOs, so they absolutely have a dog in the fight and want to explore options.”
Theberge said that the discussions would provide a great opportunity to tell city officials issues that go on in schools related to insufficient funding – such as an issue occurring now where PTOs are responsible for supplying playgrounds they have built through fundraising with safe mulch, which can cost big money that these organizations don’t necessarily have.
“Holliman spent $4,000 to mulch their playground, only to have 50 percent of it wash away during the rainstorms a couple weeks ago,” she said. “It was literally money washed down the drain.”
On Wednesday, Solomon expressed his happiness that he had received such warm responses to the proposal, and said he’d be happy to keep state representatives in the loop.
“It has become abundantly clear to me that they are all looking for an organic, open line of communication to discuss and express their opinions and concerns regarding the education of our children,” he said in a statement. As such, my initial objective is to meet with representatives from all our schools in small groups and help facilitate honest discussions. As the dialogues advance, I have no issue sharing their findings with members of our local and state partners who are interested in these issues.”