To the Editor:
The Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association (RISSA) strongly and unequivocally supports the courageous leadership displayed by Dr. Phil Thornton, Superintendent of Schools of the Warwick Public Schools. Dr. Thornton is conducting himself as an educational leader, doing what all superintendents must do in meeting his responsibilities to ensure quality education for the students of Warwick and to conform with the laws and regulations which guide the work of school districts. It is his responsibility and duty as a superintendent to advocate for Warwick students and to do so in a fiscally and programmatically responsible manner. The superintendent must focus on the district vision; he is ultimately responsible for leading the district actions and strategies to achieve that vision. The mission of the Warwick Public Schools states "The mission of Warwick Public Schools, working cooperatively with families and the community, is to provide challenging, student- centered learning environments that enable all students to develop the skills, knowledge, and strategies necessary to excel in college, career, and life. It is Superintendent Thornton's duty to lead the Warwick Public Schools and to ensure that district resources are organized in such a manner to provide a quality education so that all students have the opportunity to realize their life goals and ambitions.
There is no argument that the Warwick Public Schools have experienced change – most notably with a reduced student population. This has prompted a many years long discussion relative to the organization of the Warwick Schools including the need for a careful evaluation of the number of schools and grade configurations of the schools in Warwick. This is an issue not only in Warwick but across R.I. and has been highlighted in the recent school facilities report released by the R.I. Department of Education and the Governor’s Office. Superintendent Thornton is addressing this and other issues in Warwick precisely as he should.
The needs of the school children in Warwick are paramount and the educational laws and regulations represent the will of the people and must be followed. It is clear that Dr. Thornton has since the time of his employment in Warwick been conducting himself with the needs of students and the obligation to comply with the laws and regulations as the guiding principles of his work. He and the school committee in Warwick are demonstrating a clear commitment to the children of Warwick. His actions and those of the committee are to ensure quality educational opportunity and to do so in a fiscally responsible manner. Inevitably, these actions have caused discomfort for some but were needed nonetheless to be in the best interests of the students of Warwick. There is ample evidence of attempts by Superintendent Thornton and the school committee to work collaboratively with employees of the district. However, the reluctance of some of the employees to come to terms with the need to reconfigure the schools and to address contractual provisions that have been blocking attempts to reorganize and better utilize district resources have hampered the district’s efforts to achieve its mission.
The Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association firmly supports the efforts of Superintendent Thornton to meet the needs of Warwick students. The Association calls on all members of the Warwick community: teachers, parents, students, business and community leaders to work with Dr. Thornton to completely fulfill the vision and mission of the Warwick Public Schools.
Personal attacks in the traditional media and using social media to disparage Dr. Thornton and other Warwick educational leaders will not alter the facts. This is not about pointing the finger of blame. This is about providing a better system of educational services for all students of the Warwick Public Schools.
Rhode Island School Superintendents Association