By ARDEN BASTIA In a tense meeting described as "embarrassing" by Mayor Frank Picozzi, the Warwick school committee elected Judy Cobden as the new chairperson Tuesday evening. Committee members Nathan Cornell and Kyle Adams voted for Cobden for
In a tense meeting described as “embarrassing” by Mayor Frank Picozzi, the Warwick school committee elected Judy Cobden as the new chairperson Tuesday evening.
Committee members Nathan Cornell and Kyle Adams voted for Cobden for chairperson, while David Testa nominated Karen Bachus, who has served as chair for the past two years. Cobden said she wanted to be chair in order to “bring a new synergy to the committee and the city, since we have a new mayor and a new president of the city council. It’s time to. In nominating Cobden, Cornell said “she has experience working with people, and I’ve always been able to work with her. She’s always been nice to me. If she thinks I did something wrong, she always talks to me and is honest with me. She doesn’t yell at me. I think she’ll be a good chair.”
“While Karen and I have had our differences over the years, I think we agree on more than we disagree on. I think she’s been a pretty effective chair. She already has two terms under her belt,” he said, citing her “deep understanding” of the issues facing the school committee and the city. “I feel more comfortable with her as chair,” said Testa.
It was then that the meeting got personal.
“I wish this was in private session, but it’s not,” said Bachus. “In these two years as vice chair, Miss Cobden has made derogatory remarks, made fun of me, and berated me because I take this as a full time job. I’m a fool for doing that, and she’s said that on more than one occasion. It was very hurtful, but it is what it is. I’m putting that out there so people know.”
In an explosive confrontation, Cobden and Bachus argued and interrupted each other. Cobden cited mismanagement, miscommunication, and poor leadership from Bachus and her unprofessional manner.
Aubrey Lombardo, a partner at Henneous Carroll Lombardo LLC providing legal counsel to the committee, and Superintendent Philip Thornton attempted to keep the peace, but to no avail.
In a three to two vote, Judy Cobden was elected as chairperson. Bachus shared much hesitation about the “significant concerns” of voting Nathan Cornell as vice chair. “He has been on the committee for two years, yet doesn’t understand the rules and other things, which sometimes causes great frustration for myself and others. I don’t think it’s prudent, so I will not cast my vote for him,” Bachus said.
Nathan Cornell was eventually elected vice chair in a three to two vote.
Kyle Adams was elected as clerk in a unanimous vote.
Chairperson Judy Cobden said she is “honored” to be elected. In an interview Wedneday, she acknowledged Karen Bachus’ experience and contributions to the committee, but has new goals for her position. “I want to have full transparency with my committee, I think it’s something that is much needed. I want to bring a different energy into our committee that’s a little bit more respectful to each other.”
Codben aims to encourage new ideas from all members of the committee. “All five of us have individual special skills and I feel like I can move it around in the committee and utilize that. You know, teamwork.”
Darlene Netcoh, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, puts her support behind new chairperson Cobden. “She will do very well, I am looking forward to working with her. I’ve been teaching for thirty-one years; there have been turbulent times before and this is a mere blip.”
Instead of getting caught up in the drama of committee dynamics, Netcoh urges the members to focus on the health and safety of Warwick teachers and students now that in-person learning has begun.
“Everyone needs to remember that we are still in a global pandemic, the number of cases are still placing us on the national news, and that everyone has to proceed with caution. We have to put safety first,” Netcoh said in an interview.
Danielle Gardiner, president of the Cedar Hill Elementary School PTO, called the meeting a “train wreck”.
“It is very disappointing to see our school committee behave in the way that they do. It lends itself to what kind of leadership and guidance they’re providing to administrators and schools themselves in unprecedented times,” Gardiner said. “The fact that they’re bickering with each other and letting personal issues get in the way, what kind of work are they doing in regards to the serious issues we have of the buildings and getting the teachers and students back into school safety.”
Cobden said she is “completely ashamed” of her behavior and the proceedings of Tuesday’s meeting. “I did not go there to argue with Miss Bachus, and that won’t happen again. What happened, happened.”
Gardiner says she and other parents are concerned with the new chair and vice chair in regards to in-person learning. “Their focus should be on how to do this and do this safely.”
Gardiner currently has two children at Cedar Hill, and raved about the efforts of the elementary teachers during distance learning. However, she recently made the decision to pull her oldest child, a middle schooler, out of Warwick schools and instead make the switch to Catholic school “because of the issues with the lack of curriculum and lack of education during distance learning that the middle school has provided.”
“I’m thankful the school committee did vote to reopen the schools, and the community appreciates their efforts,” said Gardiner. “And we hope that everybody supports one another and supports people’s decisions to be the safest they can be.”
Cobden did not address other issues, like teacher contracts, facing the committee, but instead emphasized a renewed focus on reopening Warwick schools in the safest possible way. “I’m personally nervous. I hope everyone complies. I hope parents check their kids, and I think we need to be as careful as possible. Obviously, there’s going to be interruptions and we’re going to just have to roll with the punches.”