Change for the better? Superintendent's administration plan up for review

Posted 1/16/20

By JOHN HOWELL The Warwick School Committee tabled until its meeting next Thursday the proposal of Superintendent Philip Thornton to restructure the administration to eliminate the positions of director of elementary schools and director of secondary

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Change for the better? Superintendent's administration plan up for review


The Warwick School Committee tabled until its meeting next Thursday the proposal of Superintendent Philip Thornton to restructure the administration to eliminate the positions of director of elementary schools and director of secondary schools and create new positions of assistant superintendent and director of school leadership.

Thornton sees the restructuring as devoting greater attention on curriculum and student achievement at no additional cost in the current fiscal year. He is proposing the change at this time because of the departure earlier this month of Robert Littlefield, director of secondary schools, who is now director of the Rhode Island Principals Association.

Observing that Warwick is ranked in the bottom third of Rhode Island schools for performance, Thornton said, “This has to change.” He said the assistant superintendent would be “laser focused on teaching and learning.”

While he did not say whether he would fill the position, should the committee approve the restructuring, he described the assistant as taking the lead on education topics and being “a lead educator.”

Asked to expand on the position, Thornton texted Wednesday, “The position of assistant superintendent is a very common educational leadership role found in districts across RI and the nation. The primary role of the position is to focus on teaching and learning and drive the necessary improvements that may be needed in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.”

According to the job posting, the assistant would report to the superintendent and would be responsible for the overall daily supervision of pre-K-12 programs in Warwick. The assistant would also support schools and departments in formulating long-term plans under direction of the superintendent.

Even though administrative restructuring was removed from the docket at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, it took hits during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Warwick Teachers Union president Darlene Netcoh called the plan “a willy nilly creation of titles.”

“How can you create two new positions in the middle of the year…don’t do it,” she said.

She argued the new positions – the assistant and director of school leadership – would have greater responsibilities and reasoned they would get paid more, thereby creating an expenditure that hasn’t been budgeted.

“The superintendent shouldn’t circumvent the budget process,” she said.

“I can tell you this isn’t a budget issue. This has no impact on the budget,” school finance director Anthony Ferrucci said after the meeting. He said savings would be realized by the shifting of positions plus the fact that there is currently a vacancy with Littlefield’s departure. Looking ahead to next year’s budget, he said the changes would amount to an additional $9,000.

“I don’t know who’s who,” said teacher assistant Tracey McDermott, holding up the proposed administrative chart. She said her “guess” is that the overall administrative lineup is going to cost more, noting that while there are lots of people at the top level, the department is down on clerks, custodians, secretaries and other personnel.

She also reminded the committee that in order to balance the current budget and restore programs including athletics, the $1.24 million earmarked to meet the annual required contribution to the Warwick Independent School Employees, or WISE, pension plan was dropped from the budget.

“There are 400 members who want their pension when they retire. We haven’t forgotten about it. We certainly haven’t forgotten about it,” she said.

Although the superintendent has the authority to make appointments without the consent of the School Committee, committee chair Karen Bachus said Wednesday the creation of an assistant superintendent position is a policy matter and subject to committee approval.

Thornton is also looking for a director of school leadership who would report to the assistant superintendent. As described in the job posting, the director would be responsible to assist in the daily supervision of 19 school sites and the support of building leadership.

“The director, under the direction of the assistant superintendent, shall ensure that the highest quality common core aligned teaching and learning is taking place in safe and welcoming schools,” it reads.

When Thornton outlined his plan and said whom he intended to name assistant – a person that has not yet been publicly identified – Bachus said she was fully behind the plan.

“I think it was a great choice,” she said.

However, Bachus said the issue has become “contentious” and she can’t say whether it will gain committee approval at a special meeting set for next Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Vets. She said Thornton failed to talk to all committee members before unrolling the plan and he’s now being questioned on “what’s the need to rush this through?”

According to Tim Ryan, executive director of the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association, Providence is the only other school district to have directors of elementary and secondary education.

Ryan praised Thornton for addressing “long-standing issues in Warwick schools and getting the focus back on the benefit to kids.” He said assistant superintendents focus on academics and deal with such issues as a consolidated resource plan for the district and teacher certification to ensure they are adhering to a personnel development plan as well as holding the district accountable for student performance.

“It’s a sophisticated job that takes a lot of skill. I think a restructuring plan makes a lot of sense,” he said.


14 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

In the org chart posted with the article, I counted only 28 boxes below school committee, apparently corresponding to individual positions (except for one which suggested multiple positions). I think some positions could be added, and should be considered when more funding becomes available, which I’m sure it will. My suggestions:

Director of Daily Supervision

Director of Long Term plans

Director of Common Core Aligned Teaching and Learning

Director of Security and Parking

Director of Long Standing Issues

Director of Academics

Director of Consolidated Resource Plans

Director of Teacher Certification

Director of Personnel Development Plans

Director of Accountability for Student Performance

Thursday, January 16
Fed Up with Warwick Schools.

It’s long past the time to send Thornton packing. He is responsible for the horrible condition our school system is in.

Let’s get a new Superintendent who will actually make it so our students can learn. Clearly Thornton is not capable.

Thursday, January 16

you forgot director of directors. and vice director of directors. and director of directors and vice directors. the universities are pumping out grads with no practical experience and they need to manage something. and a starting salary of $150k is the least we could do.

Thursday, January 16
Taxed Enough

So Thornton is directly responsible for the condition of the schools? No culpability lies on the part of the former 20 year administration, no culpability lies on the part of the overpaid under performing teachers, no culpability on the union leadership who only cares about the union members and not the kids.

What about the deplorable buildings? That must be Thorton's fault too right? In 1973 Warwick Vets should have been bulldozed into the ground. How many abatement's have happened there? How many improvements? You still have an antiquated building like most of the others in the city. Keep spending money on antiquated facilities. How many clear thinking parents would advise their children to buy a 1963 VW and dump $60,000 into it to get it to run but still leak oil? That's the analogy that best describes the Warwick Public School facilities.

Most important paragraph in this piece - "Observing that Warwick is ranked in the bottom third of Rhode Island schools for performance,"

Lowest ranked, highest paid teachers. Anyone see anything wrong here? $19,000 per pupil to be in the lowest ranks. Privates school $14,000 to be in the highest ranks. Are the residents of Warwick all products of the deficient Warwick School system? Clearly we are lacking in mathematicians.

3 members of the school committee that do not pay taxes, do not own property, probably never balanced a check book. These are leaders??

Thursday, January 16

fair is fair taxed enough, and warwick with all other public schools have to provide special education needs, no matter what the cost. these special needs costs skew the per pupil cost. if you factor out the special education population and costs, the average is well below 14K

Friday, January 17

How about culpability of under-performing parents and under-performing students...

There Taxed Enough, I fixed it for you :)

Let's be consistent.

Friday, January 17

Is that Sam Kinison's twin sister on the panel?

Friday, January 17
Tired in Warwick

I think Thornton strategically left some things out of his interview.

One, Warwick wasn't in the bottom third when he took over as superintendent. The year before he started, Warwick was at the state average in reading, math, and science. Not great, but better than the bottom third Thornton has led us to.

Two, he already reorganized. We were supposed to have great pathways for students, a focus on teaching an learning, and improvement in test scores. Five years later, and millions of dollars later, everything is worse and he wants to reorganize again.

Here's an idea, instead of the new Assistant Superintendent focusing on teaching and learning, how about Phil Thornton does it. I actually thought that was his job anyway.

Thornton said, "This has to change". Couldn't agree more, let's start with the guy on top.

Saturday, January 18

I am shocked by the amount of administrative bloat in this organizational chart for a school system with less than 10,000 students. Part of the problem is with Dr. Thornton and Dr. Ryan's philosophies that more administrators, who have no contact with students, is the solution. Rhode Island has 47 districts and 38 superintendents in a state that serves just over 142,000 students (for comparison, Charlotte, NC, 147,000, one superintendent). This 'every town gets a superintendent' philosophy contributes to its under-performing schools, especially comparatively to Massachusetts. It's time to consolidate, at least into counties, take advantage of economies of scale to help floundering budgets and make it easy to share the best teaching and learning strategies. I think this reorganization plan is a step in the wrong direction and will not help Warwick dig out of this hole that they find themselves in.

Saturday, January 18

all interesting comments on an important topic. I think everyone wants the best for our students.

rachel, does massachusetts not have a superintendent for each district? because I think they do, so that is not the problem...

Saturday, January 18

The Warwick schools are failing miserably, even the superintendent acknowledges they are in the bottom rankings. This op-Ed is silly - of course change is needed. Schools rank is awful, the teachers union has a strangle hold on the pol’s, the children suffer -or- the most intelligent parents simply move out for their kids sake.

This fact is evidenced by the massive loss in student enrollment. Effective leadership needs to creative effective competition to force teachers to engage and foster better schools. NYC has successfully done that with charter schools. If only we had some empty buildings to offer for this.....hmm. If Catholic schools can educate better for a similar cost, why not allow school choice.

Regionalization is certainly an effect tool. Many states employ this successfully to reduce Admin expense. Leadership needs to promote change thru effective competition - if schools are to improve. Why continue to reward the highest paid teachers for their poor performance?

Monday, January 20
just is an idiot

"justanidiot" your post is way off base. Until you actually do the job of an assistant vice director of directors, you have no idea how hard it may be. walk a mile, kid, then talk. jeez

Sunday, January 26

“The director, under the direction of the assistant superintendent, shall ensure that the highest quality common core aligned teaching and learning is taking place in safe and welcoming schools,”

" the assistant superintendent would be “laser focused on teaching and learning.”

What does he do if he needs these positions.

Monday, January 27

I believe Thornton needs to be removed, I also believe there’s a reason he “left” Cumberland. Warwick is failing, it’s been nothing new since Thornton came to the district. Not only has Thornton failed the students of Warwick but also the School Board failed to preform there duties. The school board should not renew his contract when his contract concludes. He’s is incompetent and is/could put Incompetent people in administrative positions. There is not need for all these admin positions, they are not as big as Providence. They however should have the following position, just like Coventry and every other district in Rhode Island. I do think consolidating some schools are the right choice to save money and put students in better condition schools, the environment will and can effect student achievement. They can also combine jobs, having people speed work loads from jobs that are no longer needed.

1- School board

2- Superintendent

3- Asst superintendent

4- Director of Curriculum and instruction

5- HR Manager

6- Director of Special Ed

7- Asst Director of Special Ed

8- Director of Finance

9- Building Principals

10- Director of Facility’s and Transportation

11- Asst Director of Facility’s and Transportation (optional)

12- Director of Technology

Friday, February 7