2006-02-09 / Front Page

Island school chief backs management restructuring

By Sam Bari

At the School Committee’s Feb. 2 meeting, School Superintendent Katherine Sipala reviewed the constraints of the superintendent-principal role, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses. She said she needed to better explain her reasons for her strong recommendations for leadership at Lawn Avenue School.

“Although instructionally the district was at a pinnacle of optimum performance, administratively it was not at the same level as instruction,” she said.

Sipala noted that the strengths of the superintendent position were in management. However, the weaknesses included an inability to focus on instructional leadership, teacher evaluation, governance of school improvement teams, state reporting, pubic relations, curriculum, and program implementation. She supported and clarified the need for a principal to address these needs and allow teachers to focus on their students.

She praised Lawn Avenue School Dean of Students Cynthia Cheney for her dedication, pointing out that Cheney was responsible for taking on the responsibilities of a principle by initiating after-school programs, including mentoring and detention as well as making planning time for teachers.

Sipala also said that she was making her recommendation knowing that a restructuring of administrative roles will likely reduce the role of superintendent to a part-time position.

In response to an earlier question from a representative of the teachers union, School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser read a prepared statement relating the committee’s view that a restructuring of administrative roles would provide essential instructional leadership with a principal at Lawn Avenue School while generating cost savings. The committee unanimously endorsed the statement, which can be found in its entirety on page 6 in this issue of the Press.

In the superintendent’s presentation of the budget, Sipala said that small class size translated into more individual attention for students. She also noted that federal and grant money was available to educate the staff. The “budget is about finding resources to support the strategic action plan that included after school and summer school programs,” she said.

She noted that teacher mentor programs and funds for the library were included, and that the budget supports art and foreign languages as well as after-school programs for the staff and special education.

The proposed 2006 school budget, including a $115,880 capital reserve fund, currently totals $10,870,809.

She concluded that an increase of 5.6 percent and capitol expenditures brought the total to a 6.27 percent increase, but noted that the town was only responsible for the 5.6 percent in operational expenses. Sipala praised Beth Minto and Maria Alfred for their dedication and input in preparing the budget.

Special Education Director Beth Pinto presented the special education budget and responded to questions from the school board. “What we are doing works,” Pinto said. “Less than 1 percent of our children go out of district for placement. This is the strength of our system,” she noted.

Pinto said that the goal of the Jamestown special education program is to implement researchbased methods regarding effective teaching practices and service delivery models, and enhance lifelong outcomes.

In other business, Paul Dansereau from Parmelee, Poirier & Associates of Warwick presented the annual auditor’s report and responded to questions from the school board. Dansereau reported that the school had a surplus of $43,000 for the year with $301,000 reserved for future liabilities.

He noted that the school did well with a difficult 16-month budget year by coming in on budget. He also said that “there were no issues of non-compliance to report to the feds, and his accountant’s report was good overall.”

In the open forum, Karen Rafanelli criticized Town Councilman Bill Kelly’s comments on trimming the school budget and closing the Lawn school. Her husband, Anthony Rafanelli, supported her views and asked for “informed decisions, not decisions by report.” He criticized the Town Council for making decisions without firsthand information and asked how they could make decisions without visiting the schools.

Several other people attending the meeting spoke in support of the school budget and programs.

Additional School Committee budget hearings will be held at 7 p.m. on Feb. 9 and 16 in the Melrose Avenue School multipurpose room. A brief meeting will be held on Monday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. in the Lawn Avenue School library for the purpose of approving teacher reduction-inforce notification. The next monthly work session will be held at 7 p.m. on March 2 in the Lawn Avenue School.

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