2006-06-08 / Front Page

Parents want to keep grade 6-8 students in Jamestown

By Donna K. Drago

At their June 1 workshop, School Committee members discussed the results of the recent school survey that asked parents to say whether they would prefer to have students in grades 6 to 8 schooled in Jamestown or be sent off the island.

Parents were also given a chance to rank several choices as to how important each was in determining the future location of Jamestown's middle schoolers.

Some 252 parents responded to the survey, 212 by e-mail and 40 by paper surveys that were mailed to families for which the school did not have an e-mail address on file. In all, 490 surveys were sent by either e-mail or the postal service.

"I don't know about anybody else, but I found this fascinating," said School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser about the results.

Committee Vice Chairwoman Julie Kallfelz announced the results.

On the major question of whether to send grades 6 to 8 offisland,

205 respondents, or 82 percent, said that students should remain in Jamestown. Just 21 parents said that students should be sent to another district to be educated.

Kallfelz, who along with Julia Held formed the Survey Subcommittee, said that parents overwhelmingly chose academics as their top priority in choosing a school for their children. The factors were ranked based on how many respondents chose the item as either the first, second, or third most important. In all, there were six options, which in addition to academics included athletics, connection to community, cost, extracurricular activities, and social issues.

Some 178 parents put academics first and 224 of the 252 respondents put it in the top three, Kallfelz said.

The number two factor was connection to community, with 151 parents putting it in the top three, and in third place were social issues, with 97 parents saying it was of importance.

On the bottom end of the spectrum, just three parents thought athletics ranked number one, and cost got four votes in the top position.

Committee member William "Bucky" Brennan was nonplussed about academics coming in first place. "That doesn't do much for me," Brennan said, who added that academics should always be first when considering a school.

Held said the number two answer, "connection to community," is pretty significant.

Kallfelz summed up the initial survey results: "parents want to keep kids on the island."

School Superintendent Katherine Sipala said that she heard the words "don't go" several times over the past weeks and learned that many members of the school community were upset over the survey.

Committee members discussed how the process to determine the future of the Lawn Avenue School was initially talked about in March 2005, and the survey is just a tool to gather input from members of the community.

"Most seem to know that (the survey) is just part of a process to get information," Kaiser said, but there were still people who asked her about which off-island schools the committee was considering sending the students to.

"We're not anywhere near that stage," Held said.

The committee discussed whether, in light of the overwhelming mandate by parents to keep kids on the island, they would continue to seek opinions from members of the community at large.

Brennan said the only reason to send children to an off-island school is cost. He said he felt that rather than survey the general public, the school board should work up the numbers to see what the actual savings might be from several different scenarios. Then use that data "to make a decision based on your beliefs," he said to members of the committee.

Sipala said that if citizens were sounding a "clanging gong" about costs "they'd be here and they'd be at the Town Council." To make her point, Sipala motioned in the direction of the audience, which contained one person - a representative of the Press.

In other business, the School Committee:

+ Set a date of June 12 for its annual retreat at Rhode Island College. There they will analyze the comments that came in with the survey and discuss possible changes to the administrative structure at the schools.

+ Learned that Jamestown's Erin Simmons will be the salutatorian for North Kingstown High School's graduation ceremonies to be held June 17 at the Ryan Center in Kingston.

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