2007-05-03 / News

School committee addresses issues related to substance abuse

By Michaela Kennedy

Members of the island's Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force presented statistics of local teenage drug, alcohol and tobacco use to the Jamestown School Committee last week. The task force offered updates on activities and a proposed budget in a lengthy discussion with the committee at its April 26 meeting.

Laura Hosley, chairwoman of the task force, shared data with the committee based on results of the School Accountability for Learning and Teaching (SALT) surveys. According to her report, 20 percent of students surveyed admitted to alcohol use. Illegal drug use was down by 18 percent, it was reported.

Hosley talked about the need to plan for future funding of the program. She said she would explore opportunities at the state level to receive money to fund the student assistance counselor's position.

Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser noted that Jamestown was one of the few communities not supported by state funds for the abuse prevention initiative.

Stephanie Wordell, student assistance counselor at the local schools, spoke about activities she created to engage students in their free time. Wordell also provided data on the number of students she has counseled on the island.

Officer Mark Esposito showed the board a box of drug paraphernalia taken from minors in Jamestown.

He noted drug use has been found at the seventh and eighth grade level. "I can't tell you about the ongoing investigations, but the kids are not using just weed. There seems to be a progression to harder drugs when they get to North Kingstown High School," he said. He mentioned domestic abuse problems in the community, and urged the committee to consider funding programs that address violence, as well as substance abuse. He also urged board members to discuss possible programs with Police Chief Thomas Tighe.

Hosley added the suggestion of a dedicated tip line through the police station. Superintendent Robert Power supported the idea of a dedicated line, saying that children may be more inclined to use it if it were anonymous.

Committee member William "Bucky" Brennan challenged the idea that addressing alcohol problems should be in the public sector. Hosley responded, "If we relied on the parents, then we're shirking our responsibility."

Hosley referred to the success of Project Northland, the alcohol prevention curriculum at the middle school. Committee member Julia Held praised the new curriculum, which encourages parent involvement. "It gives the kids a way to talk with their parents in a way they wouldn't normally," she said.

In other business, the committee approved the purchase of a scoreboard for Lawn Avenue School, and the cost is not to exceed $3,000. The committee also approved the purchase of air-conditioning units for the special education summer classrooms.

Committee member Julie Kallfelz, in an update on food service, said both proposals received were complicated and the subcommittee went back to the vendors with questions to clarify the bids,"of these two very different proposals," she said.

Brennan commented on the attempt made to remove him from the committee meeting, in his report from the North Kingstown School Committee. "It was an unfortunate situation, they lost sight of reality, and the chair apologized," Brennan said. He noted that the committee would continue to follow the agreements made in the contract between the two communities. "We are back to where we were. We are able to voice our opinions, we have a vote, as linked to our contract, a ceremonial vote that lets our community know where we stand," he noted.

The board approved the wellness component of the school strategic plan, to be submitted to the state Department of Education. Wellness committee chairwoman and school nurse, Renie Sullivan provided results and comments on the health and wellness survey given to students and staff. She highlighted the strengths of the school, reporting, "No one on the staff smokes."

Sullivan also reported on the success of the bike and walk to school month currently promoted at the school. "It's fun to see all the kids participate," she noted.

Kathleen Almanzor said in the principal's report that the student council raised over $200 in their memorial walk for teacher Bruce Engelhard. The students planted a tree in his honor, she added. Also in her report, Almanzor announced a dinner to address violence prevention, to be held Tuesday, May 22, for students in fourth to eighth grades. She mentioned Bill Piva, the new interim recreation director, was involved in helping to establish a violence prevention program. "He's a good match, and he engages the kids," she said.

In correspondence the committee received: + an e-mail from North Kingstown

High School about proposed changes in the middle school mathematics program. Almanzor explained the change was a revision

in the course name only, not

in the curriculum.

+ a request from the Southern Rhode

Island Collaborative (SORICO) to endorse House Bill 5637 that would permit the opening of school buildings for purposes other than a

polling place on a statewide primary

day.

+ an invitation from the RI

Permanent Commission on Civic Education to attend the civic education leadership awards on the state's independence day, May 4.

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