2009-10-15 / Front Page

Review committee to evaluate high schools

First of two parts
By Eileen M. Daly

Is North Kingstown High School the best fit for Jamestown students or would they be better served at Narragansett High School? That is the question the High School Review Committee is charged with answering.

According to Jamestown School Committee Chairperson Cathy Kaiser, Jamestown’s contract with North Kingstown is due to expire in 2012. Kaiser emphasized that the review is part of a routine process and is not due to any dissatisfaction with North Kingstown High School.

“The last contract we signed was a 10-year contract with provisions for either party to opt out,” Kaiser said. “The last time we did a review, we decided we should have a review every five years. As consumers, we felt that was a reasonable and responsible thing to do.”

Members of the review committee include Superintendent Marcia Lukon, Lawn Avenue School Principal Kathy Almanzor, special educator Sandra Reynolds, Director of Student Services Gwenn Spence, parents Sally Schott and Ann Zainyeh, and School Committee members B.J. Whitehouse and Julia Held.

According to Held, the committee has visited each of the high schools once so far. They are scheduled to meet again sometime in late October.

“On the first visits, we divided up and spent the day attending classes. When we meet, we will discuss the data we have gathered, including the school visits, as well as test scores and profiles. On our next visit, we will meet with a team of staff members from each school to discuss any concerns or questions that we have before making our final recommendation to the school committee,” Held said.

The last review included multiple schools, whereas only Narragansett and North Kingstown are being considered this time, Held said.

“Narragansett asked us to take another look. There are things they wanted us to see that have changed from our last review,” she said.

A strong case

The committee did not review other schools for a variety of reasons, including that some could not accommodate the number of stu- dents or that there were no changes from the last review that would warrant asking those schools to go through another lengthy and timeconsuming process, according to Held.

Kaiser said the review committee will not complete the process before the Nov. 1 deadline for this year’s eighth grade class.

“That takes the pressure off the committee,” Kaiser said. “They simply need to complete the process by the end of the year.”

Kaiser also said any changes would take place over the course of four years.

“We would never take children out of the high school once they entered,” she said.

Narragansett Superintendent Kathy Sipala made a strong case for considering Narragansett High School as the high school of choice for Jamestown students.

“I really believe Narragansett High School is the best fit for Jamestown students,” Sipala said. She acknowledged that tuition costs have not been presented to Jamestown yet; those numbers must be submitted by Thanksgiving, she said.

But Sipala did discuss what would be provided for the cost.

“We would not be using tuition just to pay teachers,” she said. She said that low class sizes at Narragansett High School (approximately 19-20 students per class) would allow the district to simply expand sections rather than hire new teachers.

“We would use the funds to provide enhancements and improvements that Jamestowners will value,” she said.

Sipala, who served as Jamestown’s superintendent from 2002 to 2006, specifically emphasized curriculum development.

“I know from my time in Jamestown that they cannot dedicate a full-time person to curriculum development,” she said. “We can help with that by offering our curriculum person as part of their team.”

Sipala offered insight into areas that might be strengthened through a partnership with Jamestown.

“We would like to expand our foreign language department,” Sipala said, adding that Italian, French and Spanish are presently offered.

“We’d also like to add more AP (advanced placement) courses,” Sipala said. “Right now, we offer AP physics, calculus, English, psychology and U.S. history. We also offer early enrollment program in Italian and Spanish. Next year, we will add EEP chemistry.”

Sipala acknowledged that North Kingstown offers more AP courses, but said Narragansett is looking toward expanding these offerings and including virtual learning AP programs as well.

‘A wonderful place to be’

Narragansett offers some programs that North Kingstown does not, Sipala said.

“We have a wonderful agriscience program here,” she said. The old FFA program has been revamped into the current agri-science program, and includes a public speaking/demonstration component, a horticultural component and a machinery and repair component, Sipala said.

Narragansett High School Principal Dan Warner commented on the personalization afforded by a smaller high school.

“This is just a wonderful place to be. We have a very strong faculty that is very supportive of students,” Warner said. “We may not be able to compete with North Kingstown’s program of study because they have 1,700 students where we only have 500, but the personalization piece that we are able to provide students from K-12 is second to none.”

In terms of athletics, Sipala acknowledged that North Kingstown’s size allows the district to offer more division one programs; however, Narragansett’s smaller size allows athletes to participate more.

Narragansett offers division one baseball and swimming. The other programs are mostly division two, Sipala said.

“The outstanding individual athlete will still shine here and the average athlete will make the team and play,” she said.

Sipala said the district would need to expand its visual arts department in order to accommodate Jamestown students.

“There are a lot of talented kids in Jamestown and this is an area we would target for expansion,” she said, adding that the music program at Narragansett is “outstanding.”

According to Sipala, the special education program and the district leadership are two areas where Narragansett is really strong.

“We use the same model that Jamestown is used to in special education. It is a very individualized and personalized program and we have very generous staffing,” she said, citing a teacher-student ratio of around 10 to one.

Finally, Sipala stressed that during the last five years, Narragansett has been one of the top five high schools in SAT scores and other standardized tests.

Next week, the Jamestown Press will profile North Kingstown High School.

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