2009-12-17 / Letters to the Editor

Bring Foley back to NK

If your ship starts to drift off course, the first thing to do is throw the captain overboard. Firstyear superintendent Dr. Phil Thornton seems to think this is the best course of action for North Kingstown High School.

Neither Dr. Thornton nor the school committee is really listening to the community if all they hear is that Mr. Foley is “well liked.” While that is certainly the case, there is much more to it than that. Mr. Foley is respected, trusted and admired by the vast majority of students, parents and teachers. Moreover, he gets things done.

Incontrovertible evidence of Mr. Foley’s exceptional performance over the years can be seen throughout the school and on its website at www. nksd.net. Most notably, NKHS:

• Was rated one of the top 500 high schools in the country by U.S. News & World Report (just last year!)

• Has the NASSP/Met Life R.I. High School Principal of the Year, Mr. Gerald Foley (2005)

• Has been designated a Rhode Island Regents’ commended high school

• Has been designated a high performing, improving high school by RIDE for three consecutive years

• Has received RAMP designation from the American School Counselors Association, one of only seven high schools in the country to be so designated

• Has been awarded continued accreditation by NEASC (May 2004)

• Has been recognized in R.I. for its advisory program, its comprehensive guidance program and its literacy initiatives

• Has been honored as one of 12 American high schools nationally to receive a Siemen’s Award for outstanding AP math and science scores, and has offered AP courses for the past 32 years

• Has continued to score in the top four among SAT scores for R.I. high schools (well above the state and national average)

• Has annually scored in the top five among R.I. high schools in the Rhode Island Scholars Program

This year, Mr. Foley has already rolled out the new chemical policy, and has in recent years implemented senior exhibition and ePortfolio, along with many other new policies and procedures.

The negatives that Dr. Thornton cites to counter these accomplishments:

• Not moving fast enough in implementing yet another state requirement, one that isn’t due until 2012

• Not personally ensuring that every student was coming to the NECAP test

• Not responding to everybody in a timely manner, although enough calls and emails are received on a daily basis to make that a full-time job by itself

• Not immediately recalling the purpose of every check that was signed from the Student Activities Fund

These “transgressions” do not rise to a level egregious enough to require a change in leadership. They call for a meeting, an improvement plan and the purchase of some accounting software.

Which of these explanations seems more likely?

a. The principal has suddenly become incompetent.

b. The superintendent is inexperienced in developing and managing a collaborative team and is too focused on the negative aspects of job performance.

c. The school committee is overreacting in the wake of other recent contentious dismissals and resignations.

Answer: b and c.

Research has repeatedly shown that adolescents perform better when someone outside their family takes an interest in them, and when they feel that they belong to a group. For many kids at NK, that person is Mr. Foley, and the group they belong to is NK. Mr. Foley sets the tone, and the result is a safe, open and cooperative environment. Without that there will not be progress, no matter how many state mandates are implemented.

Removing such a highly respected mentor is certain to have unintended consequences, including declining attendance, motivation and behavior. Many kids already think the school committee has let them down. Many others surely feel there is no one in their corner anymore. (To read more about how the students are feeling, visit www. thepetitionsite.com/1/save-gerald foley.

Dr. Thornton has academic credentials in curriculum and policy. Mr. Foley has 20-plus years of practical experience and a gift for rallying students and teachers to greater achievement. If the two could manage to work together, there would be hope for an even better school system. Without Mr. Foley as its heart and soul, however, NK will become ordinary and start its steady decline into mediocrity.

In order to truly move forward, Dr. Thornton and the school committee should:

• Consider that there is much more to running a school than implementing the next state mandate

• Consider that the ability to earn the trust and respect of teenagers is a valuable gift that is not achievable by most administrators

• Appreciate that Mr. Foley is a talented man who has a lot more to offer this school

• Receive training in effective management and team building, focusing on positive reinforcement rather than criticism and overly harsh punishment

• Work out an action plan to address areas that need improvement

• Publicly correct any misconceptions and factual errors so that reputations may be restored

• Reverse the non-renewal action

• Lift Mr. Foley’s suspension

Mr. Foley lives the values he tries to instill in his students: Honesty, respect, integrity, compassion and fairness. He deserves the same from the school committee. Give the rightful captain of this ship – the 2005 Principal of the Year and the leader of one of the top 500 schools in the country – the tools and support he needs to successfully chart the next course. Let’s move forward together.
Bev Barber

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