2010-01-14 / Front Page

Panel: No reason to switch high schools

By Eileen M. Daly

After analyzing all of its collected data, the High School Review Committee reported that it did not find a “compelling programmatic reason” to recommend that Jamestown students change high schools at this time.

A large group of parents turned out at last Thursday’s School Committee meeting to hear the review committee’s presentation about the potential future placement of Jamestown’s high school students.

What they heard was that “both Narragansett High School and North Kingstown High School are viable options for Jamestown students.”

School Committee member Julia Held explained that the review committee was convened in July 2009 by the School Committee to conduct a review of Narragansett High School and North Kingstown High School.

The last review, conducted five years ago, evaluated five high schools: Middletown, Newport, Narragansett, South Kingstown and North Kingstown. This time, said School Committee Chairperson Cathy Kaiser, it was not necessary to repeat that lengthy process due to a number of factors, including space availability and that Narragansett High School administrators had requested another review, as they felt significant changes had occurred at their high school since the last review was completed.

Lawn School Principal Kathy Almanzor chaired the review committee. Other members included Superintendent Marcia Lukon, Director of Student Services Gwenn Spence, Special Education Resource Teacher Sandra Reynolds, School Committee Member Julia Held, Jamestown Education Foun- dation President Sally Schott and Lawn School Improvement Team Co-chair Ann Zainyeh.

The review committee looked at such factors as current enrollment data, standardized test scores, programming – including required academic courses, elective course offerings and advanced placement course offerings, special education services, athletics, art and technology offerings, and extracurricular activities. Data was obtained from the R.I. Dept. of Education, the College Board, from the schools themselves and from direct observations. Team members spent two days at each school, first making observations and then returning with follow-up questions.

The review committee noted that N.K.H.S. is approximately threeand a-half times larger than N.H.S. The impact of this size difference is considerable, according to the report, and impacts everything from the physical environment (quiet and compact at N.H.S., lively and spread out at N.K.H.S.), athletics (Division I at N.H.S., Division II at N.K.H.S.), the number of Advanced Placement courses offered (six at N.H.S., 11 at N.K.H.S.) and the number of elective courses offered and extracurricular activities available (both considerably higher at N.K.H.S.).

In response to a question raised by an audience member as to why the committee found that both schools were viable options – considering the overall advantages of N.K.H.S. pointed out in the report – Almanzor responded that the committee found both schools to be “quality schools” and that committee members agreed to present their findings in this way.

Almanzor, along with other committee members, repeatedly noted that the review committee’s report will be only one of a number of factors considered by the school committee in making its final recommendation.

Another audience member questioned what other factors will be considered.

“We will have to consider a number of factors, including cost, stability and community support,” Kaiser said.

When asked if the committee would be swayed by the apparent overwhelming support of N.K.H.S. by Jamestown parents, Kaiser replied that such support would certainly be an important factor, but reiterated that other factors would also have to be considered. She said that the committee will have ample time to consider those factors as the cut-off date for making a decision for the upcoming school year has already passed.

“There is no need for a rush to judgment,” Kaiser said.

An audience member also raised the question of how siblings in high school at the same time would be affected. Kaiser said that students who start at N.K.H.S. will stay through graduation; however, should the School Committee vote to change high schools before the next cut-off date, according to the current contract, siblings beginning high school after the change would go to Narragansett – effectively causing some families to have to split siblings up between two different high schools.

Numerous audience members continued to express their opinion that changing high schools would have a deleterious effect on Jamestown students and implored the committee to continue with the current contract with N.K.H.S. A suggestion was made by School Committee member Julia Held for a show of hands to recognize such support. An overwhelming majority of those present raised their hands in support of N.K.H.S.

Finally, in response to the question, “Is there some reason to make a change at this time?” Kaiser responded, “No.”

According to Kaiser, the School Committee will continue to look at all factors concerned during the upcoming months and will make a final decision prior to the Nov. 1 cutoff date.

The next business meeting of the Jamestown School Committee will be on Jan. 21; budget workshops will be held on Feb. 4 and 11. All meetings are held at 7 p.m. in the Lawn School Library.

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