Islander sets sights on one of two school panel seats
But before the sync-up happens, Jamestown will have two vacant School Committee seats to fill, which will be up for grabs during the Nov. 8 election. The seats are a result of the expiring terms of B.J. Whitehouse and Julie Kallfelz.
Three candidates announced their candidacy for the two seats: Sarah Baines and Lowell Thomas will join Whitehouse, who will run for re-election.
Baines is a Democrat who has watched her two children go through the Jamestown school system. They attended both the Lawn and Melrose Avenue schools, as well as North Kingstown High School. Now with both kids in college, Baines said she has the time to run for a seat on the School Committee, a post that she is decidedly passionate about.
“I’m very interested in the committee,” said Baines. “I’ve been involved with schools in various ways for about 10 years. With my children off to college, I have time to focus on the issues.”
Baines isn’t a newcomer to educational boards. For the last decade she has been active in the school system, including being a member of the Lawn Avenue, Melrose Avenue and North Kingstown school improvement teams. She also wrote a report for North Kingstown High School on underachieving academic performances for boys.
“I have some experience,” she said. “I got very familiar and involved in the analysis of the NECAP.”
NECAP is the New England Common Assessment Program, which are a series of tests developed in response to the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The program assesses students annually in reading, writing, mathematics and science.
One of the issues surrounding the Jamestown School Committee is where to send Lawn Avenue graduates for high school. Currently, North Kingstown is the high school of record, but Superintendent of Schools Marcia Lukon has taken a hard look at other options lately.
“I think we should look at how North Kingstown is progressing,” Baines said. “I do know North Kingstown administration very well, and I think that up until recently the [North Kingstown] School Committee and North Kingstown in general has taken Jamestown for granted.”
She added that Jamestown children are the highest-performing students in the state in NECAP testing, and the North Kingstown School Committee is becoming mindful of this.
“They have become very aware of how important Jamestown children are, both financially and academically,” Baines said. “Without Jamestown kids, the test scores will go down.”
Baines added that North Kingstown has a lot to offer. She said that they have a beautiful new school, and their electives and athletic programs are “outstanding.”
While these might be the case, she added that dealing with the North Kingstown School Committee can sometimes be a handful.
“If they continue to be dysfunctional and difficult to deal with, we will have to look at other options,” she said.
Those other options include Narragansett and East Greenwich, two schools that Baines called “excellent.”
Baines said that another problem facing Jamestown schools is the declining population. She said about six or seven years ago the Jamestown schools were in charge of instructing “70 to 80 kids” in each grade, but now it’s down to “40 to 50.” At a recent School Committee meeting, Lukon said that there were just 40 kids enrolled in kindergarten as of Aug. 25. The Lawn Avenue figures at the preliminary stage this year were 42, 57, 54 and 48 in grades five through eight, respectively.
“It’s important to sustain our schools’ size,” Baines said. “We need to maintain the size of our schools to maintain the credibility towards our school system.”
Baines praised the 50 or so military families who take advantage of Jamestown’s school district. “Military mothers are very smart and they look at NECAP scores and choose our schools because of it.”
She added that the cost of real estate on the island is high, and because of that not enough young families move here. She said if the schools falter, the population would also.
“If we let our school system go down in quality, we will track even less people to the island,” she said. “It is a spiral circling downward. That is why it’s critical to maintain a high quality of schools.”
She added that the one good thing that comes from the declining population is that now Jamestown has more of a choice when it comes to which high school Jamestown teens will attend. Before North Kingstown was the perfect fit because of the size and because of the location, but now more high schools can accommodate the 200 or so Lawn Avenue graduates who plan to attend public high school.
“High schools didn’t have the space before,” Baines said, “but now they do.”
As for the current School Committee, Baines said that that are doing a fine job. “I don’t agree with everything, but financially they run a tight ship. It’s a pretty well run organization and they have a high level of professionalism and an understanding of fi- nances. Most people have a lot of respect for what they’ve done.”
Baines added that she believes that it is important for the School Committee to work with the administration in order to get things done. “My observation is that if you want to have a good wellknown school system, you need to have a School Committee that works together with the school administration,” she said. “You want a School Committee that understands the administration, so they know what is important. I do feel this School Committee is good at understanding that.” What: Jamestown School Committee election When: Nov. 8 Who: B.J. Whitehouse (D), Sarah Baines (D), Lowell Thomas (R) Details: The terms of Jamestown School Committee members B.J. Whitehouse and Julie Kallfelz will expire in November, leaving two seats vacant on the committee. Three residents have announced their candidacy to run for the two open seats.