2011-12-29 / News

Students please school panel in 2011 with terrific test scores

YEAR IN REVIEW
BY TIM RIEL

The School Committee in 2011 once again had plenty of good news to listen to, as updates poured in throughout the year of overachieving students at the Jamestown schools.

In the latest round of standardized achievement scores, Jamestown children shattered state averages when it came to science tests. Statewide, 43 percent of fourthgrade students and 25 percent of eighth-graders achieved profi- ciency in the science assessments. But in Jamestown, those numbers were 77 percent and 63 percent, respectively.

Although the numbers, by comparison, dwarf most other municipalities in the state, Superintendent Marcia Lukon said that she was pleased with the progress, but added that Jamestown students should shoot for the highest level – proficient with distinction.

The New England Common Assessment Program has four aptitude levels: proficient with distinction, proficient, partially proficient and below proficient. Last time the tests were administered, Melrose Avenue School had 12 students receive a score of below proficient. This time, there were none. For Lawn Avenue School eighth-graders, only two fit that bill.

As for 11th-graders that were tested at North Kingstown High School, there was no way this time around to separate the Jamestown and North Kingstown residents that share the school.

“They’re all just lumped together,” said Lukon.

Aside from the good news that came from impressive island test scores, the School Committee dodged a bullet at this year’s Financial Town Meeting in June. Leading up to the annual budget vote, the Taxpayers Association of Jamestown issued a warrant that recommended a $601,350 cut to the town’s proposed budget. One thing that the warrant didn’t specify is how much of that decrease would come out of the school’s share, and how much would be eliminated from the town’s share. (The school side of the budget is about 58 percent of the total financial plan.)

The budget called for a $611,896 increase for the upcoming fiscal year, which 25 percent – or $152,179 – would go toward the schools. The association’s warrant would have basically wiped that whole increase out, causing a controversy of where funds would be spread between the town side and the school side.

“[The association] is causing a situation where they are forcing us to go head to head with the town,” said School Committee member Sav Rebecchi.

In a letter to the editor to the Press the week before the Financial Town Meeting, Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser wrote, “We salute members of the association for their active interest in town government and close scrutiny of town budgets. Holding elected offi cials accountable for their decisions is a crucial component of the democratic process.

“The Jamestown School Committee holds itself accountable for exercising fiscal responsibility and ensuring efficient use of district resources. We respectfully caution voters that the reduction of $601,350 sought by the association will intensify the challenge the schools face as we strive to sustain quality programming in the face of reduced state funding.”

The majority of the 389 registered Jamestown voters agreed with Kaiser, and the combined budget passed by a “resounding voice vote,” the Press reported at the time.

One of the more significant changes the School Committee made in 2011 was the decision to switch food vendors. At its Aug. 25 meeting, the members voted to switch from Sodexo to Aramark. Although Jane Littlefield, director of finances, said that the cost of meals and fee structures were nearly identical, the difference came from the cap on losses. Aramark agreed to an $18,000 cap, while the previous fiscal year carried with it a $27,000 deficit. Due to state restrictions, Jamestown signed a one-year deal with Aramark.

Aramark began the school year by giving adults free lunches, which was an attempt to encourage teachers, administrators and other school employees to buy their lunches in the cafeteria instead of bringing food from home. Whether the promotion worked or not, the Jamestown schools saw increased sales throughout the school year thus far.

More good news surrounding the food service was made public at the committee’s Dec. 8 meeting. Reports from Aramark indicated a small monthly profit, which for the first time moved the account into the black.

While there was plenty of good news surrounding the School Committee and the town schools this year, a glitch in the report card system caused concern for island parents. On Nov. 14, the new Aspen system that the school district began using to distribute grades electronically sent the students’ grades to the wrong contacts.

Instead of parents receiving the first-quarter grades of their children, the system sent the grades to the listed emergency contacts of each student. One parent said that he was “appalled and surprised that something this easy from a technological view” had gone wrong.

Lukon said that as soon as she received word from the first parent that the grades were being sent to the wrong people, the department shut down the system. Lukon said the following day, Aspen admitted it was an error, although that didn’t excuse what had happened.

This year also marked an election year for the School Committee – it also marked the last time that an election would be held on an odd-numbered year under the current Town Charter. The reason is so that the town could save money by not holding elections that would serve no other purpose than to determine a few seats on a given committee.

Three candidates threw their hats in the ring for two spots on the committee. They were B.J. Whitehouse, Sarah Baines and Lowell Thomas. The race was a close one, with the two democrats – Whitehouse and Baines – winning seats.

Baines finished atop the voting with 593 votes, and Whitehouse was just behind with 518. Thomas, the lone republican, received 473 votes.

Baines was a former member of the school improvement teams at both Jamestown schools, and her two children graduated from the Lawn Avenue School. She has lived on the island for 17 years. Whitehouse, the incumbent, has been teaching his whole professional career, including the last 23 as a music teacher in the Little Compton School District. He has lived on the island for 22 years.

Finally, the School Committee re-elected Kaiser as chairwoman. Also, Julia Held was elected vice chairwoman and the Jamestown representative on the North Kingstown School Committee; Whitehouse was elected clerk and will serve as liaison to the Melrose Avenue School Improvement Team; Rebecchi will serve as liaison to the Special Education Local Advisory Committee; and Baines will serve as liaison to the Lawn Avenue School Improvement Team and as chairwoman of the Wellness Committee.

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