2013-08-22 / Front Page

Principal expects teachers to finalize new deal in time

By Margo Sullivan

The North Kingstown teachers union is still negotiating a new contract, but Principal Thomas Kenworthy said the educators will have a deal ratified by the first day of school.

About 200 Jamestowners will walk through the doors of North Kingstown High on the first day of school Tuesday, according to Kenworthy.

Last year, opening day was marred by confusion when the support staff, including custodians, staged a walkout, causing a last-minute cancellation of the first day of school. The postponement included athletic practices and bus service.

Kenworthy remains optimistic the school district can avoid a repeat of last year’s disruptions.

He said the teachers union and administration are most likely “meeting every day” at this point to beat the deadline. He has been told an agreement will be reached.

However, a new deal for the teachers has yet to be inked. The old contract is set to expire on the first day of school.

On Monday, an orientation will be held at 3:15 p.m. for freshmen and transfer students. The afternoon program is followed by a cookout, and parents are invited to an evening recap.

The orientation has been offered for several years, Kenworthy said, and it’s the last summer event the school offers to prepare incoming freshmen.

According to Kenworthy, school enrollment is down slightly, but falls in line with other districts in Rhode Island. Last year, 1,450 students attended North Kingstown High. This year, enrollment stands at about 1,420. The decline is spread more or less evenly across the four grades, he said.

North Kingstown will not cut any programs this year, and that includes sports teams. Although money has been tight, the school is keeping all existing offerings.

The newest thing, according to Kenworthy, is a district-wide program serving the most severely disabled special-needs students. The goal is to keep them in North Kingstown and avoid costly outof district tuitions. High-school students in the group will be off campus, but in a nearby location.

Otherwise, little is changing this year. In his tenure as principal, Kenworthy said this year is shaping up as the one with the least amount of flux.

However, there are some important happenings. In September, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges will send a team to visit North Kingstown High. The team’s report will figure in the association’s decision whether to recommend renewing the school accreditation. The teachers and staff have been preparing for the visit since last year, he said.

In sports-related news, Kenworthy said the school wanted to install a greenhouse-style canopy over the outdoor track to cover the first 100 meters, but he was not sure where that project stood. Kenworthy says the booster club was going to look into financing.

“It was something we were looking to do with the help of the booster club,” he said.

The reason is because the indoor track team does not have a facility, and the athletes have to use the outdoor track all winter long.

Also, rumors are false that the school ever planned to close the weight room to save money.

“Things got blown out of proportion,” Kenworthy said.

During bargaining meetings, one item that was to be renegotiated was stipends for coaches. Kenworthy believes the rumors about the weight room may have developed from those discussions.

He did not have any information about a new deal with the coaches. “That agreement has not been finalized yet,” he said.

Overall, the only major change this year is due to the new statewide graduation requirements, he acknowledged. For the first time, the seniors will have to score 2 or better on the New England Common Assessment Program test, or they will not receive a diploma.

The score of 2 means the students have demonstrated partial proficiency. The top score is 4.

The new rule affects the current seniors, he said, and the school has been coaching the youngsters who failed the test in their junior year.

According to Kenworthy, those students are in remedial programs. They will have another chance to pass the high-stakes test in October, and if they fail again, they can retake the exam in the winter. As a last resort, the students can replace the NECAP requirement with an alternative standardized test, such as the SAT. But to graduate, the seniors would have to test at or above the cutoff score – merely sitting for the SAT would not suffice.

According to Kenworthy, North Kingstown has a “manageable number of students” who failed the high-stakes test. The hope is they will all pass the October exam, he said.

Also, the special-needs students who have been taking an alternative program will be affected for the first time this year, as the state Department of Education has announced these students will receive a certificate, not a diploma.

The American Civil Liberties Union is contesting that decision, however.

“It’s in court,” Kenworthy said.

He indicated between 1 and 2 percent of the seniors would fall into this category of students who completed a portfolio of work and satisfied all the requirements of the alternative program.

It’s a handful of students, he said, but in the past, these youngsters also received diplomas.

All in all, Kenworthy expects a successful 2013-14 school year, both academically and athletically.

“We’re looking forward to another great year,” he said.

For those already looking forward to summer, the last day of school is June 12, with any makeup days necessary scheduled for June 13 through June 19.

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