Chariho Superintendent Wows Crowd at R.Y.S.E Forum

Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci captured the hearts and minds of Charlestown residents at his annual open forum in Town Hall and began by explaining the November 8th Referendum on the R.Y.S.E. (Reaching Youth through Support and Education) School Building Project.

Unlike the annual school budget approved by a majority of voters among the three towns, the referendum requires passage by a majority in each of the three towns. Failure in any one town dooms the project that all three Town Councils have voted to support unanimously.  Armed with handouts and a picture of the proposed permanent facility,* Ricci guided residents to a realization that the R.Y.S.E. School Building Project was not only the right thing to do for students but also the fiscally responsible decision.

Born out of a need for equity, the permanent building features distinct areas for the clinical day program and alternative learning program and will house a science laboratory and a shared space for the gym and cafeteria. The current leased trailers, 26 in all, lack modern science laboratories, a gym with the required safety padding and a cafeteria.

Ricci noted the district spends $110,400 for annual lease payments for 26 inadequate and deteriorating trailers and saves $700,000 in out-of- district tuition for programs over which Chariho has no control. The new building with a mandated life expectancy of 50 years will cost an estimated $2,028,000 after state reimbursement. The new ten year lease for temporary trailers will cost $1,920,000. Ricci, Assistant Superintendent Jane Daly, School Committee Chairman Craig Louzon, Community 2000 founder Chris Philips, and Charlestown Town Council President Tom Gentz – all echoed the sentiment that passing the referendum was a “no brainer.”

Asked about the R.Y.S.E. program itself, Ricci said the nine classroom teachers do suffer a burn out rate higher than that for the teachers in the middle and high schools and that the graduation rate is well below the 92% enjoyed by the high school. He emphasized, however, that the successes from mainstreaming students in the least restrictive environment possible has incalculable rewards, that students and their parents take pride in their accomplishments, and that Chariho goes the extra mile to support eligible, disabled students through age 21 so they have the skills to lead the most independent lives possible.

After the R.Y.S.E. presentation, a member of the audience inquired about the biggest challenges facing Chariho, and Ricci immediately responded that declining state aid would top the list. He added finding certified and qualified math, science, special education, foreign language, and career and technical teachers remained difficult and that Chariho has more emergency certifications than ever.

At School Committee Chair Craig Louzon’s urging, Ricci explained Chariho’s concern with the state’s failure to recognize a “no compete” clause in the 2010 Transfer Agreement governing Chariho’s acceptance of the Career and Technical Center from RIDE (Rhode Island Department of Education) and the management of its programs. He said the issue will be adjudicated in a lawsuit filed by Chariho in Superior Court. Currently, Westerly has competing cosmetology, culinary arts, and advanced manufacturing programs. Narragansett offers competing agriculture and technology programs. The state currently permits career and tech students to go anywhere in the state with the district of residence paying both tuition and in-region transportation. The general student population does not have this option, and going out-of-district for a program offered in-district defies common sense and is not an efficient use of taxpayers’ dollars.

Two parents present expressed concerns about class size and over testing. Ricci said the time to add staff was in the budgeting process and that parents were welcome at the school committee meetings. He understood that working parents and other volunteers are busy and offered that the district provides many opportunities for transparency, including a parent liaison who issues a summary of each school committee meeting and the electronic posting of the school committee packet. He also empathized with attempts to mobilize volunteers.

Assistant Superintendent Jane Daly addressed the testing issue and said that teaching to the standards was not mutually exclusive with teaching excellence and was different from teaching to the test. Ricci noted that the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) tests were administered according to guidelines and that Chariho’s results were outstanding on both the high end and low ends. Chariho had the second lowest number of students in RI in the lowest (1) ranking on PARCC scores in the state. Further, Chariho scored #3 in RI in ELA/Literacy and #5 in RI in mathematics. US News and World Reports ranked Chariho High School ninth in the state, and many of the Chariho Schools often make the list of commended RIDE schools.

Other elected officials present included Charlestown Town Council vice president George Tremblay and Town Moderator Leo Mainelli. Town Council candidates Julie Carroccia and Steve Williams also attended the forum. The hope is that those present and those who read about the forum vote in favor of the referendum and ask their friends and neighbors in other Chariho Towns to do likewise.

*Links to handouts

R.Y.S.E. School Building Project

R.Y.S.E. School Building Project FAQ