Community urged to attend public forum on school improvements

Community urged to attend public forum on school improvements

SMITHFIELD - It is all entirely up to you, the community, to decide the improvements you would most like to see in town schools in three critical areas: technology, advanced placement courses at the high school, and all-day versus half-day kindergarten.

To hear from you, and to let you know what local educators have discovered in the latest related research, Supt. Robert O'Brien announced that the school system's Citizens Advisory Group will hold a public forum for the purpose of hearing from the community on these three issues Wednesday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m. at Smithfield High School on Pleasant View Avenue.

"We are looking for feedback from the community before we formulate recommendations for the School Committee," O'Brien told The Valley Breeze & Observer in a telephone interview Monday. He urged town residents, particularly those without children in the school system and especially members of the local business community, to attend.

"I want the support of the whole community," O'Brien said. He hopes to submit the group's recommendations to the school board by the end of October.

The Citizens Advisory Group was formed about one year ago and meets monthly. Its 30 members include: O'Brien and his administrative staff; principals of the high school, middle school and the town's four elementary schools; two members each from the Town Council, School Committee and Financial Review Commission; two parents and 13 citizens.

O'Brien explained that the advisory group has been charged with suggesting to the School Committee future improvements for the school system and tracking the latest research in relevant areas. The group must decide if each improvement it recommends "is something the community wants," the superintendent said.

However, it has not been charged with considering the financial impact of its suggestions, O'Brien said. "There will be a financial impact," he added, referring to the expected costs of such improvements as purchasing new computers, adding AP courses or expanding the district's current half-day kindergarten to a full-day program.

This is, in fact, a critical time for the local school system because it is in the process of converting its curriculum to the Common Core Standards required by federal and state law. This is a mammoth task for all school districts, calling for a thorough and detailed revamping of the curriculum at every grade level including kindergarten so that, in the end, all schools in the state and nation will essentially teach the same "common core" lessons in general subject areas such as math and English.

According to information provided by O'Brien, school districts like Smithfield with half-day kindergartens are in a bind because there is not enough time to cover the various lessons required by Common Core Standards.

O'Brien also provided a five-page list of the advantages of all-day kindergarten, with findings drawn from various sources including research studies and other school systems across the country. The listed advantages for full-day programs run the gamut from higher standardized test scores and higher academic marks in later school years to enhanced social and emotional development.

Most startling is the information O'Brien has collected regarding AP courses, whereby Smithfield High School students who took the AP exams in 2012 and 2013 outscored their counterparts at the state and global levels.

Only a handful of Smithfield students took the AP exams compared to thousands at the state level and hundreds of thousands internationally. Yet, their performance was impressive enough to suggest that perhaps the Smithfield district should provide more advanced placement opportunities for its students, according to O'Brien.

According to 2013 information compiled by the College Board and AP Program nationally, 68.2 percent of the Smithfield students who took AP tests in 2012 and 69.7 percent in 2013 scored 3 or higher, representing the score point that research finds predictive of college success.

This compares to 65.4 percent in 2012 and 63.1 percent in 2013 in Rhode Island and, around the world, 61.5 percent in 2012 and 60.9 in 2013. But Smithfield had only 22 AP students in 2012 and 33 in 2013, compared to more than 5,000 in the state both years.

One reason for the low AP enrollment in Smithfield could be the relatively small number of such courses offered at the high school, just 5, according to information compiled by O'Brien. Classical High School in Providence has the most, with 20 AP courses; in northern Rhode Island, Cumberland has 12, Burrillville 11, Central Falls 9, Lincoln and Ponaganset, 8 each; and North Smithfield, 5.

O'Brien said he intends to distribute these findings about AP and all-day kindergarten at the Oct. 2 forum. As for technology, O'Brien said, "we need more computers." "We have not kept up in Smithfield," he added. "Our infrastructure needs to be updated."

Members of the Community Advisory Group include: O'Brien and his administrative staff, Deputy Supt. Bridget Morisseau and Special Education Director Craig Levis; Town Council members Suzy Alba and Dennis Finlay; School Committee members Virginia Harnois and Sean Clough; Financial Review Commission members Rose Marie Cipriano and Ken Sousa; parents Kim Delisle of LaPerche elementary school and Lisa Orsillo, from Winsor elementary and Gallagher middle schools; Principals Dan Kelley, Laurie Beauvais, Cathy Pleau, Laurie Ratigan, Laurie Sullivan and Julie Dorsey; and 13 citizens, Mike Deslauriers, Margarita Dempsey, Andrea Pleau, Dave Martin, Mike Twohey, Janet McGinnis, Patrice Martinelli, Heather Zartarian, Jenn Petrella, Julie Mennella, Fran Harris, Bobbie Jo Sullivan and Colleen Poynton.