En'visioning' a new way to educate in Smithfield

En'visioning' a new way to educate in Smithfield

Eileen Crudele, left, director of special education in Smithfield, presents her group’s ideas while Frank Locker, standing at right, an international educational planner, looks on.

SMITHFIELD – Plans to give Smithfield’s education facilities, mainly the elementary schools, a facelift are coming to fruition.

Supt. Robert O’ Brien has brought in international educational planner Frank Locker to assist with the task, first and foremost by scheduling two days of “visioning” to brainstorm on how the town should move forward.

Locker runs Frank Locker Educational Planning, which describes itself as a research based and future oriented resource for schools. The organization sets up “educational visions” for schools that include strategies to help guide school restructuring, program development, and staff development.

The process can sound a bit philosophical and abstract, and in a way it is. But O’Brien is a staunch believer in Lockers approach, and so were many of the individuals who attended day one of visioning at Smithfield High School on Feb. 14.

The halls of the high school were quiet, but opening the door to the media center revealed a crowd of over 40 people chatting, bustling, and busy envisioning the future of education.

The event was attended by Smithfield administrators, teachers, government officials, parents, and even a few elementary school students.

“We are crafting ideas of what defines the future of teaching and learning,” Locker said.

The room was divided into teams of six, each huddled around a table and contributing ideas to an over sized notepad placed on an easel.

Their day began at 8:30 a.m. with an introduction and after that, they were off. The day was divided into workshops and presentations aimed at understanding the current state of Smithfield’s schools and how improvements could be made.

One such work session assigned each team an aspect of the Smithfield school system to analyze and assess in performance.

The topics included:

• Students who go directly to careers

• Gifted and talented students

• Students with special needs

• Students who feel bored in school

• Social and emotional learning

• Critical thinking

• Teacher collaboration

• Applied learning in core courses

Jen Pushee, a 4th-grade teacher at Anna M. McCabe School in Smithfield, said the day was valuable because of all the different perspectives it brought together.

“The biggest thing that I’m learning is a big shift needs to happen,” Pushee said.

The day provided an opportunity for freeform conversations about the future of education and what defines student success and happiness.

Luis A. Torrado, president of Torrado Architects, is the architectural collaborator with Locker in Rhode Island. He felt that the more cerebral conversations that take place on day one of visioning were critical.

“This is an essential step for every school project,” Torrado said.

He said it is especially important for him and members of his team to attend and listen to concerns about how to factor emotional and social wellbeing into the modeling of a school.

“That used to be an after-thought in school design,” Torrado said.

This was a common theme during conversations throughout the day – how to promote creative and inclusive learning by changing the actual space a student is in. The atypical classroom is without frills or variety – but what Locker and his team imagines is a classroom with moving parts, updated technology, and room for collaboration.

Eileen Crudele, director of special education for Smithfield public schools, found the process to be a great way to question the norm.

“The facilitator is getting everyone to think about how we educate,” Crudele said.

The next day of visioning will take place on Feb. 27, because of scheduling changes due to weather.