Mitchell praised for his work as he announces retirement

Mitchell praised for his work as he announces retirement

School Committee hears reasoning for COVID-19 closures

CUMBERLAND – Bob Mitchell, the town’s superintendent of schools since 2015 and before that the assistant superintendent who arrived in the district in 2012, will retire effective June 30, 2021.

School Committee members and others last week commended Mitchell for his good work in Cumberland, saying he’ll be missed. They also hinted at the stress involved with the job, particularly during the pandemic.

Mitchell said there’s still plenty of work to be done, giving the school board his word that he’ll continue doing the job at 100 percent to the end. He said he’s been honored to do the work, later telling The Breeze that he’s “just tired” and it’s time.

Chairwoman Karen Freedman said Mitchell leaves big shoes to fill, thanking him for his commitment to getting schools through a challenging time.

Member Mark Fiorillo said he’s enjoyed working with Mitchell for the past eight years and he has no doubt he’ll give his best through the end of the school year.

Cumberland High School Principal Adolfo Costa thanked Mitchell as well, saying he showed a “level of compassion not often demonstrated by most people,” and he’ll forever appreciate him for what he did for him. He said Mitchell has shown important leadership for many years.

Member Paul DiModica said Mitchell proved to be a man of his word when he followed through on what he said years ago that he planned to retire from Cumberland. He thanked him for staying in Cumberland as assistant superintendent when there were efforts to get him to Woonsocket, and Mitchell and his team have done great work in moving the district from the “middle of the pack to the top of the pack” when it comes to state testing. Mitchell will be missed, he said, but the district will hire someone to continue his leadership.

Mayor Jeff Mutter noted that he was on the committee when Mitchell was hired as assistant superintendent, and he wishes him well in his deserved retirement after he helped Cumberland schools improve to a place that “is more representative of our community.” He said working in any type of administrative position is very difficult right now, but especially so now with “probably half the people thinking every decision is the wrong one.” Such administrators don’t get enough support, he said.

Also at the Dec. 10 school board meeting, Mitchell explained the COVID-19 numbers that prompted school officials to decide to close school for grades 6-12 on Dec. 14 and for younger grades on Dec. 21, moves that result in five extra missed in-person days for older students and three for younger students due to vacation running through Jan. 11.

As of last Thursday’s meeting, there were 58 students who tested positive for COVID-19, up from 24 on Nov. 18, and 26 staff members who were positive, up from eight total. The number of students placed in quarantine more than doubled, from 247 to 536, and the number of staff from 46 to 114. Those numbers accelerated far more after Dec. 4, with 20 more students contracting COVID-19 in that week. There have also been a number of school closures and a doubling of elementary and middle school “pods” placed into quarantine.

These are difficult decisions to make, Mitchell said, particularly with the desire to keep students in school, but given those increasing numbers and the town seeing positivity rates jump from 9 percent to 11 percent, everyone felt it was necessary. Distance learning is most challenging for younger students, he said, which is why the extra week of in-person learning was kept.

Schools will continue to assess and reassess the situation going forward, said Mitchell, but there simply aren’t enough adults available to have them in front of all students.

Freedman noted that live instruction is still going on, and schools are not throwing in the towel.

Member Denis Collins said Mitchell has been “more than creative,” despite Gov. Gina Raimondo’s suggestions otherwise, and has been very clear and honest about the state of the situation. Fiorillo agreed, saying the governor’s suggestion to get creative simply means she and others have no idea how to tackle things themselves and are telling districts to figure it out, and to do it with no extra funding.

Mitchell last week announced that Alysa Coleman, of North Cumberland Middle School, was the winner of the district’s education support professional of the year award. Nominated by Principal Bethany Coughlin, the third-year staff member is said to be organized, thoughtful, hardworking and focused, going to the next level with the way she intelligently and thoughtfully solves problems and finds solutions independently, often without being asked. She goes beyond typical clerical duties, said Coughlin, working with staff at all levels and communicating well with families. The staff overwhelmingly approved of her nomination, said Coughlin.

Coleman never sheds responsibilities, taking it upon herself to check email on the weekend, said Coughlin. Coleman was the one to notify Coughlin of a first COVID-19 case on a weekend so the situation could be addressed on Monday. She takes the initiative to address problems rather than waiting to be told, said Coughlin.

Coleman said she enjoys working at NCMS and loves the staff and students there.

Mitchell also announced that the eight members of the CHS Chorus were accepted into the Rhode Island Music Education Association All-State Chorus. Those students are Alexis Medeiros, Brennah Abilheira-Cargill, Carolyn Stevenson, Harry Kenyon, Heather Bliss, Julia Sanford, Kyle Jordan, and Xia Myers. In addition, Myers has been accepted into the Rhode Island American Choral Directors Association High School Jazz Honors Choir.

Due to the pandemic this year, the All-State Festival will be in a different format. RIMEA is planning a high-quality virtual ensemble experience for all accepted students.