School Committee

Portsmouth high school electives to be discussed by committee June 14

Over the last week, teachers and students at Portsmouth High School began to hear that many elective courses were being eliminated next year (unless I've missed an e-mail, parents have yet to be officially informed; as of today, the courses were still listed in the PHS Program of Studies for 2016-17.)

At last night's school committee meeting, three students, a teacher, and one parent made the case for a robust selection of electives during the open comment period, but were advised that because the item was not on the agenda, the committee could not respond.

The students who spoke last night were eloquent about the importance of these and other elective courses, noting that they are required for STEAM certificates as well as preparation for the 21st-century jobs and college classwork they plan for their time after PHS.

Among the courses mentioned for elimination at last night's session were the entire theater curriculum, creative writing, Piano 2, and science fiction literature.

In an e-mail exchange yesterday, a school official confirmed that some of these courses would be cut. "Our budget for the high school next year shows a reduction of 5.0 teachers. As such, we have to make some adjustments in how we use our resources. We no longer can sustain running electives with low enrollment every year. Therefore, some but not all of the courses you mention above will not run next year."

Another source with knowledge of the process presented a slightly different picture, saying that, "If 15 or more kids enroll in these classes for next year they will be run."

In an article in the online Portsmouth Times, officials indicated that the goal was to offer the classes less frequently in order to fill them when they run. "For me, having 15 students instead of seven will enrich the quality of the class," Superintendent Ana Riley was quoted as saying.

Given the conflicting information, this afternoon, I filed a request for an agenda item for the next meeting, June 14, with Supt. Riley. I asked for an agenda item to "Explain PHS elective policy, discuss options, and make recommendations." This would give the school committee broad latitude to present information, hear feedback and interact with concerned parents and students, and potentially make recommendations for steps to mitigate issues.

As backup, I have requested that the District provide enrollment data for all electives from this past year, a list of which electives slated to run in 2016-17, and a list of staff reductions at PHS from 2010-2017.

My ingoing hypothesis is that we have been bleeding the slack out of the system with multiple years of limited budgets (last year's increase was 1.4%; the upcoming budget sees only a 2.4% increase.) With the District only down 52 students across the whole PK-12 range, it doesn't seem like a staff reduction of 5 positions at the high school is justified (although, to my mind, it does offer a possible explanation of why capacity for running electives might be limited.)

Parents of PHS students — and 8th graders — may want to attend the school committee meeting on June 14.

02871, Localblogging, PHS, School Committee

Portsmouth appoints retired Rear Admiral McGann as superintendent

The Portsmouth school committee formally announced the appointment of the new interim superintendent, retired Rear Admiral Barbara McGann, in an e-mail to the community this morning. Here's the entire text of the broadcast e-mail from School Committee chair Dave Croston, followed by the press release.

Message from Dave Croston:

Please join me in welcoming Rear Admiral (Upper Half) USN (Ret.) Barbara McGann as our Interim Superintendent of Schools. On a unanimous vote last evening, the School Committee approved Admiral McGann, who will take the helm immediately. This is an incredibly exciting and important event for Portsmouth Schools. Barbara brings a wealth of educational and operational experience to the Portsmouth Schools. She is pioneer in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) education and served as Executive Director of the Advance Math and Science Charter School in Marlboro, Massachusetts for three years. She was Superintendent of the Marlborough, Massachusetts system, with 4,589 students, and Assistant Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. Her Naval career was long and distinguished. Barbara retired after serving as Provost of the Naval War College and was past Commander of the Navy Recruiting Command. Please see attached Press Release for more detail.

I first met Barbara almost five years ago on a visit to the Advanced Math and Science Academy in Marlborough, Massachusetts. I knew a member of the AMSA Board who raved about Barbara and what the school was accomplishing. Barbara's focus will be on our students and the quality of the instruction. She is a collaborative leader that will reach-out to you and will listen. As a parent, I can't be more excited for the District and our future.

Your Portsmouth Schools Central Administration is a dynamic team that has been rebuilt over the past few months. I want to thank Jeff Schoonover, Assistant Superintendent for his leadership this past summer. Jeff was appointed Assistant Superintendent in July having served as Interim Director of Curriculum. Prior to that Jeff led the PHS Science Department as Chair. In 2009, Jeff's innovative views related to science curriculum and dedication to his students led the Portsmouth High teacher to be named a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Jeff and Barbara make an incredibly dynamic team as we strive to build our STEAM education components.

While many of you never meet the business side of Central Administration we are truly blessed to have attracted an incredible team. Earlier this spring the Portsmouth School Committee hired Chris DiIuro as Director of Finance and Administration. Chris was Controller for the $40 Billion CVS retail division and now directs our sub $40 Million budget, probably no less work in our environment. Chris has done an incredible job in the past six months building accounting best practice, financial controls, and developing long term financial forecasts. He is truly our unsung hero.

Skip Uhl joined the District as Finance Manager two weeks ago. Skip brings a wealth of operational and financial experience to Portsmouth. Skip worked with Chris at CVS and prior to that for Melville Corporation. He most recently ran financial operations of a paper recycling plant owned by the Kraft Family. Skip is a consummate professional that we are honored to have as part of the team.

This summer we also 'promoted' Cathy Nash to direct Human Resources. Cathy has incredible institutional knowledge of the District and has hit the ground running. She is doing a great job in organizing the department and building best practices. Cathy was Assistant to the Assistant Superintendent for many years, excelling at every task.

I would be remiss not to commend everyone at Central Administration as they truly keep our wheels moving and each go out of their way to assure our schools run smoothly.

We will hold an Administrative Open House in September where I hope you will have the opportunity to meet this team in person.

Press release:

Portsmouth, R.I - The Portsmouth School Committee at its meeting of Monday, August 19th selected Rear Admiral Barbara E. McGann as Interim Superintendent of Schools. McGann will serve for the balance of the 2013-2014 school year and will take the helm in time for the first day of school. Rear Admiral McGann most recently was the Executive Director of the Advanced Math and Science Academy in Marlborough, Massachusetts, a Massachusetts Charter School. She served in that capacity for three years stabilizing the young Charter School and developing a model next generation learning community. The Advanced Math and Science Academy was an International Baccalaureate school, signifying the highest in academic achievement.

“We are more than excited to bring in a CEO of Barbara’s depth and experience. She shares our commitment to develop in Portsmouth a 21st century education model. Her commitment to the student, the classroom, and her ability to work collaboratively with all stakeholders is truly a gift to Portsmouth,” said David Croston, Chair of the Portsmouth School Committee. “I am incredible excited for our families in Portsmouth.”

McGann has served as Superintendent in Marlborough, Massachusetts, an urban school district serving 4,589 students; and, as Assistant Superintendent in Boston, Massachusetts. She was led to an educational career as a Fellow of the Broad Urban Superintendents Academy. McGann served two years from 2002 to 2004 as Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross of Rhode Island upon her retirement from the Navy.

Rear Admiral McGann had a most prestigious Naval Career retiring as Rear Admiral (“2 Star”) in 2002, having served as Provost of the Naval War College, Newport Rhode Island.

Her first duty station was Naval Air Station, Meridian, Mississippi, where she was the Public Affairs Officer. She reported to Navy Recruiting District, Los Angeles in 1972, where she served as an Officer Recruiter for two years. In 1974 she was assigned to Headquarters, Navy Recruiting Command, Washington, D.C., as Assistant Director in the Plans and Policy Division. Her next tour was as the assignment officer for junior Surface Warfare Officers at the Bureau of Naval Personnel from 1976 to 1978.

In April 1978, Rear Admiral McGann was transferred to the Pentagon to work for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Personnel Policy Division. Following that tour, she reported to Navy Recruiting District, Iselin, New Jersey, where she served as the Executive Officer from 1980 to 1982.

After graduation from the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, in November 1983, Rear Admiral McGann served as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Navy for Manpower andReserve Affairs from 1983 to 1985. Her next tour of duty was as an Assignment Officer at Navy Personnel Command from 1985 to 1987.

After promotion to Commander, she assumed command of Naval Support Activity, Holy Loch, Scotland, in June 1987. During this time she was designated as a Joint Specialty Officer. After two years in command, Rear Admiral McGann was assigned to the office of the Chief of Naval Operations where she served as Head of Middle East, Africa and South Asia Plans and Policy. In September 1990, she became the Executive Assistant to the Commander, Navy Recruiting Area Eight, San Francisco, California. Following this tour in 1993, Rear Admiral McGann taught Strategic Studies as a Fellow at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

In June 1994, Rear Admiral McGann assumed the rank of Rear Admiral (Lower Half) and assumed the duties of Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Total Force Programming and Manpower. She became Commander, Navy Recruiting Command in September 1996. In July 1997, she was promoted to Rear Admiral (Upper Half). In September 2000, she assumed duties as Provost, Naval War College.

Rear Admiral McGann earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from the College of Our Lady of the Elms, Chicopee, Massachusetts, and was commissioned through the Officer Candidate School, Newport, Rhode Island in March 1970. She holds a Master of Science Degree in Business Administration from Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island, and a Master of Arts Degree in Foreign Affairs from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. She was conferred an honorary Doctor of Education Degree from Roger Williams University in 2002.

Her personal Decorations include two Distinguished Service Medals, two Legion of Merit Medals, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, four Meritorious Service Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

Rear Admiral McGann is a native of Newport, Rhode Island where she presently resides.

Editorial note: Written (with enthusiasm and delight) from a press release.

02871, Localblogging, Schools, School Committee

Portsmouth schools host STEAM planning night

STEAM in action: PMS robotics team at last year's state finals.

The Portsmouth school department strategic planning subcommittee will be hosting a meeting tomorrow night, July 25, to solicit ideas, input, and feedback on plans for the district's science, technology, engineering, arts and math curriculum, according to a an e-mail sent to local media by subcommittee chair Emily Copeland. Here's the e-mail:

Dear Portsmouth Community,

On July 25th from 6:00-8:00pm in the PHS Library the Strategic Plan subcommittee is holding a meeting to discuss options to enhance Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) curriculum in the Portsmouth School District over the next five years. This meeting will consist of a brief overview of the existing components of STEAM K-12 education in Portsmouth, two presentations by David Croston and Jeff Schoonover, respectively, with ideas on how to advance STEAM initiatives and a public discussion.

The Strategic Plan subcommittee hopes that interested teachers, parents and community members will attend this meeting to contribute ideas, thoughts and suggestions on how to move the district forward in these critical areas. We want to ensure that Portsmouth students who are interested in pursuing STEAM related careers will be well prepared. This meeting will also help to lay the groundwork for a two day discussion in September on advancing STEAM initiatives in Portsmouth and aligning them to our Strategic Plan.

If you would like any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Emily Copeland
Strategic Plan Subcommittee Chair

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

02871, Localblogging, School Committee, Schools, STEAM

Portsmouth cancels school today [Updates]

Portsmouth Supt. Lynn Krizic dropped the robocall at 5:45 am that schools would be closed today "due to a change in weather conditions this morning and potentially unsafe roads." Really?

Thanks to Sandy at Patch for the prompt (and story), and thanks to everyone who jumped on the Facebook thread last night.

Updates: The Sakonnet Times picked up the story, and Portsmouth Patch updated their story from last night.

Localblogging, 02871, School Committee

Completely *safe* Portsmouth school bus stop [Update]

Portsmouth middle school bus stop at Park Ave and Cottage. Click to embiggen

As of Sunday night, the Portsmouth school district is planning to hold classes tomorrow despite the fact that there are bus stops that look like the one above in Island Park, with no place for students to stand, blind corners, and icy road conditions.

But I guess it's okay, because the Portsmouth EMA said in their update tonight that, "Roads are clear in Portsmouth."

Roads are clear. Got it.

Full disclosure: Yes, that's my son's bus stop. No, he's not going to be standing at it tomorrow morning.

Update: Sent this note to local officials and media

From: John McDaid
Subject: Middle school bus stops in Island Park
Date: February 10, 2013 9:02:18 PM EST
To: Lynn Krizic, David D. Croston, John C. Klimm
Cc: Portsmouth Patch, East Bay Newspapers, Newport Daily News, WPRI12

Dr. Krizic, Mr. Croston, Mr. Klimm…
While I understand the importance of returning to school as soon as feasible, I wanted to share my concerns about student bus stop safety. At least in Island Park -- and elsewhere in the north end of town, based on a short drive this evening -- there are many intersections that serve as school bus stops where there is literally no place for kids to stand, blind corners, and -- especially tomorrow morning -- potentially icy conditions.

The attached are photos from this evening of two middle school stops -- the larger pile is Park and Cottage, the smaller is Park and Mason. In both, students will be standing in the street tomorrow morning.

I would respectfully suggest you consider this in any decision regarding school in Portsmouth tomorrow.

Best Regards.

Link to cc-licensed full-res image on Flickr.

Localblogging, 02871, School Committee

Croston to chair Portsmouth School Committee

(l-r) Joe Quinn (Little Compton), Tom Vadney (Secretary), Emily Copeland, Dave Croston (Chair), Terri Cortvriend (Vice-Chair), John Wojichowski, Andrew Kelly

At the organizing meeting last night, the incoming Portsmouth School Committee voted Dave Croston (D) as chair, Terri Cortvriend (D) as vice-chair, and Tom Vadney (R) as secretary. In introductory remarks, Croston thanked the committee members and promised "cerebral" meetings where decisions would be supported by data.

The new committee scheduled several introductory meetings to get up to speed on finances and policy, and one of their first tasks will be appointing a new building principal for Hathaway Elementary, which they aim to do by mid-December.

Full res cc-licensed image up on Flickr.

Full disclosure: I'm delighted to see Dave as chair, my long-time support for Terri is no secret, and I think Tom is a great choice (and not just because I serve as a member of his Technology Subcommittee).

Localblogging, 02871, School Committee

Portsmouth swears in Council, School Committee

L-R Liz Pedro, Jim Seveney (Council President), Mike Buddemeyer, John Blaess (VP), Molly Magee, David Gleason, Keith Hamilton, RI District Court Associate Justice J. Terence Houlihan, Jr.

L-R Emily Copeland, Terri Cortvriend, Andrew Kelly, John Wojichowski, RI District Court Associate Justice J. Terence Houlihan, Jr.

Congratulations, all.

Full res cc-licensed pix up on Flickr.

Localblogging, 02871, Town Council, School Committee

Portsmouth swearing-in next Monday night

According to an e-mail this morning from the Town Clerk, the swearing in of Portsmouth's new Town Council and School Committee will take place next Monday, November 26 at 7pm in Town Hall.

The Portsmouth Girl Scouts will conduct the flag ceremony, followed by an invocation by Father Gray. The new elects will be sworn in by the Honorable J. Terence Houlihan, Jr., State of Rhode Island District Court Associate Justice.

Hope to see you there!

Localblogging, 02871, Town Council, School Committee, Elections

Breaking: Has Portsmouth School vice-chair Jonathan Harris resigned? [Update]

Click to embiggen.

According to an e-mail obtained by harddeadlines, Portsmouth School Committee vice-chair Jonathan Harris has resigned, "effective today." Mr. Harris has not yet responded to an e-mail seeking confirmation.

Update: Portsmouth Patch has confirmed with Harris.

Localblogging, 02871, School Committee

Portsmouth School Vice-Chair Harris adds "yellow" journalism charge

Portsmouth School Committee Vice-chair Jonathan Harris followed up his earlier e-mail with another complaint about my coverage, which he asked me to run:

From: Jonathan Harris
Date: September 26, 2012 5:14:29 PM EDT
To: John McDaid


Thank you for posting my email to you.
Hopefully, you will do the same with this one.

Since you call yourself a "reporter", I note that you have not reported on the new science text books that were purchased for K-8 students for the first time in years, the happy children who showed up to thank the committee for funding a new playground for them or the significant improvement in science test scores. All of the above occurred while you were attending the meeting last night and all are significant issues.

Have you turned a bit yellow in your journalistic endeavor or did you just forget to report the good stuff?

*Securities and Advisory Services Offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser

As a matter of principle, I am obliged to note that journalists always make decisions about the most important events or actions at a meeting.

However, I hasten to add, I was at the meeting for a specific purpose: I was there as a parent, a citizen, and a volunteer appointed by the school committee to the tech subcommittee.

A subcommittee whose input was, in my opinion, being seriously misrepresented on an agenda item that could cost the residents of Portsmouth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In short, I was speaking to the school committee last night as a constituent.

And now we see how Mr. Harris deals with constituents who disagree. "Unacceptable." "Yellow."

Thank you for clarifying your feelings about any taxpayers of Portsmouth who dare to question you, Mr. Harris.

Localblogging, 02871, School Committee