Schools

Letter to the editor: Drug-sniffing dogs in our schools

This letter appears in the Portsmouth Times and Portsmouth Press this week:

To the editor:
Last Friday, for the first time anyone can recall, drug-sniffing dogs were deployed at Portsmouth High School. For half an hour, students huddled in lockdown while the dogs prowled the halls. The administration has promised to continue this practice through the remainder of the year.

To me, this is yet another incursion on civil liberties that is tolerated in the name of security. We've grown accustomed to NSA wiretaps, taking our shoes off at airports, and ubiquitous surveillance. Now, we are willing to teach our children -- literally teach our children, in school -- that the state can send in dogs to sniff their belongings at any time, with no warrant.

But does Portsmouth have a reason to send in the dogs? According to the 2016 Portsmouth Substance Abuse Needs Assessment survey conducted by the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition, "Significant drops were reported in use rates for alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs over the past two years at the high school for all grades."

Security versus civil liberty is an area where reasonable people and courts can (and do) disagree. Whatever position you take, I think we can agree that it affects the character of our schools and is worthy of a community discussion. The Portsmouth School Committee will be taking up this issue at their meeting on Tuesday, May 9, and I encourage parents and residents to share their views.

John G. McDaid

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS, civil liberties

PHS proceeds with K-9 sweep over ACLU objection

In an e-mail message just sent to parents, principal Joseph Amaral announced that a K-9 drug sweep had been conducted this morning at Portsmouth High School.

A message from PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL

Today, April 28, 2017 Portsmouth High School, in collaboration with the RI Working Dogs Association, had a pre-planned lock down and sweep. The building initially went into lock down and then students and teachers continued with instruction while the building sweep continued in the parking lot. The event began at 9:22 am and the building was cleared before 9:38am. We commend our students and staff for their cooperation throughout the process. We want to reassure you that we are doing all we can to keep our students and staff safe.

Sincerely,

Joseph N. Amaral

I have written to Supt. Ana Riley and School Committee chair Terri Cortvriend to register my extreme dissatisfaction with Principal Amaral's decision to proceed with this diminution of our students' civil liberties.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS, civil liberties

RI ACLU opposes PHS drug-sniffing dog plan

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 3.17.16 PM.png
Click for full document.

In a tweet this afternoon, the RI ACLU announced it had sent a letter to the Portsmouth schools "strongly urging" PHS to reconsider their plan to use drug-sniffing dogs. The letter says that the use of police dogs "casts a pall over the entire educational experience and the values that schools should be instilling in students." From the letter:

The use of drug-sniffing dogs in the school setting is extremely troubling for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it treats students like criminal suspects instead of as teenagers who should be learning the value of human rights.

While you cite the “proliferation of illegal substances” among young people, we are not aware of any data that confirms such a proliferation, particularly while at school. In any event, as adults we would be appalled if our employer brought in drug-sniffing dogs because drug use was said to be “proliferating” among adults. It is no more appropriate to do it to captive teenagers in the school setting.

As you are undoubtedly aware, one day just last month, K-9 searches were conducted at Middletown High School as part of a “training exercise.” As is almost always the case with these these types of “exercises,” no drugs were found in the school. Since your plan does not appear to be prompted by any actual reports of widespread illicit drug activity at the school either, it remains abundantly clear that these searches are not really about rooting out drug problems; they are just blatant displays of raw police power and intimidation.

One of the documents I submitted in my complaint filed with the ACLU was the most recent "Portsmouth Youth Substance Abuse Needs Assessment," posted on the school district's own web site, which shows a decline in drug use. Here's the relevant page (annotations are mine; click to embiggen).

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I'm encouraged to know that I'm not the only parent who reported this to the ACLU, but I'm not surprised. At a meeting of the PHS Parent Advisory Board on Monday evening, 2 out of the 3 parents attending expressed their opposition to the plan. (Yes, I was one of them.) At that meeting, Principal Amaral disclosed that the plan was to have the dogs sniff not only lockers, but backpacks as well, which I find particularly problematic.

Links
ACLU letter
Portsmouth Drug Use survey

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS, civil liberties

Portsmouth High School to call in drug sniffing dogs

In an email dropped on a Friday afternoon during school break, buried in the fifth paragraph of what starts as an innocuous and boring memo, PHS principal Joseph Amaral announced the school would be "coordinating with the Portsmouth Police Department and other local police departments, including K-9 units, to sweep the high school to make sure that marijuana/or controlled substances are not present on campus."

While the goal of maintaining a drug-free school may be laudable, I have concerns about turning our educational institution into a space patrolled by multiple police forces and K-9 units. It seems disruptive and not conducive to the environment of collaboration and trust that our Portsmouth PD had worked so hard to achieve. I can accept the notion of a school resource officer, but this feels like it goes way beyond that.

A message from PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL

Dear Parents/Guardians and Students:

Portsmouth High School consists of a community of learners who attain 21st century skills and prepare for career and college. We have the fastest growing number of students who select rigorous Advanced Placement courses while also balancing the whole student by offering a plethora of athletic and club activities for students to explore. Our students are well served with a dedicated faculty who continue their professional development in numerous curriculum areas throughout the school year as well as in the summer.

Several members of our faculty have spent time engaging in profession
A message from PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL [Repitition in original -- Editor]

Dear Parents/Guardians and Students:

Portsmouth High School consists of a community of learners who attain 21st century skills and prepare for career and college. We have the fastest growing number of students who select rigorous Advanced Placement courses while also balancing the whole student by offering a plethora of athletic and club activities for students to explore. Our students are well served with a dedicated faculty who continue their professional development in numerous curriculum areas throughout the school year as well as in the summer.

Several members of our faculty have spent time engaging in professional development with students as part of Patriots Committed. This group of students and adults provide chemical free activities and ongoing substance abuse prevention and health information to our students and community in hopes of students gaining optimal performance in all that they do. Our school continues to implement a positive behavior intervention program called MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support). Our MTSS committee has organized several programs to reward students for making good choices that contribute to a positive learning community. “Pride Bucks” have been implemented as recognition, by their teachers, for students demonstrating these behaviors. Teachers also recommend students as “Students of the Month” to the Principal for a celebratory breakfast. We continue to reflect and revamp our discipline code to support a balanced approach to respect and appropriate behavior.

As you may know, we have invited many organizations and groups to provide knowledge and guidance to our students on how to be safe and drug free. The State Attorney General’s program has come to our school to share with students real life stories and how we can help those who are afflicted with drug abuse. In addition, we recently hosted the F.A.C.T. program (Fostering Alternative Choices & Thinking) through the Department of Corrections for all of the Freshmen and Sophomore students in an effort to help them reflect about the best choices for themselves and how substance use/abuse will impact their life choices. We have also held assemblies and events to give students the tools to prevent bullying and intolerant behavior. This effort requires the support of the entire community including parents, teachers and students.

We are concerned with the proliferation of illegal substances, such as marijuana and other controlled substances among young people. In order to maintain a substance-free high school, we are coordinating with the Portsmouth Police Department and other local police departments, including K-9 units, to sweep the high school to make sure that marijuana/or controlled substances are not present on campus. These fully trained K-9 units will be used to do periodic searches throughout the remainder of the school year. K-9 units will not engage with students.

Finally, if you have concerns about your child regarding substance abuse, our Student Assistance Counselor, Kelly O’Loughlin, is available to provide additional support options. Her email contact information is oloughlink@portsmouthschoolsri.org . Working together we can make PHS an even better learning community.

Sincerely,

Joseph N. Amaral
Principal - Portsmouth High School

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS, civil liberties

It's Teacher Appreciation Day -- #ThankATeacher

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Image courtesy of NEA.

First and foremost, I want to thank all the teachers and staff at Portsmouth High School who have been working with our son, Jack, over the past couple of months as he's been having some health issues; the support and concern has been truly amazing.

Our whole family thanks Mr. Arsenault, Ms. Guerreiro, Mr. Holstein, Ms. Johnsen, Mr. Barker, Ms. Richards, Ms. Riesen, Ms. Valente, Mr. Betres, and Mr. Forgue, as well as Ms. Bellotti in Guidance and school nurse Ms. Hickey.

We feel very lucky to have such a great team working with us. Portsmouth has amazing teachers. Thank you all.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS

PHS at top of Rhode Island graduation rate

The Rhode Island Dept. of Education released data on 2014 graduation rates last Friday, and Portsmouth High School came at 97%, tied with Classical High School in Providence for highest in the state, sixteen points above the statewide average.

According to a press release from RIDE, the 2014 Rhode Island graduation rate rose to 81%, a 1-point improvement over the previous year and a 5.5-point improvement since 2009. The dropout rate declined to 8%, a 1-point improvement over the previous year and a 6-point improvement since 2009.

“Our high-school students, teachers, and leaders deserve high marks for their tremendous efforts in raising our graduation rate,” said Governor Gina Raimondo in remarks distributed by RIDE. “As we make creating opportunities for all Rhode Islanders a priority, we must continue this momentum to make sure our kids build the skills they need to compete in a 21st-century economy. Earning a high-school diploma is one important component to making our state stronger for everyone.”

In a note sent to PHS parents this afternoon, PHS principal Bob Littlefield said,

"We are extremely proud of this success because it is recognition of a great deal of hard work on the part of our students, teachers, and families. And this came for the Class of 2014 -- the class that not only had to pass all its courses and complete Senior Project but was required to demonstrate proficiency in reading and math on NECAP tests.

A great deal of credit goes to our counseling staff who refuses to give up on students and is relentless in getting students together with teachers in order to make positive progress toward graduation requirements.

I also want to recognize our teaching staff for their eternal optimism about individual student success. We don't give up on students and we don't allow them to give up on themselves.

Several high schools attained 4-year graduation rates of 95 percent or higher in 2014, including the Block Island School, Classical High School (Providence), Cranston High School West, and East Greenwich High School in addition to PHS.

Several high schools improved their 4-year graduation by more than 5 percentage points over the past year, including East Providence High School, the New England Laborers’/Cranston Public Schools Construction & Career Academy, Tiverton High School, Toll Gate High School (Warwick), West Warwick Senior High School, and William E. Tolman Senior High School (Pawtucket).

National information on the 2014 graduation rates is not yet available. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education released data on the 2013 graduation rates. Rhode Island, with a 2013 graduation rate of 80 percent, was 1 point below the national average and tied for 29th among all states. The Rhode Island graduation rate improved by 3 percentage points over the two-year span of the report, better than the 2-point improvement for the country as a whole.

A report on the 2014 Rhode Island graduation and dropout rates is posted on the RIDE website, at: http://www.ride.ri.gov/InformationAccountability/Accountability.aspx

Editorial note: Written from press release and e-mail material.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools

Portsmouth school leadership to meet residents

The Portsmouth school district's new leadership team — superintendent Anna Riley and assistant superintendent Thomas Kenworthy — will be holding two "meet and greet" sessions to provide residents an opportunity to meet and talk informally, according to an e-mail sent to parents by the district.

Riley and Kenworthy will be at the Portsmouth Free Public Library, 2658 East Main Road, on Wednesday, November 12, from 10:00 – 11:00am and on Wednesday, November 19, from 4:00 – 5:30pm.

For more information, please call the district office at 401-683-1039.

Editorial note: Written from an e-mail.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PSD

Portsmouth hires school Superintendent Ana Riley

On June 10th, the Portsmouth School Committee selected Ana C. Riley to be the next Superintendent of Schools in Portsmouth. Currently Ms. Riley is Superintendent of Schools in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Ana Riley began her career as a High School chemistry teacher in Fall River, Massachusetts and moved on to serve as principal of first an elementary and then middle school over the course of 16 years. Since 2008, she has served the Dartmouth School District first as the Assistant Superintendent and then Superintendent of Schools.

The School Committee was impressed with Ms. Riley’s focus on improving student achievement and her ability to work with district stake-holders to develop a strategic improvement plan guided by core values and multiple measures of student data. In Dartmouth, Ms. Riley worked with her staff to bring trust and transparency to the budget, publishing a detailed budget aligned to the strategic improvement plan and directed at improving student achievement. These were all core qualities the Portsmouth School Committee sought in its next Superintendent.

During her tenure in Dartmouth, Ms. Riley developed leading programs including: an “Every School, Every Week” program that had District Administrators at all levels visiting one school per week; an Academic Summer School for grades 1 through 8 which was integrated with the Dartmouth Recreation Department; an initiative for every High School Junior to take the PSAT; the utilization of the National Institute of School Leadership to support professional development; and the implementation of the STAR assessment program in the Dartmouth Schools, a less time consuming common assessment tool.

The Portsmouth School Committee has approved a three year contract. Ms. Riley will receive a base salary of $152,000 plus benefits, a package comparable with other Districts in Rhode Island that are Portsmouth’s size. Ms. Riley will be succeeding Rear Admiral Barbara E. McGann who has been serving as Portsmouth’s Interim Superintendent this past year. The Portsmouth School Committee has also established a Transition Subcommittee to act as the liaison with the new Superintendent. Its members include: Emily Copeland, Chair; Fred Faerber and Andrew Kelly.

Ms. Riley received her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Regis College, a Master’s degree in School Administration from Fitchburg State College, and is presently enrolled in a Doctoral Program in Education Leadership. She resides in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Kyle, a Special Education Director in Dighton-Rehoboth Regional District, and their six children.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PSD

PHS among 30 "commended" RIDE schools

Portsmouth high school is among the schools in 20 districts plus 3 public charters receiving the highest classification, "Commended," in the 2014 School Classifications announced today by the RI Department of Education (RIDE), according to a press release. RIDE used the Rhode Island Accountability System, which is designed to recognize outstanding performance and to provide support to low-achieving schools, to determine the 2014 School Classifications.

“I am glad that we have been able to honor schools from the majority of our school districts as 2014 Commended Schools, and I am particularly pleased that 18 high schools are among our commended schools this year,” said Deborah A. Gist, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Under our new Diploma System, these high schools have maintained high levels of proficiency while closing achievement gaps and supporting a high graduation rate. We will continue working to advance all schools toward greatness, with a particular concentration on helping our Priority and Focus Schools move forward with their approved plans for school transformation.”

Of the 277 classified schools, RIDE identified 30 schools (11 percent) as Commended. In addition to PHS, other local schools on the list are Fort Barton School (Tiverton), Rockwell School (Bristol Warren), Barrington High School, Middletown High School, and Mt. Hope High School (Bristol Warren).

As in previous years, RIDE based the 2014 School Classifications on:

  • Proficiency: How many students have attained proficiency or better?
  • Distinction: How many students have attained distinction?
  • Participation: How many students take the state assessments?
  • Gap-closing: Is the school serving all students, including those with disabilities and English Learners?
  • Progress: Is the school approaching its 2017 targets?
  • Growth (K-8): Are all students making progress?
  • Improvement (high schools): Is the school improving annually?
  • Graduation (high schools): Is the school reaching its graduation-rate goals?

Using these measures, RIDE placed each school into one of six classifications: Commended, Leading, Typical, Warning, Focus, or Priority.

As was the case last year, RIDE also classified 32 schools (12 percent) in the lowest classifications: 21 Priority Schools and 11 Focus Schools, adding only one new school: the Orlo Avenue School, in East Providence. The Priority and Focus schools are in Central Falls, East Providence, Pawtucket, and Providence, plus the Rhode Island School for the Deaf and the Segue Institute for Learning charter public school.

Priority and Focus Schools are designated for state intervention, which entails a diagnostic screening process to determine the strengths each school has and the challenges each school faces. Subject to Commissioner Gist’s approval, superintendents select an intervention model for each Priority and Focus school and then develop school-turnaround plans, which include numerous reform strategies in the areas of leadership, support, infrastructure, and content. The plans are designed to address the specific needs of each identified school.

Although some of the Priority and Focus schools have made improvements, RIDE is committed to holding schools in Priority and Focus status to give these schools sufficient time to develop and implement their plans for transformation.

“School turnaround is a major undertaking that requires several years of progress before we can be confident that the improvements are durable,” Commissioner Gist said. “As a result, we continue to work closely with all Priority and Focus schools for at least two years to ensure that they are on the road toward school improvement.”

The 55 Warning Schools that RIDE identified today must also develop and implement plans for improvement, but on a lesser scale and without intensive RIDE oversight.

A complete list of the 2014 School Classifications is available on the RIDE web site.

RIDE also has a Fact Sheet (see under User Guides) and other information on the Rhode Island Accountability System (see under School Performance Tables).

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, RIDE

PHS launches "Bring Your Own Device" on Monday

14jan15_wifi.jpgIn an e-mail to parents last night, Portsmouth High School principal Robert Littlefield announced the official start of the school's "Bring Your Own Device" program on Monday, Feb. 3. Here's the e-mail from Littlefield:

We are getting ready to take our bold new step into the future -- the launching of our Bring Your Own Device policy on Monday, February 3rd.

Essentially, we will open our WiFi to anyone with an Internet device on our campus. When used RESPONSIBLY, and for its INTENDED PURPOSE this will amount to an exciting way to enhance student learning.

I have attached a copy of our "Frequently Asked Questions About BYOD" for all students and parents.

Every student at Portsmouth High School now has a PHS email account. We have sent an important message to every student about acceptable use of BYOD. In order to use our WiFi, students must open their email, click on a Google link, and agree to follow proper procedures. They will have until the end of the day on Thursday, January 30th to get this done.

Parents: click on the following link to connect with the BYOD page on our school's website. [link]

If you DO NOT want your child to have access to the Internet on a personal device, please contact the main office by emailing the message to wentzelp@portsmouthschoolsri.org.

I want to be clear about some basic rules regarding BYOD:

  1. All use is to be at the discretion of the teacher.
  2. Access to the Internet must be through our filtered WiFi, no 3G, 4G, or hotspot access
  3. Using the PHS WiFi is a privilege, not a right. It can be taken away for improper use.
  4. No technology support is available for personal devices at this time. Students are responsible for their own devices.

We want our students to have the best learning opportunities possible. Therefore, we need everyone's cooperation if this to work.

As always, I welcome your questions and thoughts. Feel free to reply to this email to contact me.

Robert Littlefield
Principal

Download the BYOD guide (900K pdf)

Editorial note: Written from a PSD e-mail.

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02871, Localblogging, Schools, PHS

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