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 school admin reports IP bus stop stalker

The Portsmouth School department just sent the following message about a potentially scary situation this morning in Island Park:

This morning at the Park & Mason bus stop in Island Park several middle school students were approached by male who sought to engage them in conversation. This male was also seen at several bus stops on Park Avenue, including the one at Park and Morgan in Island Park

The students became uncomfortable with the individual’s presence. The incident was immediately reported to the bus monitor who then reported this information to the administration. Police were contacted promptly to be made aware of the incident and level of student concern. Police presence was requested in the area for the elementary bus pick-ups that were scheduled to occur shortly after the middle school bus run.

The following details emerged from interviews with students:

  • Caucausian male with short black hair wearing a turquoise colored hoodie, dark (gray or black) sweatpants, large purple animal print sunglasses, and light colored sandals
  • Was on foot

As a general reminder and safety tip, please encourage your children to:

  • never talk with strangers
  • immediately report any suspicious incidents to the appropriate adults (police, school staff, bus monitors and parents)
  • stay away from unknown vehicles

Portsmouth School Department

FYI -- I checked with the Superintendent's office, and the return address on this e-mail shows up as "" because there was a change to the notification system.

02871, Localblogging, Schools

Prudence Island school nets RI Foundation grant

Prudence Island school.

Rhode Island's last one-room schoolhouse, the Prudence Island school in Portsmouth, just received a $2,500 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation's Newport County fund, according to a posting on their site.

A big thanks to the RI Foundation on behalf of the kids of Prudence!

You can learn more about this unique school here.

02871, Localblogging, Schools

Portsmouth Supt. describes bomb threat response

Portsmouth school Supt. Lynn Krizic sent a note late this morning to parents describing what happened at Portsmouth High School last night and the administration and police response. From the AlertNow e-mail:

Dear Portsmouth Parents,

I am writing to share with you information regarding an incident that occurred very late last evening at Portsmouth High School. A handwritten note was discovered on a bathroom wall that contained a reference to an explosive device. At this time the details of this note cannot be fully revealed so as not to interfere with our ability to investigate who may have written it.

Police Chief Jeff Furtado contacted me to share that upon receiving a call from PHS night shift personnel, they immediately contacted the Rhode Island State Police K-9 team to request a search of the school. We made the shared decision to have the entire school searched as we place student safety as one of our highest priorities. In the very early morning hours of the day, we received a report that there was no evidence of any explosive device or explosive material in any part of the school. Based on that report, we made the decision to have school in session; and we requested to have a Portsmouth Police Officer on site at PHS today.

The administration and local law enforcement agencies are taking this event very seriously. If anyone has information regarding the person responsible for leaving the note, please contact PHS immediately at 683-2124. We will be conducting an internal investigation to try to determine which student and/or students may have been involved in making this threat. The appropriate disciplinary action will be taken for any student or students who had responsibility for this incident.

Incidents such as this, in light of the recent events in Boston, may cause your child to become upset. Counselors and/or social workers are available in each of our schools to meet with students if they need to talk about this incident as well as how this incident may be affecting them.


Lynn S. Krizic, Ed.D.

02871, Localblogging, Schools

Portsmouth's Hathaway school to get new principal

According to a job listing on SchoolSpring posted this morning, the Portsmouth School District is recruiting for a new principal for Hathaway Elementary school, with a start date of "January 2."

The current principal, Robert Ettinger, took the position in 2010 in a lateral move following the closure of Elmhurst elementary.

This is the latest in the pattern of departure of experienced staff from the district over the last two years. (Superintendent, Asst. Superintendent, Finance Director, Special Education director, two teachers of the year, etc.)

There was no mention of the change in the "meeting highlights" from the last school committee meeting.

Localblogging, 02871, Schools

Portsmouth schools offer surplus computers

Need an inexpensive home machine for your student or family? The Portsmouth School District is getting rid of old surplus machines, according to an e-mail sent to parents this morning. Sign up on their web site, or check out the flyer, below.


Not the fastest machines, but for some word processing and web browsing, these would serve. You can load 'em up with a freeware suite like OpenOffice.

Localblogging, 02871, Schools

Custodial outsourcing move fails at Portsmouth School Committee [update]

In a three-hour Portsmouth School Committee meeting packed with green-shirted supporters and marked by sharp partisan exchanges between Democrat Dave Croston and Republican Chair Cynthia Perrotti and Vice-Chair Jonathan Harris, the effort to outsource the district's custodial and maintenance staff went down to a 5-2 defeat. An unrelated austerity move that would have left empty the position of a retiring PHS assistant principal met the same fate.

There were more than 70 supporters of the custodians and maintenance staff on hand for the meeting — which had been moved to the high school auditorium because of the anticipated crowd — and many took the opportunity to speak during the public comment time near the top of the agenda.

Rick Weida, the PHS head custodian urged the committee to think about student safety. "We know how how many foot-pounds it takes to open a door," he said, adding that they make sure any child can move them in an emergency. He also talked about staff going above and beyond, like a crew that emptied all the dumpsters to find a student's lost retainer. [Editorial note: I apologize for not catching Rick's last name, my ears are pretty clogged right now; if someone can add in comments or message me, I'll update.] [Updated]

Teachers also spoke in solidarity. Amanda Boswell stressed the importance of the custodial staff as part of the school. "Custodial staff are our community," she said. "They teach our students respect and that we should be proud of our surroundings." Pat McCarthy was direct about the need for school committee to show respect for their employees. "They deserve better at the hands of the town, its administration, and its elected officials."

When public comment ended, the agenda moved forward and there emerged something of an undercard event, a proposal by School Committee member Angela Volpicelli. From the agenda: "I would like to discuss the feasibility of having one Vice Principal at the High School. I feel that having one Vice Principal could be feasible and would have a positive impact on the budget."

Ms. Volpicelli offered no specific metrics to justify the assertion of feasibility. There was a discussion of the way the schools were years ago, when there was only one assistant principal. Fellow committee member Marilyn King offered the suggestion that the school hire a "security officer" instead.

Seriously, Ms. King? Why not just call in the Department of Homeland Security and have pilotless drones in the hallways?

PHS Principal Robert Littlefield argued strenuously that the increasing mandates for student improvement and new curriculum made the second position imperative. Asst. Principal Jeff Goss warned the committee that they could "destroy the school system" with just four votes.

Tailgunner Gleason got up to the mike to offer a rambling screed that seemed both embrace the custodians ("I need you like you need me.") while also supporting austerity measures, and telling the committee she understood their difficulties ("I've sat up there before, and may again.") prompting Dave Croston to ask pointedly, "Are you running?"

PCC apparatchik Cheshire Kathy Melvin urged the committee to cut the position and let the chips fall where they may. ""If it's a disaster, it's a disaster." It's clear that the PCC cares more about taxes then whatever might happen to our kids in a school with insufficient supervision.

In a show of rationality, when it came time to count the votes, the proposal failed, 5-2, with King and Volpicelli in the minority.

Then it was on to the main event.

Wealth management professional Jonathan Harris moved to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to privatize custodial and maintenance.


There was a very, very long pause, and finally, Cynthia Perrotti stepped up and seconded.

Then Harris, as befitting a captain of industry, regaled the attendees with a PowerPoint presentation, showing lots of numbers. You can download it from the PSD site. You may also want to view the rest of his supporting material here.

In what Harris clearly believed was his killer chart, he showed that a teacher with 28 years of service ended up only with 60% of their salary in retirement, but a custodial staff member with 40 years of service received 144%. Perrotti apparently liked the point — she repeated it as evidence that the system was unsustainable.

Sleight of hand with data gets right up my nose. I got up to speak. My son, Jack, had asked me to be sure to mention how much he appreciates the custodians who assist the middle school Green Team, where they work side-by-side with kids after school to recycle. I added that, as a parent, I appreciate knowing the folks who work with my son, and knowing that they care about our kids. And I asked Harris about the actual dollar numbers, rather than percentages. He acknowledged that the retirement numbers would be about $46K for custodial and $42K for the teacher, which, I pointed out, paints a very different picture than 144% and 60%.

And, finally, I reminded our community that both Harris and Perrotti opposed the referendum to exceed the cap two years ago on the grounds that extra money for the schools wasn't needed. And now they turn around and cry poverty as an excuse to "screw these guys."

Admittedly, not the most polite language for a school committee meeting. But I was genuinely annoyed. We need to remember.

There was more excellent speaking from members of the custodial staff, and the president of RI Council 94, and when push came to shove, the motion failed, 5-2 with Harris and Perrotti in the minority.

I made a point of going up to the committee and thanking Sylvia Wedge, Angela Volpicelli, Marilyn King, Dave Croston, and Tom Vadney for their votes.

Update 12:18pm 3/28/12: Added Rick Weida's last name, thanks to an informed reader.

Editorial note: Apologies if this post is a bit sloppy; I just about made it through the meeting and am home sick today (as is our son) with this late-season bug that's been going around. Thanks to everyone who came out and spoke last night to defend our school community.

Localblogging, 02871, School Committee, Schools

Tell the RI Senate Education committee not to give Town Councils funding control of schools [Update]

The Senate Education committee will hear a bill — S2239 — introduced by Sen. John Tassoni (D-Smithfield) which would strip control of budgets from local school committees and give that power to the Town Council. From the bill:

[C]ity and town councils shall have direct control over the direct financial aspects of the education, including total budgets to be expended, the amount of salaries, the interior maintenance of the school buildings and capital improvements, including, but not limited to, maintenance, and any other direct expenditure of money. — S2239

Tassoni explained his rationale to the Westerly Sun : "Every school department is in trouble financially. All you have to do is look at the [news]paper and every school has financial issues. The budgets are tight. There's not enough money to sustain what we’re doing. Something has to change."

Let's igore for a moment that the one of the drivers of these financial issues is the new funding formula coupled with the Senate's own S3050 tax cap, which has put districts in a "we won't fund you but you can't make up the difference" Catch-22.

Leaving that aside. Give control of school budgets to Town Councils?

Unlike School Committees, which are agents of the state elected locally to ensure that the district provides free and appropriate public education (while complying with a doorstop-sized book full of education laws), Town Councils are inclined to see schools as a the thing that slurps up all the tax dollars.

Let's look at a little history. What have Portsmouth Town Councilors proposed when discussing school budgets?

Making big cuts. "I'll be the voice of the taxpayer," said former Councilor Jeff Plumb

Reducing curriculum for fiscal reasons. "We're going to have to [...] get back to the basics [...] reading, writing, and arithmetic. That's the way it's gonna be," said former Councilor Karen Gleason.

Making arbitrary decisions. "I motion that we level-fund all departments, including the school department," said current Councilor Judy Staven.

And, of course, telling the schools to just accept what they propose. "And don't cry and whine," said former Councilor Karen Gleason.

Under the tax cap, every dollar that goes to the schools is a dollar that the Council does not have. That's not a situation which encourages dispassionate analysis. We elect school committees to make budget decisions, and changing Rhode Island law to circumvent their authority serves no legitimate interest.

If you think, as I do, that this is a very bad idea, you might drop a note to the Senate Education Committee, which will be hearing this bill. You can cut and paste these addresses for Chair Sen. Hanna Gallo, Vice-Chair Sen. Harold Metts, and the members of the committee:,,,,,,

And you might wish to copy Portsmouth's Sen. Chris Ottiano as a courtesy: I also cc'd Sen. Tassoni,, just to let him know my concerns.

I hope you'll join me.

Update, 3/6/12, 3:19 pm: Just had a chat with Sen. Chris Ottiano (R-11) who said he shared my concerns about the impact this bill would have on School Committees. He said that he had talked with one of his colleagues on Education, and the sense was that this bill was not likely to advance. He thanked the constituents who had reached out to him with a heads-up. Thanks, Senator!

Full disclosure: I have a student in the Portsmouth school system.

Localblogging, 02871, Schools, education, GA

Follow Portsmouth volunteers in Guatemala

The local group, Infinity Volunteers, including several Portsmouth high school students, is on a humanitarian visit to a village in Guatemala over break. You can follow along on their blog.

Very proud of all these kids. Best wishes and safe travels.

Localblogging, 02871, Schools, Infinity