WARWICK, RI — School Committeewoman Karen Bachus, 53, of Burt Street, an outspoken member of the board since 2012 who notably joined Warwick City Council efforts to disclose the publicly-paid Ragosta Report to the community, has lived in Warwick for the last 20 years, and hopes to serve another four years with the body.
Bachus, a clinical social worker with the RI Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals, won the highest number of votes in the Sept. 14 primary, at 3,587.
Warwick Post has presented each School Committee candidate with the same series of questions for voters’ benefit in the days leading up to the election. Here are Bachus’s answers:
Why are you running for School Committee – What do you feel you can bring to the board that’s lacking there now?
I am the only incumbent running for reelection. I believe that I shine a light on matters that the public, and often the Committee, are not aware of (i.e., the Atoyan/Ragosta Investigation, Consolidation Issues in the Schools, Special Education teaching supplies, etc…). It is important to bring things to the table so that the Committee has the information and can make decisions when it comes to students, teachers, schools.
What are your thoughts on the contract dispute between the teacher’s union and the district?
It is my thought this dispute has gone on too long and created significant adverse consequences for our students. I have been very vocal about this with my colleagues on the Committee, the majority of whom appear to want to break the Union. The secondary consolidation rollout was not exactly a success and everyone is still working to get things right.
Classes are overcrowded, and in some classes students are not receiving what they were promised. Teachers, in too many circumstances, do not have the materials they need to teach their classes as planned. I believe that we are asking too much from our teachers at a time when things are very chaotic—this is hurting our students. Class size and composition (IEP v. non IEP students) is a significant and serious issue for teachers teaching and student learning. Class size does matter, and so does class composition. We can call it weighting or ratios, or something else—but filling a classroom full without regard for their needs and ability is plain wrong. It is bad educational policy for our children!
This ongoing battle needs to end. We need to settle the contract and get to the important business of educating our students and providing them with the best education possible.
What is your opinion on the long wait voters endured to view the Ragosta Report? Would you change anything about the School Committee’s practices regarding the body’s apparent tendency to err away from transparency?
In March 2015, Mario Atoyan was arrested on charges of first and second degree sexual assault on a 15-year old girl who was not a Warwick student. I started receiving calls from parents and teachers alleging an incident in 2013 where he drew inappropriate images on two female students at Gorton Junior High School. I immediately became alarmed and investigated further. I brought findings and concerns to members of the Committee. Initially, they were reticent about taking action. I went to some of my colleagues on the Warwick City Council for assistance. A special meeting was called to discuss the allegations and decide on what action to take.
As a result, Vincent Ragosta, Jr. was hired to complete the investigation. It was always my belief that the report would be made public with redactions as appropriate. After all, the taxpayers were paying the bill—why would we keep it from the Mayor, the council, the taxpayers? Much to my dismay it was not released right away and the courts became involved. Finally, in March 2016, the results of the investigation were released per order of the court. I was sad that it had to come to a court order.
I believe in transparency. It is important that we are transparent in our actions on the School Committee because we are entrusted with the great responsibility of providing an education to our children in a “safe, supportive, nurturing environment.” There should be nothing to hide when the safety of our children is at risk.
After reading the Ragosta Report: http://warwickpost.com/ragosta-report-school-administrators-ignored-dismissed-allegations-againsted-atoyan/ What lessons do you see the School District should have learned about the power entrusted to its administrators and the ability of concerned parents and staffers to safely speak out?
Per the RIDE Basic Education Program G‐14‐2. SUPPORTIVE AND NURTURING SCHOOL COMMUNITY, each LEA shall ensure that schools create a climate of safety, security and belonging for all students and adults, thereby establishing an environment that builds respectful relationships, enhances productive learning and teaching, promotes school engagement, and promotes academic success. Each LEA shall accomplish this goal by ensuring that each school: Is safe, respectful, and free of discrimination; Establishes protocols for on‐going student, family, and community engagement; and Provides expanded learning opportunities and academic enrichment.
When the student allegations about Mario Atoyan originally came to light it became clear that we (the School Committee and administration) were not providing a climate of safety, security and belonging for our school community. Parents and staff were afraid to report on what they knew for fear of reprisal by members of the administration. Serious allegations were pushed aside and not properly investigated. This violation of policy, and more than that, public trust, created an atmosphere that was not safe for students, faculty, staff, parents and others who are part of our school community.
We must learn from this mistake. Any concerned member of our school community should be encouraged to speak out about any concerns they have without fear of retribution or harm by others. They must know that they will be respected, and that their concerns will be heard, investigated, and if true, resolved in a manner that keeps our school community safe for teaching and learning.
What other conclusions have you made from your reading of the Ragosta Report?
If we want our community to support public education in our city, we must be the model of transparency. The more we try to hide things, the more we fail in our mission to educate our children in a safe, nurturing environment that promotes academic and personal success; and the more we are not trusted by those who we ask to support us.
What is your opinion of how school consolidation has been handled thus far? What would you do to improve the process?
The consolidation thus far is “too much, too quickly!” Secondary Consolidation is a very large undertaking dealing with all sorts of things—physical plant, tools, equipment, technology, supplies, educational materials, students, faculty, staff, and much more. I believe that we bit off more than we could reasonably expect to accomplish in a very short summer. This created a lot of chaos and tumult when schools opened that might have been avoided had we worked on Pilgrim and Tollgate this summer, and took this school year to fix Veteran’s Memorial for our junior high school students.
At the end of this month we are being asked to vote on going forward with Elementary Consolidation at the end of the school year. The current proposal is to close Randall Holden and John E. Wickes in June, and to repurpose John Brown Francis to make it the Early Childhood Center. Drumrock has outgrown its space and is no longer adequate. I do not believe that this is wise to rush into elementary consolidation this year. We need to complete the secondary consolidation—bring the sixth grades up to the junior high schools, rollout the new curriculum, and complete and fix any remaining issues in the secondary buildings.
We must put this consolidation on hold until the 2017-18 school year. It is imperative that we have a strong plan and timeframe in place to make certain elementary consolidation happens in the least disruptive manner possible.
Please share your thoughts on any other pressing issues you’d like to address as part of your campaign.
As our schools go, so goes our city! If our schools are great, people will want to live in Warwick and raise families here. If they are not, the opposite is also true. Warwick Schools were the best in the state 25-years ago. I want to work to bring our schools back—to once again, make Warwick Public Schools the best, and keep them the best.
In my more than three years on the Warwick School Committee I walked the talk. I fought the good fight, and never stopped fighting, for our children, parents, teachers, staff, and taxpayers. When I am reelected on Nov. 8, I will continue to walk the talk. I will continue to listen to all our citizens. Every member of this city is a stake holder in this community; and every stake holder is important in the goal of returning our schools and our city to greatness. It takes all of us working together to make our public school system number one!
Thank you for your confidence in me. I ask for your vote on Nov. 8.