WARWICK, RI — In 2015, Phil Thornton left his Cumberland superintendent job to take over Warwick Schools leadership decapitated by the fallout of the Atoyan scandal detailed in the siloed Ragosta Report, and now he’s headed back.
“Yes, he is going to Cumberland,” said Warwick School Committee Chairwoman Judy Cobden, when reached to seek confirmation of the news, announced fleetingly before being deleted from a Warwick Schools employee’s social media account.
Cobden characterized the development as a “good thing,” and added, “I wish him luck.”
School Committee member David Testa confirmed the news.
This morning, Thornton released a statement about his new job.
“I have been offered and am accepting the position of Superintendent for the Cumberland School Department. I have truly valued being a part of a strong administrative team in Warwick and together much has been accomplished. I now look forward to having the opportunity to return to Cumberland and work with their School Committee, administrative team, faculty, and staff to continue the great work taking place in the district,” Thornton said in a statement.
Thornton has been the Superintendent of Warwick Schools, Rhode Island’s third largest school district, since October 2015. His career includes four years of experience as superintendent in Cumberland, and a previous stint as Superintendent in North Kingstown. Before that, he spent many years as a history teacher and a school administrator.
At the time Thornton took the helm at Warwick Public Schools, the district was recovering from the scandal of their handling of allegations about a Gorton Jr. High science teacher’s inappropriate conduct with students. Science Teacher Mario Atoyan, placed on leave pending the results of his day in court on sexual assault charges that March, had previously been accused of sexual misconduct with students.
The Ragosta Report, a public document paid for by the Warwick School Committee which they and the Warwick School Department refused to disclose for more than a year during Thornton’s time in office, uncovered the scandal. Warwick School administrators Richard D’Agostino, superintendent at the time, Dennis Mullen, the former director of Secondary Education, and former Warwick Schools compliance officer and director of human resources Rosemary Healey, first minimized and then denied accusations of sexual misconduct with students against Atoyan, according to Ragosta’s account.
During Thornton’s leadership, the Warwick School Department continued to deny public access to the Ragosta Report, and also denied the Warwick City Council access to the document, defying The Warwick City Council’s subpoena of the report, forcing a judge to order them to fork it over. Once the Warwick City Council had the report in hand, it also denied the public at large access, as did Mayor Scott Avedisian’s administration.
When the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office ruled Warwick must turn over the report, Healey, still director of human resources under Thornton, threatened the Warwick Post and the Warwick Beacon with defamation lawsuits to prevent the details from being disclosed. Healey was not successful in quashing the story, but she did earn a WGBH Muzzle Award for her trouble.
Thornton’s entrance into the stormy field of Warwick Public Schools and participation in the government-spanning cover-up of the Ragosta Report were not the only scandals of note during his tenure.
That year Thornton also earned a no-confidence vote from the Warwick Teacher’s Union as he continued negotiations union leaders saw as an aggressive stance, accusing Thornton of spending money on lawyers and a PR firm instead of negotiating a new contract.
Cobden said the Warwick School Committee will likely discuss the personnel change in executive session during their next meeting.