WARWICK, RI – Darlene Netcoh, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, lambasted the Warwick School Department for their handling of science programs in the district during the Warwick School Committee’s meeting at Warwick Veterans School Tuesday night.
Netcoh spoke following a presentation from representatives of GEMS-Net (The Guiding Education in Math and Science Network), a partnership among the University of Rhode Island’s School of Education, scientists and engineers, and public school districts.
“Grade 5 students will be taking the state standardized test this year,” Netcoh said. “Grade 5 teachers have not received training. They received some ‘training’ on the website for two and a half hours on the first day of school. How will this botched science program prepare the students?”
Netcoh quoted one teacher as saying “the rollout of this initiative is possibly the worst I’ve seen in my 19 years.”
Teachers complained about not receiving “hard copy manuals, no hard copy worksheets or materials for students, the chromebooks do not support the materials, there are not enough chromebooks for students.”
Netcoh said teachers were required to bring in their own materials for Grades 1, 2, and 5.
“Some elementary science is working right now, for the most part it is not,” Netcoh noted. “Eliminating the program that had been in place for 60 years to save money hasn’t produced results or even saved any money. The directives from the district as illustrated in the checklists and the e-mail from the curriculum director and the concerns and comments from teachers should serve as evidence that this district has been doing its best to destroy science education in the elementary schools.”
Committee member Nathan Cornell found the photos of the materials being used in the classrooms to be “disturbing.”
“Something definitely needs to change,” Cornell said.
“Our scores are tanking badly,” said committee member Judith Cobden, who said the GEMS-Net presentation looked “hopeful.”
“We can’t cut programs that are the core of our education,” Cobden said. “It’s not fair to the teachers and it’s ruining our kids’ education.”
“We can be nostalgic for the old program, but it didn’t work,” said Committee member David Testa. “We need to move forward on science.”
Testa said GEMS-Net was “a very good program” and said the district was dealing with the effects of a $4.5 million budget shortfall.
“We knew it was going to be challenging,” Testa added.
Committee chairwoman Karen Bachus was blunt in her assessment: “We need to get our act together.”
In other business Tuesday night, the Committee approved the calendar for 2019-2020 school year. The February vacation period will have two additional days in 2020.
“We tried to come up with the best solution from the e-mails that we got,” explained Vice-Chair Judith Cobden on Wednesday. “We know we’re not going to be able to make everybody happy.”
During the meeting’s public comments section, Netcoh urged the committee to reinstate February vacation. The committee eliminated February vacation in March 2017.
“The buildings need time to air out,” Netcoh said. “Students need time to relax, teachers need time to relax.
Mary Tashjian, the school nurse at Park Elementary School, also advocated for February break due to health issues. Tashjian reported numerous cases of strep throat last month.
“We need that time to air out, to clean out,” Tashjian said.
The Committee also agreed to obey the Commissioner of Education’s order to the General Treasurer to deduct the sum of $304,040 from the school aid owed to the Warwick School District and provide those funds to the North Kingstown School Department.
The North Kingstown school department filed the request for withholding of state aid to the city of Warwick and remission of funds to North Kingstown on Jan. 22.
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