2014-08-14 / Front Page

Rogers Principal Resigns

Assistant Principal Also Named at Pell
By Barry Bridges

Newport Schools Superintendent Colleen Jermain has announced that James Nelson, the principal of Rogers High School for the last two-and-a-half years, has submitted his resignation. Nelson provided a two-week notice, with a departure date of Aug. 26.

In a brief statement at the conclusion of the School Committee’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 12, Jermain said, “He is a fine man and I appreciate all of his efforts. Although I cannot reveal anything further, he felt that it was in the best interest of the community that he let his plans be known.”

“I will put in an interim as soon as possible so that we can all move forward together in finding a new principal,” she reported.

Nelson assumed the helm at Rogers in December of 2011 after serving as vice principal for four years. He succeeded Patti DiCenso, who was principal for over six years before accepting a position with the Pawtucket school system. She is now the interim superintendent there.

At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, Rogers’ total enrollment across grades 9 through 12 was 524 students.

School committee member Robert Power told Newport This Week that although he was aware that Nelson might be interested in another role at the high school, his departure is “a big surprise to everyone.”

Although not privy to Nelson’s plans for the future, Power said, “My years of experience in education tell me that an administrator at that level is going to go to another position somewhere else.”

As for an interim principal, Power explained, “The superintendent will look at possible in-house candidates but also to the broader educational community where there are a number of retired administrators. There is a pool of people out there who may be available to do interim work, and we will of course try to find the best fit.”

Power also elaborated on the timing of the resignation at the beginning of a new academic year. “It’s never a great time, but it’s actually better to have it happen as school starts rather than in the middle of the year. Although, it may be that the eventual permanent replacement begins work mid-stream.”

In additional personnel actions, the committee approved two inhouse candidates for administrative jobs at Pell Elementary School. Fourth-grade teacher Traci Westman was named assistant principal and kindergarten teacher Dale Blaess was chosen as the elementary curriculum and operations coordinator. Both positions are effective immediately with an initial term of one year.

Westman and Blaess were praised by Jermain and committee members. “Congratulations to our superintendent on her choices. These are great teachers with excellent reputations,” said Jo Eva Gaines. Sandra Flowers commented, “I think it’s refreshing that there are opportunities for people to move up from within. These individuals have wonderful resum├ęs.”

Pell originally had two principals, and Westman’s appointment follows the schools’ decision earlier this year not to renew the contract of Lower School Principal Jane Perkins. Describing the move to a principal/ assistant principal model, Jermain described her considerable efforts in studying the operational and security needs at Pell. She felt that the restructuring was a better fit for the school.

Jermain also gave priority to internal candidates, as she wants interested teachers to have the opportunity to move into administrative roles.

Prior to the vote ratifying the appointments, Committee Vice-Chair Thomas Phelan expressed his unease with the change in the leadership framework and the selection process. “My concern is that we were supposed to have two principals. Now we’ll have one principal and one vice principal. Also, there was one internal and 44 outside applicants, but there was only one interview. For the other position, there was one internal and 19 outside applicants. External people wasted their time filling out the paperwork. I have a problem with that.”

Jermain reiterated that the new structure was designed to encourage internal candidates to become invested in the schools. Power added, “Our superintendent has a tremendous amount of experience with Pell. She has invested a lot of time there and we should follow her recommendations.”

“Both of these positions will continue to increase efficiency and will help us implement the school improvement plans for student achievement at Pell,” said Jermain. In other matters:

. A policy on academic eligibility for participation in extracurricular activities at Rogers was suspended pending further review. Committee members were concerned that the present rules regarding weaknesses in middle school performance, which do not apply to pupils entering Rogers from other districts, discriminate against Thompson students entering the ninth grade.

. Jermain reported that lease negotiations are ongoing for two early-learning classrooms at Middletown’s Kennedy School. While optimistic that a plan for using the space will be finalized before school begins, she is working to ensure that the proper licensing and inspections are completed before Newport commits to an agreement.

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