2014-12-11 / Front Page

Enrollment Down in Schools

By James Merolla


Newport's Natalie Pfanstiehl (1938 Rogers High School graduate) presents Newport School Committee Chair Jo Eva Gaines with the watercolor painting Natalie donated in memory of her art teacher, Mary Harvey. The painting, and dedicated plaque, will be on display at Rogers in honor of all the students that the former teacher inspired. Newport's Natalie Pfanstiehl (1938 Rogers High School graduate) presents Newport School Committee Chair Jo Eva Gaines with the watercolor painting Natalie donated in memory of her art teacher, Mary Harvey. The painting, and dedicated plaque, will be on display at Rogers in honor of all the students that the former teacher inspired. The old met the new at the first meeting of the newly-formed Newport School Committee on Tuesday evening, Dec. 9.

New members David C. Hanos, Jr., David Carlin III, and Kathleen Silvia served at their first meeting. Hanos was named the board’s new vice chair, while Jo Eva Gaines, re-elected for a seventh term, was named the new chair.

Beyond the personnel, the committee’s 2015-2016 goals were brought to the forefront, starting with a push to increase graduation rates at Rogers High School.

The board said it will dedicate itself to using all resources to raise matriculation rates by no less than four percent next year and the following year. Last June, 68 percent of Rogers seniors graduated. The committee wants a jump to at least 72 percent this June, with four percent more in 2016.

“We want to be able to claim success,” said Gaines. “It’s realistic,” added committee member Sandra J. Flowers. “You don’t want to set a goal where you are guaranteeing failure.”

Committee member Rebecca Bolan said her colleagues must “take the time to know who these students are. The trends in graduation rates start in the eighth grade. We can [reach] four percent this year and see that increase even more next year. I know the superintendent has made this a huge concern.”

Other goals discussed at the meeting included:

. A reduction in truancy;

. Continued growth of the Early Learning and Head Start programs;

. An increase in the number of high school advanced placement courses from six to eight;

. Increased enrollment at the Newport Area Career and Technical Center.

The committee will vote on these goals in January.

In other matters, the committee officially placed the number of students in the Newport school system, fittingly, at 2,015 for the year 2015. Superintendent Colleen Jermain said the numbers are constantly in flux and down slightly from last year. Some 574 students enrolled at Rogers High School in September, but that figure dropped to 563 in October and now stands at 554.

“Students move in and out,” said Jermain. “Some have left the community. Some have reached the age of 18. We know where they are. We will keep track of them and we are still following up.”

While the top tier of public school students is decreasing, kindergarten enrollment is up to just under 200 students, which required the city to hire an extra teacher. “At the 11th hour, we had to hire a ninth kindergarten teacher,” said Jermain.

A report on student homelessness showed a slight rise from 32 children last year to 36 recorded this year. “Last year, we had 17 families who were listed as homeless,” said Jermain. “This month, we [noted] 19 homeless families, mostly at the elementary school level.”

Jermain said that true figures were probably underreported, due to several factors, including not wanting to be labeled in this category. “Poverty does matter,” said Gaines. “This is what we are finding out. It’s a sad state of affairs when kids are sleeping in cars at night.”

Looking ahead, Gaines mentioned the myriad challenges her board will face in the next two years, like student homelessness.

“I think I have a good handle on where we need to go. [The previous committee] had a lot of challenges, but we did a lot of good. We have new blood here and I am looking forward to two years of good things happening for Newport kids,” said Gaines.

It was also reported that awardwinning artist Natalie Pfanstiehl donated a waterfront painting to the Rogers High art program in memory of her former art teacher, Mary Harvey.

Pfanstiehl, a 1938 graduate of Rogers High, has taught watercolor painting for more than 30 years and has won more than 68 awards. “It is an honor donating this painting,” Pfanstiehl told the committee. “The reason I’m giving this to you is because of my love for Mary Harvey. She encouraged so many of us to apply to R.I.S.D. and we made it. We owe her so much and we owe Rogers High School so much.”

In executive session, the committee voted 5-0 with one abstention and one recusal to allow Gaines to represent the Newport schools at the Statehouse in the matter of state pension lawsuits, an ongoing issue.

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