2016-06-23 / Front Page

Decision on Principal Revisited

By Barry Bridges

Following a June 14 vote that reassigned Rogers High School Principal Jeffrey Goss to be the district’s assistant superintendent and named Assistant Principal Christianne Fisher as interim principal at Rogers, the Newport School Committee has reversed course.

Meeting again on Tuesday, June 21, the committee voted 6-1 to “rescind the realignment of administrators.” The action was taken without discussion, and committee member David Carlin cast the vote to keep the previous week’s decision in place.

After the earlier vote was rescinded, committee member Sandra Flowers told Newport This Week that the rationale for revisiting the issue was “the realization that making those administrative changes goes against the Rhode Island General Laws in that it took personnel responsibilities, such as interviewing and hiring, out of the hands of the superintendent. [The members who changed their votes] were worried about state law.”

The reassignments had been put forward the previous week by Carlin, who described the idea as a way to save money. He was supported by Rebecca Bolan, David Hanos, and Robert Leary, who together with Carlin formed a majority in enacting the measure on June 14.

With the imminent retirement of current Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Booth, Carlin asserted that the personnel changes would alleviate the need to bring on a new hire, although the arrangement apparently would have meant the end of the assistant principalship at Rogers.

“I believe that we are able to do the necessary work that the district requires without adding more staff,” he said after the June 14 vote.

But Carlin’s measure did not sit well with Committee Chair Jo Eva Gaines. Upon its approval, she promptly filed a request with the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for an advisory opinion on the legality of the move.

She told Newport This Week, “The vote that was taken [to reassign Goss and Fisher] was not done according to Rhode Island law. The superintendent runs the district. The School Committee sets policy. We do not run the district…. We do not assign personnel. That’s the superintendent’s job. I want to get a ruling from the Department of Education as to whether or not this was a legal, legitimate vote.”

But it’s not completely clear if saving money was the only impetus underlying Carlin’s efforts.

Several sources confirmed with Newport This Week that in an informal survey taken among 42 Rogers teachers in early June, 30 expressed “no confidence” in Goss. It was not long thereafter that Carlin introduced his motion to realign roles.

Rogers social studies teacher Coleen Hermes perhaps alluded to the poll in making public comments prior to the committee’s vote on June 21 to rescind. She said she was unsure if the “real story” had been reported, and thanked Bolan, Carlin, Hanos, and Leary for supporting a realignment and for “listening to the concerns of a majority of teachers at Rogers in a way that was not an embarrassment to the schools or to individuals.”

In an emailed query to the seven School Committee members, most did not respond to Newport This Week on whether the teachers’ sentiments played a part in reassigning Goss. The exception was Flowers, who was “totally surprised” to hear of the teachers’ vote.

Rogers has had five principals since 2011. Patti DiCenso was principal for six years before moving to the Pawtucket district in December of 2011. James Nelson assumed the helm until August of 2014, when he left for a teaching position at Mount Pleasant High School in Providence. Christianne Fisher and Gerald Foley then served in brief interim roles before Goss signed on in December of 2014.

Also offering comments to the committee was Newporter Tod Murphy, who said, “Five years, five principals; that is not a good record.”

Regardless of the reasons behind the reassignments, they are now undone. Gaines said that notwithstanding that fact, she has no intention of withdrawing her request for an advisory opinion from RIDE.

“I’m happy the vote was rescinded, as it makes the committee look less culpable, but I’m not dropping the matter.” She added that state officials may choose to weigh in so that there will be guidance for similar situations in the future.

School Committee counsel Neil Galvin said he is not at liberty at this time to offer his thoughts on whether the committee’s move on Goss and Fisher would have withstood legal scrutiny.

“Until the request at RIDE is resolved, it would not be appropriate for me to comment,” he said. He added that he discussed Carlin’s proposal with committee members in confidential executive sessions.

With the personnel actions revoked, Gaines said that it would be appropriate for Superintendent Colleen Jermain to proceed with her search for the best candidate to fill the assistant superintendent’s position that will become vacant with Booth’s departure.

In other matters, the School Committee:

y Received comments from English Department Chair Zinovia Canale on what she referred to as a “reading crisis at Rogers High School.” Forty-four percent of the incoming freshmen, she said, are reading below their grade level, and 26 percent are reading at a third-grade level. Canale added that 14 years ago, the school implemented a comprehensive reading program. “None of that is in place right now,” she told the committee, “and we can’t expect the teachers to solve the problem.” y Heard from Zoe Rogers and Brigid Murphy, sophomores at Rogers, who are opposed to the school start time change from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. Despite the argument that a well-rested teenager is a better learner, Rogers said that “our conclusion is that it would be more convenient to stick to the traditional schedule.” They supported their comments with a petition signed by 240 students. However, the committee did not revisit its previous vote to change start times beginning with the new academic year in September.

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