2016-08-11 / Around Town

Behan Named to District Post

By Betsy Sherman Walker

On Tuesday, Aug. 9, members of the Newport School Committee elevated Pell Elementary School principal Dr. Kimberly Behan to be the district’s assistant superintendent. The position was recently vacated by Dr. Jennifer Booth, who announced her retirement in April.

In executive session prior to the two-hour regular meeting where the vote was taken, the committee met with Behan for a final interview. The parties agreed to a two-year contract, with exact terms still under negotiation.

After the committee’s 6-1 vote making the hire official, Superintendent Colleen Jermain pointed to the “success and growth at Pell” and praised Behan’s qualifications as an educator, organizer and administrator. “Pell is a state-of-theart school moving forward, which is something she will bring to all of our schools,” said Jermain. “I am very, very excited and so happy that Dr. Behan is taking on this huge task.”

Behan spoke briefly. “I have worked really hard for our Newport students,” she told the room. “I am committed, dedicated, and will work to be a catalyst for change. I am Newport.”

The appointment followed an attempt earlier this summer by committee member David Carlin to reorganize several positions in the school administration. Under that plan, Rogers High School principal Jeffrey Goss would have assumed the assistant superintendent’s role. Initially adopted by the School Committee on June 14, that realignment was rescinded a week later over concerns about the legality of the move.

While Carlin had nothing but praise for Behan on Tuesday, he objected that the public was not involved in the hiring decision. He referenced local Policy 4612, which specifies that for high-level hires, the “School Committee may interview the person or persons recommended by the superintendent in a forum open to the public.”

Not exercising that option “was a shame and insult,” Carlin told Newport This Week. “We are totally removing the public from the process. Members of the committee ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Jermain was confident that proper protocol had been followed, considering the permissive word “may” in the policy. She added that an open forum could be hosted so that the public could meet Behan and ask questions.

“According to our legal counsel, we correctly followed policy,” Committee Chair Jo Eva Gaines asserted.

Citing his procedural concerns, Carlin cast the lone vote against hiring Behan.

In other personnel matters, four new hires were announced: Rogers will get new teachers for Spanish and math; a school psychologist was brought on for Rogers and Thompson Middle School; and the Newport Area Career and Technical Center (NACTC) will have a new assistant.

Newport employs a total of 66 paraprofessionals (educator’s parlance for a classroom, or teacher’s aide). There are currently eight vacancies; Committee member Robert Leary commented that he thought the number was high and wondered how other Rhode Island communities compared.

Gaines responded that the number is based on student need. “Newport is so unique,” explained Director of Student Services Allynn Grantham. “It has a high poverty level and a small population,” which leads to a higher concentration of children in need.

The meeting culminated in a quick vetting of “One Newport,” the rubric for the soon-to-be-launched strategic plan. “This is our calling card to others,” Jermain explained, “that we take our work seriously.”

“High school is not what it used to be,” she added. The overriding goal, to have students “walk the stage, graduate with a plan,” she added, cannot be done without the empowerment of the faculty. “We must allow them to do what they do best,” she said, “and that is teach.”

Committee members may have a chance to clarify their understanding of school policies on Thursday, Aug. 12, when the duties and responsibilities of School Committee members will be discussed in a public workshop, “School Committee 101.”

“I expect perfect attendance,” Gaines announced. The committee also:

.Unanimously agreed to request that the Newport City Council transfer funds in the amount of $24,000 from the Newport Prevention Coalition Grant to support a student assistance counselor for Rogers and Thompson for the 2016-2017 academic year;

.Unanimously agreed to a nearly $74,000 allotment for the College and Career Readiness agreement with Child & Family, a two-year agreement for a coordinator who will provide support in establishing career development, work readiness, and academic planning at NACTC; and

.Briefly discussed the longterm budget outlook. Fiscal watchdog Robert Leary mentioned that he would soon be examining “the numbers” for the 2016 audit, and predicted that future school budgets will be impacted from Newport's loss of $1 million in tax revenues if Tiverton voters go to the polls in November and welcome Newport Grand across the river.

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