2016-11-17 / Around Town

School Strategic Plan Will ‘Bring Joy Back into the Classroom’

By Betsy Sherman Walker

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, the Newport School Committee voted to approve the strategic plan, known as OneNewport, that first saw the light of day in November of 2015. The vote was 5-2, with David Carlin and Robert Leary voting against. In favor were Rebecca Bolan, Sandra Flowers, Chair Jo Eva Gaines, David Hanos, and Kathy Silvia. The next step is for the plan to be submitted to the City Council for approval.

The vote seemed premature to some, and timely to others. “This is a living document; a pathway to improvement,” said a clearly flummoxed Gaines when a last-minute motion arose to delay the vote until December and the inaugural meeting of the new School Committee. “None of it is written in stone,” she said. “We will be constantly reviewing it.”

Superintendent Colleen Jermain was also more than ready to move forward. “One of the concerns,” she said, “is that we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on these things.”

The public face of OneNewport has been out there for a while, having been presented at numerous workshops and discussed at others. In its final iteration on Oct. 27 at Pell School, the committee presented the plan’s four primary goals: reading and math proficiency for every third-grader; a 100 percent graduation rate for Newport high school students, a vision that incorporates the “academic, vocational, and technical skills required for them to be confident and succeed in the next path of their career”; the One- Newport concept, which brings schools and community together to enable students to “succeed and contribute to Newport’s future economy and social well-being”; and creating a professional work environment with a “high-achieving and powerful learning community where faculty, students and families” will want to live and work.

The end game: “A strong educational system will build a strong city with a strong future.”

Pulling together students, teachers, members of the School Committee and City Council, the One- Newport Task Force was formed in November of 2015. Breaking into a core team and sub-teams, they met weekly for five months. According to Ken Nomiyama, chair of the Strategic Plan Subcommittee, as the work evolved and ideas got traction, it became clear that the quality of education in Newport was directly linked to the quality of life in Newport. And quality of life, in turn, is linked to a vigorous, engaged population.

“The population of Newport is not increasing,” said Nomiyama. “Education is what’s going to make Newport. If young parents are going to want to move to Newport and stay to raise their families,” the schools have to meet – or exceed – their expectations.

The plan has outlined seven strategic areas. The first, early childhood education, linked two goals: the need (regarded by many as the most urgent) for a strong collaborative effort between schools and social service organizations in establishing an early childhood program which, among other items, sets “specific benchmarks for all… students to reach proficiency by grade three"; and to closely monitor child development from birth to three years.

Other strategies involve integrating technology in the classroom, developing student learning plans, changing the learning climate and culture (“bring joy back into the classroom for teachers”), paying closer attention to the building of career pathways (“the more vested the student…the more they attend school and engage”), and increasing faculty professional development and empowerment. Also on the list is community engagement and partnerships.

According to Nomiyama, the current plan can trace its roots somewhat to the work done by the city’s Finance Review Committee, formed in 2013, of which he was a member. Its job, he said, was “to define the quality of life in Newport.” The group’s charter “was to assess the city’s finances [and] make recommendations to the City Council.”

OneNewport, Nomiyama told Newport This Week, also has a predecessor. In 2010 a like-minded initiative presented “Transforming Education in Newport Strategic Plan 2010-2015,” with similar goals driven by a similar strategy. Similar, but with one major difference: The concept that a strong educational system can – and should – play a crucial role in the economic stability of the city.

“This is going to be a strong upward evolution from where it’s been,” said Nomiyama. “There is a strong thrust to make a difference.” He points to such efforts, embedded in the initiatives, to keep connected to students once they graduate. “They won’t be dropped once they get out of Rogers. We’ll keep our attachment to them, keep them working and productive.”

Jermain has been a vocal supporter all along. “Everything all of us do in this room is connected,” she told a roomful of people at a Rhode Island Kids Count presentation in early October. Making Newport a “healthy safe place to live” is key, she said. “One Newport means a stronger school system, and stronger schools mean a stronger Newport.”

Return to top