2017-09-14 / Front Page

Parents Voice Anger at Change in Pell Hours

By Brooke Constance White

The message from parents to the Newport School District’s administration during a recent school committee meeting was loud and clear: Involve parents when making major decisions about matters such as the last-minute change to the Pell Elementary School’s hours.

A group of unhappy parents at the Sept. 12 meeting took to the podium in Pell’s auditorium for more than an hour, sharing frustrations that the district’s bus service, Durham School Services, requested a change in school hours to accommodate for afternoon traffic that was making buses continually late to pick up students last year.

Although district bus drivers had practiced driving the route to find ways of avoiding the traffic and making the schedule work, after receiving updated data regarding routes and increasing enrollment, it became clear to John Rivers, general manager of Durham School Services, that it would be impossible to get to Pell by dismissal at 3:15 p.m.

The revelation prompted Newport Superintendent Colleen Jermain to request the committee adjust the Pell school’s start from 8:45 a.m. to 9 a.m., and end time from 3:15 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., so that students are properly supervised and to mitigate the likelihood of any safety issues. Several parents said they were appalled that the committee approved the change during a special meeting on Aug. 27, less than two weeks before the start of school. Still others placed the responsibility on the bus company, saying its representatives should have told Jermain much earlier that a change in hours was necessary.

Committee member David Carlin and Chairman David Hanos voted against the change on Aug. 27, while committee members Rebecca Bolan, Kathleen Silvia, Dr. Sandra Flowers and Raymond Gomes all voted in favor of the adjustment. Jo Eva Gaines was not present for the vote. One concerned parent, Mike Turskey, called the vote to approve the change “intolerable, inconsiderate and grossly negligent.”

In Turskey’s opinion, the only job as a school committee member is to represent residents and their interests. “You failed us, and your ex

In making a unilateral decision without informing parents of the possible change, Aida Neary, another Pell parent, said the group deprived itself of community input and inconvenienced hundreds of parents and caregivers. “Did you think about the ramifications of this decision?” she asked committee members. “How many of us can afford to be late every day and possibly lose our jobs?”

Another resident, Kendra Munter, brought up the safety concerns related to students getting off at their bus stops at 4:30 p.m. when the sun sets around 4:10 p.m in December. She also said that backups from parent pickups and buses loading students, as well as the soon-to-resume Pell Bridge work could cause further delays in students getting home in the afternoons.

“We’ll have kindergarteners getting off the bus in the dark,” Munter said. “This has just created so many problems that probably could have been avoided. But we, as parents, we want to be a part of the discussion and we want to be heard. We deserve to be heard.”

The debate, according to Pell parent Julia Merkel, came down to lack of outreach and communication between the school committee, district administration and parents, which she called a “fundamental issue for the district.”

Although the committee did not decide on the matter Tuesday night, they agreed the issue must be reevaluated and input from parents taken into consideration.

Hanos told attendees he was concerned about the adverse effects on so many, but also relieved the discussion was happening and that concerns from parents were being aired.

“Clearly we need to continue to work on this as we understand that there is a large volume of people who have to change their lifestyles because of this change,” he said. “I don’t know how to unring the bell that’s been rung right now but perhaps we need to have a workshop on school start time to talk this out more.”

Jermain apologized to parents for not seeking their input and informing them of the change sooner, and promised to communicate more effectively in the future. She told parents that if they are struggling to get kids to school then get themselves to work on time, they should contact the school’s staff to talk about their needs and find a solution. In Other News: .The school committee heard from two concerned Pell teachers who said the school’s two music rooms are being utilized to accommodate the elementary school’s ever-increasing enrollment. Music teacher Scott McEneaney said he was concerned that classrooms sponsored by certain donors and organizations were not being used the way donors had been led to believe. Pell Art Teacher Diane Sheehan said the whole scenario made her question if the kids are being put first.

“We are falling short and we are asking for your help,” she said. “We must regain the state-of-the-art music rooms at Pell to be used as they were designed to be.” . Rogers High School Principal Jared Vance expressed concern over the high school’s 80 or so exterior doors, which are unlocked during school hours, and informed the committee of the possibility of hiring a local security firm to provide hall monitors to help secure and observe the entranceways. The safety of all in the building is of the utmost importance, Vance said. Aside from making sure that all entrances were secure, the monitors would escort visitors to meetings or offices and radio to administration if a student was leaving the building. While the committee agreed that efforts to secure the high school should be made, they decided to table the matter while considering other possibilities. . A proposal by Niko Merrit, founder of Sankofa Community Connection, to have community members cheer on students and offer encouragement as they walk into school several times a year, was unanimously approved by the committee.

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