Superintendent: Talks continue on elementary school consolidation

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Johnston Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo said conversations are continuing regarding potential elementary school consolidation, with a focus toward submitting a proposal to the Rhode Island Department of Education in September.

DiLullo told the Sun Rise during a Monday interview at his office that he and his administration have had building meetings, and the concept centers on combining three schools into one. He said all four elementary schools in town – Barnes, Winsor Hill, Thornton and Brown – are old, though Winsor Hill was “totally rejuvenated” several years ago.

He said the upkeep on the schools is sufficient, but they’re outgrowing their needs.

“So, our thinking is if we can find a parcel of land that would house a larger elementary school and design it to meet the learning needs of our current students, that would be preferable [to] rehabbing older buildings, which you can only do so much with,” he said.

DiLullo said RIDE has certain timelines in place for phasing in a project, and the first arrives in September. He is still searching for a possible site to serve as the new school’s foundation, but reaction has been generally positive thus far.

“[The response has been favorable] in terms of, ‘Yes, this is what we need,’” he said. “The details are not really firmed up, so no one’s really reacting to details yet.”

DiLullo provided some additional updates regarding the school district, including preparations for the second round of Rhode Island Common Assessment System, or RICAS, testing. He said that Johnston’s performance across the board “wasn’t stellar,” with drops seen for Winsor Hill and Ferri Middle School.

A report in the Sun Rise from December 2018 showed that just 17.9 percent of Ferri students scored as proficient in English language arts, and just 16.7 percent in math. Winsor Hill’s math scores tumbled from 25.7 to 15.1 percent proficient.

There were some improvements, though. Brown Avenue was down in math, from 60.3 to 54.7, but jumped from 56.5 to 62.6 percent proficiency in ELA. Barnes experienced more than a 5 percent spike in ELA – from 38.7 to 44 percent – despite a slight fall in math.

ELA proficiency results district-wide dropped about 3.5 percent compared to 2017, falling to 27.6 percent. Math overall dipped to 23.3 percent.

“Math tends to be a little bit of a weak point,” DiLullo said.

He said the district has brought in a math coach, aligning the curriculum from kindergarten up to grade 12, and the technology department has expanded and curriculum integration specialists have been added at all three levels.

He also noted that Debra Sgambato has been added as a literacy integration specialist, working between kindergarten and grade 8.

DiLullo said it hasn’t been easy keeping up with the different assessments that have come and gone in Rhode Island during his nine years as superintendent. There was the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, which gave way to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

The state switched once more last spring to RICAS, which is similar to the Massachusetts assessment. However, Massachusetts has developed the test over the past two decades, while Rhode Island districts are still adjusting.

“There’s a problem, obviously, and the problem is not only the assessments but also the standards have changed pretty frequently,” DiLullo said. “ It’s difficult to stay on top of it. It’s difficult to get our teachers to learn what they need to learn to teach the kids to be consistent in terms of what those standards are.”

DiLullo added that the first of two school budget workshops will be held Tuesday, March 19, at 5 p.m. He said the district doesn't expect its state aid figure to change much this year, and he expects to stick around the usual $53 million overall budget.

“We always do a series of layoffs in terms of positions in the school district, in preparation for that budget period, just in case we need to either reduce staffing or reduce services,” DiLullo said. “We always kind of take those precautions, which gives us some flexibility around making changes if the budget requires us to do that.”

DiLullo said the workshops will feature a line-by-line analysis of the budget, and the public is welcome to attend. He is aiming to turn the budget in by April 1.

“[We] kind of say what the projected expenditures will be, and we do try to stay within the limits in terms of money we’re projecting to get for next year,” DiLullo said of the workshops.

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