By ARDEN BASTIA Warwick Superintendent Dr. Philip Thornton is set to be confirmed as the new superintendent of Cumberland Public Schools this evening, leaving behind a legacy former Mayor Scott Avedisian calls one of "professionalism" and "change". In a
Warwick Superintendent Dr. Philip Thornton is set to be confirmed as the new superintendent of Cumberland Public Schools this evening, leaving behind a legacy former Mayor Scott Avedisian calls one of “professionalism” and “change”.
In a statement released Tuesday, Thornton said he has “truly valued being a part of a strong administrative team in Warwick, and together much as been accomplished. I now look forward to having the opportunity to return to Cumberland and work with their School Committee, administrative team, faculty, and staff to continue the great work taking place in the district.”
Thornton joined the Warwick School Department in October 2015, after serving four years as superintendent in Cumberland and a previous stint as superintendent in North Kingstown. Before that, he spent many years as a history teacher and a school administrator. Thornton received his bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Colby College, his master’s at Providence College, and a Doctor of Education degree from Johnson & Wales University.
When hired him in 2015, Thornton came aboard on a three-year contract with a salary of $185,000. His contract was last renewed in July 2020 for one year.
Cumberland’s current superintendent, Robert Mitchell, is set to remain in his position until he retires at the end of the school year in late June.
“I wish him well as he returns to Cumberland,” wrote School Committee member David Testa in an email. “I think he came into a dysfunctional district and, over some strenuous objections, made some good changes. But there’s much more to be done if we’re to see Warwick become a high-performing district like Cumberland, because unless that changes, we’ll continue to see a loss of students. I think that his most enduring achievements are getting the district into the 21st century in terms of technology and addressing an infrastructure that has been shamefully neglected for decades.”
According to sources, some Warwick teachers are looking forward to Thornton’s move, citing communication issues and difficulties collaborating with teachers, but are apprehensive about who might fill his shoes. Assistant Superintendent Lynn Dambruch has been suggested as a possible replacement, although no candidates have been announced yet.
Warwick teachers also pointed out the school lunch debt incident of spring 2019, where it was announced that the school department had amassed over $78,000 in school lunch debt. An ensuing national media focus—sparked by a school policy that would have limited the lunch choices of students’ whose families has failed to make arrangements regarding their debt to a sunbutter and jelly sandwich—resulted in thousands of dollars in donated money from across the country.
Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh said in an interview on Wednesday that she hopes the district goes with an internal hire to fill the position.
“There are a number of people in house that have their superintendent certificate, but ultimately it’s up to the School Committee,” said Netcoh. “For continuity’s sake, I would like them to hire from within. We have some people who have been here for decades who are invested in the district and would do a good job. We don’t need to find someone outside the district and waste time to get them up to speed.”
Netcoh pointed out projects, like the high school renovations, are “extensive” and to fill someone in may take time that the district doesn’t necessarily have.
In an interview on Wednesday, former Avedisian said he’s “saddened” to see Thornton leave Warwick.
“Phil brought a great deal of professionalism to the city and school department. I was Mayor for more than 18 years and dealt with a whole bunch of superintendents. What I liked most about Phil was his great relationship with City Hall. He worked diligently to make sure we knew what was happening and were included in what was going on within the school department.”
Avedisian said he’s “grateful and thankful” to have worked alongside Thornton. “I feel very strongly that Phil’s heart was in the right place, and has a desire to improve the school system in Warwick.”
“Although our time serving Warwick has only overlapped briefly, I met frequently with Superintendent Thornton,” said Mayor Frank Picozzi in a statement on Wednesday. “I always found him very forthcoming and cooperative and willing to provide me with information. We kept each other in the loop, especially regarding financial matters and that resulted in avoiding the big budget request battle that has been a Warwick tradition. I wish the superintendent well as he moves on to another chapter in his life.”
Judith Cobden, chairperson of the School Committee, wrote in an email that she “wishes him well,” but chose not to make additional comments. According Cobden, there will be a special committee meeting on Tuesday, May 4 where details of the transition and future of the district will be discussed.