ELECTION 2016 NEWPORT SCHOOL COMMITTEE
7 incumbents, 4 challengers have their say during forum
By Sean Flynn – Staff writer
NEWPORT – Since all seven incumbents are running for reelection to the School Committee, a candidates forum held Tuesday night gave four challengers in the race a chance to introduce themselves to the public and highlight what they would bring to the committee if elected. The incumbents spoke about their achievements as committee members.
Raymond F. Gomes, Adrienne C. Haylor, Jennifer E. Jackson and Hank Kniskern are all making their first run for municipal office, while Rebecca Bolan, David R. Carlin III, Sandra J. Flowers, Jo Eva Gaines, David C. Hanos Jr., Robert J. Leary and Kathleen M. Silvia are seeking to return to the School Committee.
They all participated in a forum sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport held in the cafetorium of the Pell Elementary School. They answered questions posed by Jane Koster, president of the Rhode Island League of Women Voters.
Former School Committee member Thomas S. Phelan, who was not re-elected in 2014, is the fifth challenger on the ballot. He informed ALN he could not attend the forum, said the group’s co-president Ron Becker, who moderated the discussion.
Gomes said he decided to run for the committee when Carlin, Hanos, Leary and Bolan voted on June 15 to unilaterally remove Rogers High School Principal Jeff Goss as principal and make him the assistant superintendent, while promoting Rogers Assistant Principal Christianne Fisher to the principal’s job. They took those actions without a recommendation from School Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain.
The committee then voted 6-1 on June 21 to backpedal and rescind the vote it took the previous week after it received legal advice that what it did was illegal. Carlin, the sponsor of the resolution that made the personnel changes, was the only member to stand firm by his initial vote.
“That is why I’m running,” said Gomes, who is a building and fire code consultant. “That vote demonstrated to me a School Committee in distress.”
Kniskern led the community team behind the “One Newport” effort this year to come up with a strategic plan for the school district as a whole. He would like to serve on the committee to implement those recommendations and proposals and challenged the School Committee to approve the plan “in concept” at its November regular meeting.
Work on the plan began in January and there are still some curriculum details to be worked out with teachers’ input, he said.
Kniskern also addressed some of the divisiveness on the committee during the past two years.
“The committee has not been functional as a team, instead micromanaging and undercutting the administration,” he said.
Kniskern recently retired as a professor teaching business management at Roger Williams University. He previously taught strategy and decision making at the Naval War College after a career of more than 30 years with AT& T and successor firms, where he dealt with changing technologies and management change. At the end of the forum, candidates were asked to answer “yes” or “no” to a series of a questions, and afterwards had a chance to elaborate on their answers.
Jackson, who works as a parttime receptionist at the Pell Annex that houses pre-kindergarten classes, was the only candidate who said she would support having a new charter school in the city. The Paul E. Crowley East Bay Met School is located here.
“We need alternative avenues of learning for our children,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be the traditional way of teaching for all children.”
If there were ways of bringing those alternative methods of teaching into the public schools, she would support those, she said.
Haylor, who grew up in Newport and retired last year after an education career in California and moved back to her hometown, also served on the community group that developed the proposed strategic plan this year.
“The School Committee is key to supporting the five-year strategic plan,” she said. “I would like to serve on the committee and implement the plan.”
Haylor often attends School Committee meetings and meetings of the School Committee-City Council Liaison Subcommittee, and she agreed with some of the indicators of a “committee in distress” that was the basis of one of Koster’s questions.
In this composite of two photos taken at Tuesday’s Newport School Committee candidates forum sponsored the Alliance for a Livable Newport, Raymond Gomes, second from left, answers a question. Also pictured, from left, are Hank Kniskern, David Carlin III, Jennifer Jackson, Robert Leary, Sandra Flowers, Rebecca Bolan and Kathleen Silvia.
Dave Hansen | Staff photos
Newport School Committee candidate Adrienne Haylor, center, answers a question while Jo Eva Gaines and David Hanos Jr. listen during Tuesday’s forum at Pell Elementary School.
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“There is a failure to support majority decisions and failure to support the school superintendent,” she said.
“At times, the School Committee is not functioning to full capacity because of distractions,” she said. When there are divisive issues before the committee, Carlin is often a focus of the discussion.
“Disagreement and discussion are healthy,” he said. “I believe I can be both for the students and for the taxpayers.”
He said he is “not a rubber stamp.”
When the candidates were asked if they would support increasing pre-kindergarten enrollment in the public schools, only Carlin and Leary said they would not.
“Wedon’thavetheresources,” Carlin said. “The federal government pays for the pre-kindergarten for special-needs students (now offered). If the federal or state governments pay, great.”
Leary said other providers such as Child & Family, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and others offer pre-kindergarten services.
“We don’t want to put them out of business,” he said.
Kathleen Silvia, who co-chairs the School Committee’s Pre-Kindergarten Subcommittee, strongly supported pre-K classes as important for preparing children for entering kindergarten so that they all have equal educational opportunities.
Silvia, who retired as city clerk before running for the committee in 2014, praised the ability of the School Committee and City Council to work together the past two years and provide the School Department with more funding for school improvements.
Hanos, who also was first elected in 2014, said his focus on the committee has been to rebuild and add resources to the Newport Area Career & Technical Center, so that students who are not on a college path are trained for well-paying jobs.
That effort has been successful, he said, and he would work to continue to improve NACTC.
Bolan, who is a certified teacher not teaching now and is married to a retired Navy pilot, said when military families move to the area, they look at standardized test scores in the area schools. Because scores in Newport are low, she said some families turn away from the city’s schools.
However, those families that move here and have children in the schools love the schools, she said.
She said it is important that math and reading scores are boosted through intervention.
Flowers said it is important to have standardized tests that align with the curriculum being taught in the classroom. For example, the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests were testing geometry skills of some students who had not completed a class in the subject, she said.
Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests are better aligned with the curriculum now being taught, she said.
“We need to raise our expectations on what our students can do,” Gaines said. “We have to push our kids to top performance.”
She said the city has the resources and opportunities in place to make Newport one of the best school districts in the state.