Commission approves posting for new East Providence Special Education director

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EAST PROVIDENCE — Her new leadership team nearly complete, recently hired Superintendent of East Providence Schools Kim Mercer received approval from the Budget Commission Thursday, May 23, to hire a permanent Director of Pupil Personnel Services, a position that oversees the department’s Special Education division.

By a consensus 5-0 vote, the Commission, at its most recent meeting, granted Mrs. Mercer the ability to post and, along with City Human Resources Director Kathleen Waterbury, select a candidate to fill the job, which has been manned on an interim basis by Cheryl Ursillo for more than the last two school terms.

“It’s very important to get this position filled,” Mrs. Mercer said of the Pupil Personnel role in her administration. “It’s a critical part of our department.”

Mrs. Mercer and Ms. Waterbury had previously asked the Commission’s approval to post and fill the position, doing so at the May 2 meeting of the state overseers. They were rebuffed at that time, however, due to concerns expressed by Commission members over the compensation package they wished to offer.

The position, under the Commission’s five-year fiscal plan, was budgeted to pay a package of some $125,000. Mrs. Mercer, considering the import of the job and the requirements of it, requested that figure be raised to near $139,000. The offset would come from the savings the School Department gained by hiring a Director of Education, the de facto assistant superintendent, at some $23,000 less than had been budgeted.

Mrs. Mercer and City Finance Director Malcolm Moore offered the Commission a detailed breakdown of the offset Thursday, allaying the Commission’s uncertainty on the matter.

With the approval in hand, Mrs. Mercer said she would like to have permanent hire in place as soon as possible, which likely means sometime over the summer if not sooner. The possibility exists the position could be up for further discussion at the next scheduled Budget Commission meeting tentatively set for Thursday, June 13.

The Commission’s recent decision allowing the superintendent to move forward comes about six weeks after Mrs. Mercer filled two of the other high level positions in the school department.

Julie A. Motta and Dawn August were recently chosen to fill the vacancies and each were approved by the School Committee to the posts when the latter still retained the authority to hire prior to the reinstatement of the Budget Commission for personnel matters on April 18.

Mrs. Motta becomes the Director of Education, a position created by the Commission that closely mirrors that of what was previously called Assistant Superintendent. Ms. August becomes the School Department’s Curriculum Director, a position left vacant with the recent resignation of Beth Salzillo.

“I really like the team we’re putting together,” Mrs. Mercer said after the May 23 Commission meeting. “Both Julie and Dawn are very good at what they do. They’re both highly qualified professionals.”

Mrs. Motta was most recently the Director of ESL (English as a Second Language) in Pawtucket where she worked closely with Mrs. Mercer, who was the deputy superintendent there. Mrs. Motta was hired at a total compensation package of slightly over $134,ooo, down from the nearly $158,000 the Commission had budgeted for the job.

“Julie is really my ‘right-hand man.’ She comes to us with a lot of experience in institutional knowledge, curriculum development and assessment procedures,” Mrs. Mercer said. “She has a very good knowledge of how the East Providence schools operate.”

According to her bio at WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment), Mrs. Motta has been working with English Language Learners (ELL), their families and teachers for over 20 years, from teaching ESL in grades 3-12 in Providence and Pawtucket, to coaching ESL/Bilingual teachers throughout the state, to administering programs for over 1,300 ELLs in the state as chairman of the program.

Mrs. Motta holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Elementary Education and two Master’s Degrees; one in Teaching English as Second Language and the other in Educational Leadership. In addition to working at the district level in the central office and at schools, Mrs. Motta has also been presenting professional development and teaching at the college level to prepare teachers for ESL/Bilingual certification for the last several years.

“Even with all the things the people of this city have gone through I’ve found it to be a very positive place,” Mrs. Motta said May 23 in her office on the third floor of City Hall where the School Department recently moved. “There’s a lot of positive energy in this city. I’m really looking forward to working here.”

Included among her credentials, Ms. August was an RTI (Response to Intervention) facilitator and curriculum coordinator at the Highlander Charter School and a member of the Rhode Island Instructional Leadership Academy. Of import locally, she has served as a curriculum consultant in East Providence over the last two years.

Ms. August, according her bio, has worked in schools and districts to build effective assessment and tiered curriculum frameworks that are aligned with CCSS. She has extensive experience in building and implementing RTI  models in both reading and math and leading school reform initiatives. Previously, Ms. August was a Reading Specialist, District Literacy Coordinator and Rhode Island Department of Education Fellow.

“We’ve hit the ground running,” Mrs. Mercer added of her team. “We’re getting a great team together. The people have been wonderful. There’s a lot of work to do, but this a great place to be. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.”

More school news

Also at its May 23 meeting, the Commission approved a request to fill a full-time nurse position at Martin Middle School left vacant by a resignation, a three-fifths nurse position in the system and a school psychologist position open after a request for a leave of absence.

At the moment, summer school sessions for East Providence have been designated to take place at the Oldham Elementary School in Riverside. If it goes ahead as planned, summer school would mark the final usage of the building prior to its impending closure for budgetary reasons.

A school and finance department note from Thursday had Mr. Moore announcing the resignation of Steven Fratiello as Controller. Mr. Fratiello’s position was entirely based on the school side of the ledger before the Budget Commission consolidated the job to also include aspects of city finances. Mr. Fratiello is leaving to take a similar position in Pawtucket government. His last day is scheduled to be June 7.

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