East Providence School Committee tables talk on split middle school academic teams


EAST PROVIDENCE — The sticky situation of attempting to eliminate split academic teams at the middle school level in the city was addressed to a point Tuesday night, April 8, during the most recent East Providence School Committee meeting held in the City Hall Chamber.

Superintendent Kim Mercer and Assistant Superintendent Julie Motta presented the Committee with their plan on how to dispense with the split team structure over a two-year period.

Mrs. Mercer and Mrs. Motta each explained to the members and those in attendance there remained a need to keep split teams intact for the time being so as to allow out-of-district students from the center of the city currently attending Riverside Middle School to remain there through the completion of eighth grade.

The administrators said aside from seeking a substantial increase in the budget, which would potentially mean temporarily hiring a number of teachers, or uprooting the students from Riverside and send them to Martin, which is their school of origin, split teams must be kept in place until their redistricting plan takes full effect.

No reductions in staff are anticipated by maintaining the split teams set-up at Riverside, nor will department coordinators see the number of classes they currently teach (four) increase.

As a point of explanation, "teams" are made up of Science, Math, Social Studies and English teachers and a resource teacher of some kind who instruct the same pupils at the same grade level. "Split" teams have teachers dividing their instruction of students between the three grades at the school.

"No one thinks split teams are a good idea," Mrs. Mercer said.

Eventually, after a lengthy talk on the topic, including the input of parents and teachers, the Committee voted to table any vote on implementing the plan of the administrators until its next meeting Monday night, April 14, at City Hall. The Committee tasked Mrs. Mercer with coming up with an approximated cost of ridding split teams immediately.

During the last round of redistricting, students who attended Kent Heights and Silver Spring elementary schools that should have next gone to Martin were directed towards Riverside instead. That was done in part to level the enrollment numbers at both middle schools.

With the start of school in the fall, the average class sizes at Riverside are expected to be as follows: sixth grade 26, seventh grade 23 and eighth grade 28. At Martin, those same numbers are 24, 23 and 20.

The eighth grade numbers, specifically, appear to be causing consternation with some teachers and parents who believe Riverside students may be short-changed in the classroom as their instructors are overextended.

Mrs. Mercer and Mrs. Motta countered by claiming population numbers show the burden will switch to Martin in short order, where about 115 more students are anticipated to enroll there as opposed to Riverside in the latter part of the decade.

In voicing his opposition to the proposal, Ward 2 committee member Tony Ferreira said he believed the plan was an attempt to limit the education of students because of budgetary concerns and that if it takes more money for the administrators to come up with an improved proposal then the committee should "push" the City Council for those added dollars.

At-Large member and Committee Chairman Joel Monteiro noted the School Committee doesn't have the luxury of waiting for the Council and the city's fiscal year budget process, which doesn't begin and end until October or November, to be completed before implementing the plan. He continued, saying the Committee shouldn't "kick the can" on making hard choices like past incarnations of the group have done.

Mr. Monteiro added he was "all in favor of getting more information" on the topic, "but that we as a city, as a committee and the City Council are going to have to continue to make some difficult decisions" on such matters in the future.

More meeting notes

Among other items, the School Committee and administration recognized members of the East Providence High School Division III championship hockey team and EPHS students who recently earned awards from the DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) organization.

The Committee unanimously passed a proposal increasing the the daily cost of lunch at the schools from its current $2.45 to $2.50 for elementary students and $2.70 to $2.75 for secondary students beginning with the start of the 2014-15 term. The increase is necessary to help the district meet healthy eating standards set by the federal government.

Also, the Committee tabled to other measures, one pertaining to revision to the school department's policies package and the other in regard to a potential name change for the recently renovated EPHS gym and athletic court.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.