Reactions To Rhode Island’s Top High Schools 2013

Wednesday, May 08, 2013


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Katherine Sipala, Superintendent of School Narragansett in work session.

Top performing high schools in Rhode Island share “program personalization” as one underlying theme when touting the success of their schools in setting high performance standards.

Narragansett High School took the top spot this year, moving up one spot from number two in 2012. Principal, Daniel F. Warner, speaking from a New England Association of Schools and Colleges NEASC) conference was happy to hear the news that his school had moved to number one ranking.

Working toward the same goal.

“I’m so excited and pleased for our faculty and staff. We are blessed with a strong faculty and they are our foundation. They are the reason we continue to excel and remain in the top standings”Warner said. “Our success comes from a community and faculty who are all working toward the same goal - to provide excellence in education for our students.”

Warner pointed to personalization in student programs as a means of establishing a successful student promotion plan.

“We recognize that we have kids that don’t go to Harvard and Brown. Our goal is to make sure each student, no matter what the path, is prepared to meet the challenges of being out of high school. We have seen the results and that is an area where we achieve success,” he said.
The principal and faculty also pride themselves on their successful Advanced Placement (AP) program.

“We’ve also been commended by the college board program for excellence in our AP program. We have a wide range of AP classes and recently added AP biology and AP Italian. Our programs whether AP or otherwise are all about providing students, each student, with options.

Three key factors in excellence.

“Excellence in teaching is the first thing that comes to mind,” said Katherine Sipala, Narragansett Superintendent of Schools. “We do have expert teachers. We have teachers with advanced degrees, teachers with national board certification. We have three or four nationally board certified teachers.”

“We have an active and rigorous curriculum revision process. We make sure that our curriculum is as up to date as possible,” she said. “That’s the foundation.”

The second most important factor in success, beyond a strong curriculum for the school system was personalization.

“Second is personalization,” said Sipala. “A small high school can and should be able to deliver personalization. That is a key component of the high school.”

Sipala also touted parental involvement and support as key factors in maintaining a successful school system. Active PTO’s and booster clubs were a positive factor in student and school success.

The third component, financial support, was heralded by both the superintendent and principal. The per pupil cost for educating a Narragansett student was $17,982.

“The Town of Narragansett takes pride in its per pupil expenditure,” said Warner. “We make an investment in each child and it is paying off. We have students being accepted to Harvard, Brown and Penn State.”

“One of the components of the GoLocalProv survey and ranking, different than others, is that you consider per pupil cost a positive factor,” said Sipala. “You give points for the school departments and towns that say -Spend the dollar on the students. Ours is high,” she said. “We spend $18,000 on each student and that’s why at Narragansett High School we can offer AP courses, as well as remedial courses.”

Schools and community working together.

In East Greenwich, Michael Podraza, Principal of East Greenwich High School, that ranked second, spoke of strong school and community relationships.

“We try to focus on the relationship between the students and teachers,” Podraza said. “The culture of our school is built on high expectations. We have great students and great teachers so there is success on both sides, year in - year out. From year to year budgets may change, test questions may change, priorities within the administration and district may change, but we focus on our students and teaching staff.”

As far as student programs are concerned, Podraza also promoted a personalized approach to teaching.

“In the classrooms we focus on personalization and student needs. We focus on each student and determine their learning style. We identify their hopes, dreams and aspirations. That’s what brings us success.”

Dave Green, Chair of the East Greenwich School Committee was pleased that the school was receiving recognition for its success.

“It is always gratifying to have the efforts of our great team recognized. The successes of East Greenwich Public Schools result from a combination of a strong and focused district and building administrations, innovative and dedicated staff and faculty, and the ever present support of both parents and the Community at large.”

Setting high expectations for students.

“Our students and staff are held to high standards, rise to the challenge, and routinely meet or exceed these expectations,” said Green. “I would also note that, while these rankings are focused at the high school level, it is important to note that it is the preparation our EG students receive at both the elementary and middle school level that prepares them to succeed in high school, college, and their chosen careers.”

Brian Butler, Principal at Exeter-West Greenwich High School, recipient of the number three ranking, saw his success not only as a reason to celebrate, but an incentive to move up.

“My reaction to being number three,” he asked. “It makes me think how we can get to number two or number one. We as a school are proud of our accomplishments. The staff and students have created a culture of respect and rigor. Students are not afraid to embrace higher level thinking, and teachers are not afraid to "raise the bar" to challenge that higher level thinking.”

“Our learning community is one of support and revolves around renewed and constant assessment,” said Butler. “As we assess our results, we implement differentiated instruction to master deficiencies. Our school culture realizes that success requires constant vigilance. We are proud of what we do, but refuse to rest on our laurels.”

Maintaining strong relationships within the school community.

According to Dr. Kristen Stringfellow, the key to success at South Kingstown hinged on a working relationship between staff and community. South Kingstown scored in the top five rankings, coming in at number four and holding its spot from 2012.

“Our success comes from fabulous teachers and visionary principals,” Stringfellow said. “We recently implemented plans to ensure that we have a 100% graduation rate. We have eliminated B-level classes and move our youngsters into a program where they are getting all of the material needed to succeed in meeting the NECAP standards.”

Stringfellow heralded programs presently in place to support students who may be in danger of not graduating due to NECAP requirements. Saturday academies and summer programs were added at South Kingstown High School to ensure adequate support.

“We have increased co-teaching in the classrooms, implemented early identification programs and are committed to making sure every student has the ability to succeed in NECAP,” she said. “We’ve created a chart to ensure that we have identified all youngsters who need extra help in achieving success.”

Robert McCarthy, principal at South Kingstown High spoke of diversification as a stronghold of success.

“It’s always great to be recognized,” said McCarthy. “There are a lot of factors in a good school. The staff, a community that values education and high expectations from the parents are key. Each year we try to implement new initiatives. Our students are diversified and have diversified interests. That helps to build a successful program.”


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