Hope Valley preschool wins top Rhode Island BrightStars award

Hope Valley preschool wins top Rhode Island BrightStars award

The Westerly Sun

HOPE VALLEY — At a monthly staff meeting Thursday afternoon, Principal Giuseppe Gencarelli surprised teachers and staff members at the Hope Valley Elementary School by announcing that its preschool program had received the highest award, five stars, from Rhode Island’s BrightStars program. BrightStars is the state’s school quality rating and improvement system.

Hope Valley is only the second public preschool program in the state to receive the five-star award. The first was Westerly Public Schools in 2016.

“We were a four-star rating last year, which is a great score, but of course we want to achieve the highest score that you can possibly get,” Gencarelli said.

There are 60 students from ages 3 to 5 in the Hope Valley preschool program, which is fully integrated, meaning that students with special needs share classrooms with the other students. Jennifer Durkin, the Chariho Special Education director, was on hand for the celebration and said that the school had applied for the BrightStars designation three years ago.

“I’m very proud of them,” she said. “They put so much work into it.”

Durkin also noted that it had been challenging to adapt the building, which is one of the district’s older schools, to the needs of special-education children.

“I think it’s incredible how they removed the barriers to the building. That was a huge piece of the work,” she said.

Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci agreed that the award was a major achievement.

“It’s a big honor,” he said. “Isn’t it great when you work really hard at something and you get a reward for working really hard at it? That’s what this is about.”

BrightStars representatives visited the school on several occasions to evaluate the preschool program, which is judged according to six criteria: health, safety and nutrition; enrollment and staffing; staff qualifications and professional development; administration; early learning and development; and family engagement.

“They do unannounced observations,” Gencarelli said. “They come and they just stay the whole day. They watch and observe, see the transitions, see what’s offered to the children.”

Veteran educators Patricia Ciullo and Jeanine Mankoff are the teachers in the Hope Valley preschool.

Mankoff attributed part of the preschool’s success to its integration.

“Being in an integrated setting with high-quality professionals all around us really helps us educate the entire population,” she said.

Ciullo said BrightStars had provided the impetus to improve and enhance preschool programs.

“The BrightStars has really helped us to extend our practice in the classroom, being more aware of how we’re planning our activities and making more choices available to the students throughout the day,” she said.

Gencarelli said he hoped the award would encourage more parents to enroll their children in the preschool.

“When parents are looking for early learning programs and they go to the Rhode Island BrightStars site and they look, we’re going to be one of the top ones, so it publicizes our program,” Gencarelli said. “It’s an unbelievable program that we have.”



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