R.I. education commissioner stresses career readiness in annual address

R.I. education commissioner stresses career readiness in annual address

Record-Journal
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R.I. Commissioner of Education Kenneth Wagner pays a visit to the Tower Street School Community Center in late 2015, accompanied by Westerly School Superintendent Dr. Roy Seitsinger. | Harold Hanka / The Westerly Sun

PROVIDENCE — In his State of Education Speech Monday night, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner stressed that he would continue to focus on personalized learning, school and student empowerment, and career readiness, including access to college as part of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s free tuition proposal, R.I. Promise. Last year, Wagner said he had identified what he called the “general themes” of the direction he wished to take. This year, he was also seeking to dispel the notion that education policy should be dictated from above.

“Really emphasizing the general direction and construct of school empowerment, educator empowerment, family empowerment and so on,” he said. “This year’s address, reflecting the second year of my commissionership, was really about, still within that empowerment theory of action, so to speak, stitching together what we call an ‘opportunity agenda,’ and looking at ed reform from the lens of just things like accountability, test scores, teacher evaluation.”

Wagner said the recent elimination of the standard test known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers should not be regarded as a seismic change. The PARCC test will be replaced by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assesment System.

“It’s not the assesment that’s news, it’s when you change your standards, because the standards drive the kind of grade level expectations that are supporting the curriculum in the classroom,” he said. “So what we did is, we did not change the standards. What happens in the classroom does not change. The only thing that changes is basically the cover sheet on the assessment that we’re using, the partner that we’re using for our assessment. That changes.”

On local issues in the Westerly school district, Wagner said he was confident that departing Westerly Superintendent Roy Seitsinger Jr. would be replaced by an equally competent administrator.

“Leadership transition happens,” he said. “I think Westerly has been blessed with less transition than a number of communities, but it’s understandable that a number of people would be anxious, as there is a transition out of a longtime, respected leader. One of the tasks of leadership is to prepare the organization for one’s successor, and I have no doubt that Roy has done a great job there.”

Wagner praised both Chariho and Westerly’s career and technical programs, particularly Westerly’s new P-Tech program.

“It’s very exciting, especially when you couple it with the Westerly Education Center that was recently constructed,” he said. “I’m thrilled to see these kinds of opportunities in this portion of the state. And that’s really what I’ve been trying to emphasize, that we need to keep growing these opportunities and we need to make it easier for kids to get to the opportunities where they exist.”

Chariho has sued the state unsuccessfully over the expansion of career and technical programs in neighboring districts, citing an agreement made before Wagner’s arrival that the district would not face competition if it took over the career and technical building from the state.

In his March 20 decision dismissing Chariho’s complaint, Associate Superior Court Justice Bennett R. Gallo found that the agreement prohibited the establishment of a competing career and technical center in the area, but did not prohibit the introduction of individual programs in neighboring school districts.

“Chariho keeps suing us, and at this point, a judge has really resolved the issue by throwing out the court case,” Wagner said. “It looks like they may appeal, which is just more Chariho taxpayer money that’s going to something that has already been settled by two commissioners’ hearings, one before me and one under me, and by a Rhode Island judge. But if that’s how they want to spend their taxpayer money, then of course, it’s a local decision. What I’m trying to emphasize is the district model is changing. The idea that kids are going to get all of their educational services through the district as a sole service provider and the school that they happen to live within the residency boundaries for the next 10 years, it’s just not going to be that way.” (Chariho attorney Jon Anderson is on a monthly retainer that covers the cost of all legal matters.)

Wagner said school districts had to be nimble and flexible in order to retain students.

“I’m just trying to show a vision of how districts, through partnerships, can get ahead of that curve and really form the partnerships, including with other school districts, including with other CT centers, with other CT programs with public colleges, private colleges, businesses: Form those partnerships so kids can get what they need when they need it, and I really believe if we do that, students will end up staying within their districts’ schools,” he said.

cdrummond@thewesterlysun.com


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