Year in review: Sense of community is a source of pride for Chariho district

Year in review: Sense of community is a source of pride for Chariho district

The Westerly Sun

Editor’s note: The Sun provides an opportunity for area school superintendents and town council presidents to reflect on the year and, plans for the future. 

I always look forward to the email from The Westerly Sun editor, David Tranchida, offering the opportunity to write an op-ed piece that highlights the year’s accomplishments and details goals for the next school year. 

While it would certainly be a pleasure to brag about the accomplishments of our students and schools, there’s a more important story this time around about the importance of community — not the place, but the spirit. So, let me start off by speaking about the unthinkable, the passing of Chariho High School senior Maddie Potts during a soccer game on Sept. 23.

The call from Athletic Director Michael Shiels minutes after Maddie collapsed was telling. Filled with emotion, Mike recounted the event, continuing a short time later in the car with coach Brittney Godbout on our way to the hospital. What none of us could predict at that time was that Maddie would pass later that evening, or that the community, region, and state would rally in an unsurpassed way, with unwavering strength, in support of our students and schools.

Maddie’s parents, Stephanie and Dan, a teacher at the middle school, were firm with me that I should make it clear to the media that the game of soccer played no role in Maddie’s death; there would be no fear of the game that Maddie loved so very much.

During the candlelight vigil, 48 hours after Maddie’s passing, the large crowd was comforted by the presence of the Potts family, and especially by the moving speech delivered by Stephanie Potts. In the days and weeks that followed, and continue as I write, our students have been consoled by each other; their teachers, counselors, and support professionals; by community members; and most notably by the huge outpouring of support from high school students from around the state and region.

On Nov. 24, Stephanie Potts tweeted, “I am thankful that I live in and have raised my children in THIS community.” What more is there to say?

I see another example of the powerful impact of community as we build a replacement for The R.Y.S.E. School, to be called the Chariho Alternative Learning Academy. It’s been over 14 years since the decision was made to bring our most challenging-to-educate students to the campus from out-of-district placements, first in quickly renovated space at the career and technical center and then in a leased portable building. At the beginning, there were challenges to our desire to educate all of our students in their community. “Why?” “How much will it cost?” “Will it be safe for other students?” were typical questions.

Fast forward to today, the voters of the three towns have approved a new building so that an equitable education may be had by all. In this newspaper, just a short time ago, Building Committee Chair Lisa Macaruso commented, “In my view, the unprecedented synergy among the building committee and partners comes from our shared commitment to the RYSE students and our responsibility to the Chariho community.” The power of community is limitless.

As we move forward, there is much about which to be excited, and though our students are performing at high levels and four of our schools are commended, we are embarking on several initiatives that will make our schools even better. 

Our Specialty Schools project will provide parents with a degree of in-district choice. Each of our elementary schools will specialize in a curriculum area, allowing  students to more deeply explore a facet of our program. Ashaway Elementary will focus on robotics and engineering, Hope Valley will emphasize the integration of art and technology, Richmond will highlight health and wellness, and Charlestown will advance learning through outdoor education. Watch for a more formal announcement in the spring.

Another initiative involves our desire to rethink the senior year of high school. Starting in September, seniors may take advantage of our new incubator program (develop and pitch a product or idea), an internship experience, independent study, virtual learning, advanced placement courses, dual and concurrent enrollment (earn college credits here or at a state college), and other similar experiences. Meanwhile, Chariho Tech now offers 19 four-year programs, with three more pathways — performing arts, biotechnology, and computer science — on the way, each leading to an industry certificate and college credits.

Our students are flourishing because of support from an amazing community! Most important, our students make us so proud; they stand ready to meet the highest of expectations with grit and determination, respectful and welcoming interactions, and a kind and generous spirit. They are a significant part of what makes this community so special!

Ricci is superintendent of the Chariho Regional School District.




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