Chariho Development officer

Katie Kirakosian, Chariho's new development officer on Tuesday, November 27, 2018. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

WOOD RIVER JCT. — Katie Kirakosian holds a Ph.D in Anthropology, which, she says, ended up being a perfect fit for her new position as Director of Development for the Chariho school district.

“My background, you could say, led me in many ways to the position that I’m in today,” she said. "I'm interested in how systems work, how to make things flow and function and I was involved in some large grant projects and I had different positions there. Seeing that behind the scenes, I found really interesting and exciting.”

Kirakosian began her new job on Sept. 1. Under the terms of her contract, which expires on June 30, the position is half time, or 112 days per year and pays $44,821 per year.

Kirakosian is believed to be the first development officer to be hired by a public school district in Rhode Island. Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci, who presented the idea to the School Committee, said public schools in Rhode Island had to be proactive in promoting themselves in order to attract and retain students.

”In our newly competitive school environment, public school districts need to build internal and external capacity, seek new funding opportunities, promote relationships with existing and new external partners, and better market and promote themselves,” he said. “The establishment of this position is in response to this new reality.”

Kirakosian, who lives in West Greenwich with her husband and three young sons, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Connecticut, and a Master’s and a  Ph.D., also in Anthropology, from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She currently serves as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter.

After teaching at several universities, including the University of Massachusetts and Roger Williams University, she moved into the administration of grants and projects.

“I enjoyed the teaching, but I also enjoyed working in that administrative capacity behind the scenes, helping organizations grow,” she said.

Since the development position is a new one in the district, Kirakosian is getting to know the schools, the staff and administrators and planning her initiatives for the coming months. Those include establishing an alumni network, creating new partnerships with local and regional businesses, reaching out to universities and colleges and writing grants.

“Seeing how this position develops was something that was particularly interesting for me,” she said. “Thinking about how to help the organization grow, both internally and externally in terms of capacity, connecting with our alumni, parents, the community, connecting with different sectors, like education, business and government.”

The Chariho district, with its high school and middle school, four elementary schools, Chariho Tech and the Chariho Alternative Learning Center, is a diverse educational environment with varied programs and needs. 

“I’m doing my best to make inroads and connections for all of the schools,” Kirakosian said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t know the district very well, so one of my first tasks was to meet all of the staff, to get to know the spaces, to get to know the students, the principals and the directors and see the opportunities and the needs, and the great things that were going on already in the district.”

Chariho Tech Director Gerald Auth said he was delighted to work with a development professional who could facilitate partnerships, apply for grants and promote the school’s brand.

“So much of what we do relies on community involvement,” he said. “That kind of gives us the opportunity to shine and to make connections and to work with mentors and internships and bring in more certifications, and do all sorts of things with our community partners. She’s a great person, because she has experience in that area, working with businesses and customer outreach.”

Auth noted that in an increasingly competitive career and technical education environment, Kirakosian was assisting in the establishment of Chariho Tech as a regional center.

“She’s helping us establish a presence on social media, in our advertisements, our print media. She’s been really, really useful with that and also, I want to work with her to establish the alumni network,” he said.”A lot of the private schools have strong alumni networks, but the public schools don’t really have them. I can see the value in it. I know with career and tech programs, I’m trying to reach out to start a small alumni network this year in the hope that it grows in the years to come."

 Kirakosian said as she was familiarizing herself with Chariho, she was impressed with the energy that permeates the district.

“I definitely think the passion and the vision within the district is really inspiring,” she said. “So there’s no way that I can’t feel inspired every day when I’m at my seat. If I don’t feel inspired for some reason, I just need to get up and take a quick walk in any number of  directions, and I’ll definitely be re-energized.”