WESTERLY — The school district's two top administrators will remain at the helm for at least the next three years after receiving contract extensions.
The School Committee, during its Aug. 25 meeting, voted unanimously to approve a new three-year contract with Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau. The contract will cover from July 1 through June 30, 2024. During the same meeting, Garceau announced that he had completed discussions with Assistant Superintendent of Schools Alicia Storey and that she had also agreed to the terms of a new three-year contract that will cover the same period of time as Garceau's.
During an interview last week Garceau said he negotiated the new pact with Storey even though she had an an additional year on her previous contract because she had endured a year's worth of criticism. Storey and Garceau have both been subjected to sharp comments, including calls for their dismissal, leveled mostly by Robert Chiaradio, a resident who claims the district has embraced aspects of Critical Race Theory. Chiaradio is the brother of School Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy.
"Alicia in particular has been in the cross hairs and I wanted to provide her with a degree of stability because she has my confidence," Garceau said.
The School Committee, Garceau said, supported his offer to Storey. Regarding the comments from Chiaradio, Garceau said: "She doesn't need that and she doesn't deserve that."
Garceau said that Storey has been invaluable in the district's curriculum overhaul and professional development efforts, and has played a critical role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Storey recently received a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Johnson & Wales University. Her new contract includes a stipend for attaining the degree and a salary increase to $140,000 per year.
"Dr. Storey has worked tirelessly in support of Westerly public schools for over 11 years, and we’re proud to recognize her efforts and accomplishments," said Chiaradio Bowdy.
Garceau started working in Westerly in the summer of 2017
"Dr. Garceau has been our superintendent for four years, with the last 18 months virtually consumed by the pandemic and all related issues. Westerly public schools, under Mark’s leadership, has continued to flourish and move forward despite these circumstances. The School Committee decided, unanimously, to show a public vote of confidence in extending a new three-year contract to Dr. Garceau," Chiaradio Bowdy said.
Garceau did not receive or seek a salary increase in connection with his new contract. He received a pay increase last year.
The performance of district's schools are improving, Garceau said. He pointed to better rankings of both Westerly High School and State Street Elementary School as examples. "We are making progress, but it's never as fast as we would like," Garceau said.
The School Committee's actions are important, he said.
"I'm always grateful for the support of the School Committee and I think what they want to do is give a vote of confidence to both myself and Dr. Storey for the work that we do. We are in a very politically charged atmosphere in the district and elsewhere and I think they thought it was appropriate to take that step," Garceau said.
Storey pointed to the district's students, teachers, and parents as reasons why she wants to continue working in the town. All three, she said, share a sense of pride in the school district and the community.
The students are all full of joy, from the little kids all the way up to the high school, they have a commitment to the town and the school system system and their community and I think that's attractive to me — to have students that are community centered."
The district's teachers, Storey said, share a deep concern for their students and a professional approach to educating. All of the district' employees are dedicated to supporting the town's children and their families, a fact that Storey said came into focus during the pandemic.
The district's many booster organizations that support student activities are evidence, Storey said, of the parents' involvement in their students' education. She also pointed to financial gifts bestowed upon the district in recent years by Dr. Thomas Sculco and his wife, Cynthia, both Westerly High School graduates. The couple's donations supported the purchase of more than 100 laptop computers, programs, and scholarships.
"That exemplifies the commitment to the town and to the schools. People want take a lot of pride in the community," Storey said.