Just as The Prout School Principal David Estes finished enthusiastically describing the work of one teacher, he began praising another. And another. And yet another. It’s clear he has school pride, and that pride is quickly spreading.
Estes took over the helm of The Prout School in July after former Principal David Carradini stepped down. Within the past year there have been several other shifts in administrative positions: Prout welcomed Carolyn Spratt Lawrence as new assistant principal; former teacher Jeanne Tierney became dean of students; and Communications Director Sharon DeLuca took on the role of director of admissions, doing both jobs until a new communications director is found.
“The climate in the building has been great this year,” DeLuca said in an interview last week. “We started off on a very positive note, and we’ve just been building on that every single day, working together. I give [Estes] a lot of credit for bringing that to us this year.”
The Prout School administration has been working to improve the Catholic high school and boost enrollment. The school enrolled approximately 555 students in grades 9 through 12 in the 2014-15 school year. This year, there are approximately 500 students. While Prout is not the only institution struggling with enrollment – enrollment has dropped in South Kingstown’s public schools, too – it also faced several controversies under Carradini’s leadership, including bringing in a contentious speaker, and initially backing a developer’s plan to build a drug rehabilitation center next door to the school – a plan the town later rejected.
But now, school officials are focusing on the positive.
“Our job is to provide a safe environment where kids are encouraged to be the best version of ourselves,” Estes said. “Part of what we’re doing is – there are so many strong traditions at the school – is to take things that are already strong and make them even better.”
Homecoming was expanded this year, Estes said. A banner contest among the four classes was established to encourage school pride. The senior class won with its artistic rendering of the school mascot, The Crusader. Other displays during homecoming highlighted students’ athletic, artistic and academic achievements.
Artistically, the school particularly boasts a strong theater and performing arts department, Estes said, as he provided a tour of the auditorium, filled with construction material students are using to design the set of the upcoming play, “Starmites.”
Academically, Prout is partnering with the University of Rhode Island Master Gardener program to add an eco-friendly component to the science offerings. This will include a sustainable garden in one of the courtyards, Estes said.
“Our priority is building up our curriculum, revising our current curriculum and improving it so it’s more rigorous and provides more opportunity for hands-on activities,” Estes said.
Estes has formed a committee to continue improving the International Baccalaureate program. The IB organization provides a curriculum of courses similar in nature to Advanced Placement courses. This is Prout’s signature offering, as it is the only school in Rhode Island that offers the degree, though South Kingstown High School is considering it. Also unique is a program to enroll students from China.
Beyond the school day, Prout students are given many opportunities to be involved with the community, including collaborating with the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale and Welcome House of South County in Peace Dale.
“We honor our Christian tradition by really providing opportunities for students to be reflective, be spiritually reflective, even if they’re not Christian or Catholic, to invite them into that,” Estes said. “We work for an environment that’s going to challenge them academically and really prepare them for the future, which we hope will be, at least in part, of service to others.
“People should be able to bring a joy to their work,” Estes continued. “When I think of [Prout’s sustainable garden] program, I think about the Pope’s first encyclical, where he talks about stewardship of the earth and of each other. He talks about bringing joy to the work, as much as we can. There are going to be tough days, there is going to be stuff we have to work on, but we can be as joyful as we want to be.”
Estes’ passion for his job is clear.
“To me, coming from the outside, I am just incredibly impressed with how welcoming the students are,” he said. “It’s OK to be who you are here. You’re not just an athlete at Prout. You’re not just a theater kid. You can be both, and kids are fine with that.”
Estes previously served as principal of Ponaganset High School, which serves the Foster-Glocester public school system. He began there in July 2014, after working for the state Department of Education while on leave from Providence Public Schools, where he had been an assistant principal at Central High School.
He has previously served as Head of School for Times Squared Academy in Providence and taught at San Miguel School in Providence and Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket. A resident of Cumberland, he is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester and Harvard University Graduate School of Education. He served in the U.S. military including 13 years as a U.S. Army Reserve officer and spent one year overseas. He and his wife, Christine, and their two children are parishioners of Saint John Vianney Church in Cumberland.