SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Bob Hicks attended his first regular School Committee meeting as the interim Superintendent of Schools on Tuesday, a session that included discussion not only about choosing a new chief administrator for the district but also covered the possible closure of Curtis Corner Middle School and preliminary talk about a new high school building.
Hicks, a former South Kingstown superintendent, was hired after the committee placed outgoing Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow on paid administrative leave last month, days after she announced her intention to take the superintendent’s position for Norwich, Conn., public schools. Stringfellow begins her new job July 1.
Hicks will work on a per diem basis until a permanent superintendent is in place. He’ll earn $800 per day plus be reimbursed for mileage and other job-related expenses.
Hicks told the committee it’s important to have a “conversation about how we want to work with each other,” and offered six ground rules or agreements for doing so.
“One is, own your impact – take responsibility for how what we do lands with others,” he said. Others included being fully present and prepared, trusting the process, maintaining confidentiality, supporting universal participation and challenging ideas but respecting people.
“We develop positive relationships despite disagreements,” he said.
The committee is doing an investigation of how Stringfellow administered notices of potential teacher layoffs.
Those layoffs became the focus of a lengthy public comments period Tuesday, with students and others telling the committee about the harm that teacher cuts would do. Specifically, many said they’re concerned about South Kingstown High school music and theater teacher Ryan Muir.
They fear Muir would be at risk of a layoff because he lacks seniority and a recent policy change in how staff reductions take place means he has less of a chance of staying in his position.
Students also rallied in support of the French language program. The first speaker, Sophia Brown, greeted the committee with a “Bonsoir,” or “Good evening.”
Brown graduated in 2016 from South Kingstown High School, where she studied AP French.
“It gave me the vocabulary necessary to live in a French-speaking place and re-shaped the way I think about the world,” Brown said. She spent last summer in Paris, speaking only French with a host family.
“I urge you to reconsider your decision to cut the French program so that future students may benefit from it as much as I have,” she said.
No decision on layoffs or program cuts was announced Tuesday.
In other business, the committee voted to ask administration to investigate a September 2020 closure of Curtis Corner Middle School.
“The administration could begin gathering data and information for the questions that have come up,” Hicks said. A community engagement process could begin in September, with a recommendation to the committee as early as October, he said.
The search process for a superintendent moved forward, with the committee agreeing to model it on the previous efforts in 2002 and 2009 to hire superintendents, which included community focus groups and an advisory committee, Hicks said. The School Committee ultimately selected its superintendent from three finalists.
The search could take three to four months or longer, Hicks said.