NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — In her first visit to North Kingstown High School Thursday, Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Angélica Infante-Brown was left with a great first impression.
“I was very impressed with North Kingstown High School and how well maintained the facility is,” Infante-Green said, noting the “school pride” coming from both students and faculty. “I was particularly impressed by some of the career-aligned programming they’re offering and the associated classroom spaces, like the engineering room, the computer science lab and the state-of-the-art production studio.”
Infante-Green, who came to the school as part of a series of trips around the state to see each district, was given a tour throughout the high school by principal Barbara Morse to showcase its classes and programs.
“We’re honored to have the commissioner come visit us and we’re excited about the opportunity to show the community and the commissioner what we’re about here and what we have to offer students,” Morse said. “I was pleased that the commissioner was able to see first-hand the dedication of the faculty, staff, students and community that contributes to the success of NKHS. We visited several areas and classes, and I wish we had more time because there were so many more great things happening in classes.”
For Infante-Green, who took over the post in April after previously serving as a deputy commissioner in New York City, visiting the districts is important not just for familiarizing herself with her new state, but also for her goal to transition the RI Department of Education from being more about support than just compliance and figuring out how to best meet the needs of each school.
She said she was impressed by the level of technology and both educational and extracurricular offerings at the high school, as well as its leadership.
“They hire a (substitute teacher) every day so they have somebody in the building, an extra adult in case they need them,” Infante-Green said. “I know that takes very strong leadership to be able to support teachers and students in that way. We don’t see that everywhere.”
While she admits that there’s a disparity in the state when it comes to the level of funding each district has for education, she said she would recommend other districts visit the high school as they push to improve education overall across the state.
One of the highlights of the tour, according to Infante-Green, was seeing the student art gallery.
“I was really amazed that the teachers at NKHS decided to give up their faculty dining room in order to re-purpose it as a student gallery,” she said. “That was a really beautiful space, and not something you see in many schools.”
Among other things she noted were two new additions to the school for this year, its new “no cell phone” policy in the classrooms and hallways as well as the Response to Intervention room, both of which Morse says are part of the school’s efforts to promote social and emotional wellness.
Under the new cell phone policy, students are only allowed to use their phones during their lunch break, something Morse believes will help students avoid distractions from social media and allow them to focus more on their academic work.
“Our message to the students (is) that this is not about taking away their phones, it’s about giving them the time to be focused on their work and positive social interactions with the peers around them,” Morse said.
As for the Response to Intervention room, Morse says it utilizes a flexible classroom model to assist students with anxiety or chronic illness issues “de-escalate” and be able to refocus on their academics in a supportive environment.
In regards to what the school could do to improve, Infante-Green said every school always has room for improvement and that they should always go back on their data to see what areas they need to target in order to best improve student outcomes.
“The same is true for North Kingstown High School, and I’m glad to hear that the leadership there is committed to that kind of continuous improvement mindset,” Infante-Green said.
For North Kingstown School District Superintendent Paul Auger, the praise for the high school from the Education Commissioner left him pleased.
“We’re really proud of our high school, it’s one of the highest performing in the state of Rhode Island and it’s a beautiful place,” Auger said. “I’m really happy with how we put our best foot forward and how impressed she was with the school, it’s a pretty impressive place.”