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New Stony Lane Elementary School principal Nicole Hitchener greets students on the first day of school Sept. 6.

Two new principals in North Kingstown were as eager as the students for the opening bell to ring Sept. 6.

Mary Ellen Rossi, principal of Davisville Academy, and Nicole Hitchener, principal of Stony Lane Elementary School, each have years of educational experience and said they look forward to helping their schools continue to improve.

“My hope for this year is to work with my staff, families and students to create a community of learners here,” Rossi said, who replaced Karen Skerry at the two-year-old school that serves special needs students. Skerry resigned in June. “A community that’s welcoming to those who need it and also supportive to those who have come through the program and are ready to make that transition back to their home schools.”

“I want to continue the positive environment that is here already and build upon that,” said Hitchener, who replaced Ed Ferrario, the 2014 Rhode Island Association for School Principals’ Elementary School Principal of the Year, who retired last year.

The North Kingstown School Committee hired the new principals in June.

Rossi previously spent 10 years in the Cumberland School Department, the last two as part of a principal internship, and was dean of special services at Achievement First Mayoral Academy in Providence. She has been drawn to special education her entire career, but it was during the principal internship Rossi grew to love being an administrator, working with educators to improve how children learn and working with the parents, she said.

“As a school administrator, I really wanted to hold onto both of those roles,” Rossi said. “So I felt like Davisville Academy is the perfect hybrid of working in the administrative role; working with the adults working with children, and also with the special education component.”

Rossi said she met with staff and parents to learn what was successful last year and where gaps could be closed. The school was created in 2015 to serve special needs students who would otherwise be sent to out-of-district placements.

[We want to] make sure everyone is feeling challenged, yet comfortable and satisfied with the process and program here,” Rossi said.

Hitchener spent much of her 20-year career in Coventry as a special education teacher – primarily at Washington Oak Elementary School, she said. For five years, she was a professional development coordinator, working with teachers on how to differentiate instruction, how to intervene with struggling students, and how to support all students. After receiving her administration certification, Hitchener was principal at Blackrock Elementary School for a year and loved it, she said.

“Stony Lane was a dream because there was so much organization and structure to this district,” Hitchener said. “The building is a [National Blue Ribbon School] and Ed Ferrario was Principal of the Year, so I knew great things were happening here. I felt like I could continue that and move that forward, so I applied and was so graciously happy to accept [the job].”

Hitchener said the school is preparing for its Chromebook rollout, with students in Grades 1-5 getting a notebook computer to use at home and in the classroom, while kindergarten students will receive iPads. Teachers and staff participated in a tech summit before classes began to help prepare for the change. Hitchener said she also worked with Ferrario over the summer and met with families and staff before classes began to ease the transition.

Hitchener said one focus would be improving scores on the PARCC English/language arts assessments for Grades 3-5, which slipped last year.

“Writing is an area that kind of brought down the scores across ELA,” Hitchener said. “We want to target that area and do some strategies and focus our instruction on that so we can come back up to where we’ve been in the past. With PARCC and Common Core, we need to make sure we’re meeting those demands.”


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