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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown School Committee held its final regular meeting of 2019 Tuesday night with a focus on the state of technology in the North Kingstown School Department, while the Citizens Comments portion of the meeting was taken up by students and parents making the case for a later start time for the high school.

The School Committee started the meeting by recognizing the accomplishments of both staff and students. Quidnessett Elementary School teacher Kristen Beland had her piece “Building Stronger Relationships With Students Requires Relational Trust” published by the Transforming Education blog, while the high school had 40 students inducted into the National Honor Society and collected more blood at their blood drives than any other school in the state.

The high school was also named by the College Board to their 10th annual AP District Honor Roll, only one of 250 high schools nationwide and just one of four in Rhode Island. The award recognizes schools for increasing access to Advanced Placement courses for their students while also maintaining a high level of students scoring a three or better on their AP final exams.

In extracurriculars, Superintendent Phil Auger congratulated the high school’s varsity football, girls volleyball and unified volleyball and junior varsity girls soccer and girls volleyball teams on their respective state titles as well as North Kingstown senior James Osmanski on being named Gatorade Player of the Year for Rhode Island, the second year in a row the honor went to a Skipper.

The music department also saw 72 students try out for the All-State Music Ensemble with 49 students being named to it, including several lead or secondary lead roles.

North Kingstown School District Director of Technology Michael Waterman gave a presentation on the state of technology as a whole in the district, looking at what the IT department did in Fiscal Year 2019, what they’re currently doing in Fiscal Year 2020 and setting goals for Fiscal Year 2021.

In FY 2019, the NKSD IT department replaced 75 office computers while upgrading more than 300 access points to increase wi-fi capabilities and transitioning the school’s network to the cloud-based Google Drive. The district also updated all of its copy machines as well as upgrading its security system with more than 500 new cameras and over 60 new card access readers for doors to go with newly implemented lanyards for staff and visitors.

So far in FY 2020, NKSD IT has upgraded the high school’s communication lab as well as all of their classroom computers, which it also did at Quidenessett and Stony Lane Elementary School. A new app for the North Kingstown School District under the district name was also rolled out, and Waterman gave a demonstration on how to use to app, which is available in both Apple’s App Store and on Android devices.

“This (app) isn’t replacing anything that we already do,” Waterman said. “This is just a new form of communication (for the district).”

The app allows users to select which schools they want to receive notifications from regarding events and cancellations, as well as access lunch menus, the school’s social media feed and a staff directory with not only emails but phone numbers to call or text staff, something which impressed School Committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg, who praised the directory’s simplicity compared to the ones found on the school websites and expressed hope that the better integrated system could lead to parents and caretakers communicating more with their students’ teachers.

In their plans for FY 2021, which begins in June, Waterman set out goals to refresh the Chromebooks used by both students and staff as well as the iPads used by the district’s kindergartners. Refreshes are also planned for the computers used in the high school’s computer labs and Career and Technical Education programs as well as the district’s data center. Additional security improvements and possible cyber security training for the staff was also mentioned in the presentation.

Shortly after, the floor was opened up to comment and eight people, three students and five parents, took to the podium, all in support of prioritizing pushing back the start time for the high school for the 2020/21 school year.

“Eighteen years ago this past week, my wife Andrea and I moved to North Kingstown on purpose,” Paul Vento, the father of two NKHS students said. “One of the key reasons was because of the wonderful school system you’ve developed over the years.

Vento praised the system and the administration for their work and dedication to being first in the state, however that being the first high school in Rhode Island to open in the morning and having the latest start times for elementary schools was an area they could work on, and changing those start times would be more beneficial to students in the long run.

Another parent, Jennifer McCann, agreed.

“The evidence is clear that later start times at the high school best support students’ academic, psychological and physical growth,” McCann said. “North Kingstown has a proud tradition of being a leader in education in our state and it’s time for us to lead in this initiative as well.”

Junior Jacob Gagne said the issue should be a priority for both the town and School Committee as the mental well-being of the town’s youth should take precedence over any project.

“It disappoints me that the town I grew up in prioritizes the location of its offices over real issues like the mental health of students, myself included,” Gagne said. “A multi million dollar bond for office locations is what takes precedence over the mental well-being of the youth in my eyes as I saw by the bond. If changing school start times is a money issue, why is the town willing to spend so much money on buildings and relocation when they could be spending it on humans and making sure that they’re ready to learn and they’re not being affected mentally by the really ugly early start time?”

Gagne argued that research showed over and over again that later start times are more beneficial for teenage students mental and physical well-being and development.

“It seems now is the time to put the mental well-being of students before the price tag,” Gagne said.

Following the questions, the School Committee passed their consent agenda unanimously with little debate and looked into their budget for the past year and year ahead.

The School Committee will participate a joint budget meeting with the Town Council on Monday, while the next general meeting is scheduled for Jan. 14.

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