WEST GREENWICH – What do you call a guy who is a math whiz with three masters’ degrees; an organizer and program-creator lauded by the state department of education; a person determined to save at-risk students from falling through the cracks?
You call him the new superintendent of the Exeter-West Greenwich School District.
James Erinakes II, 43, who was named last week to succeed Dr. Thomas Geismar, who is retiring after six years, will officially take over on July 18 – but he’s already meeting with EWG personnel, shuttling between here and Coventry where he’s winding up 22 years with that school district.
“I’ve spent my entire career in the Coventry School District,” says Jim, who was born in West Greenwich but moved with his family to Coventry when he was in junior high.
After graduating from La Salle Academy, he earned an undergraduate degree in education at URI, a master’s in special education from Providence College, a master’s in administration from Rhode Island College and a master of arts in teaching from PC.
“I decided to get three masters’ degrees instead of a doctorate,” Erinakes explains. At each juncture, he supported his majors with minor studies in math.
Starting his professional life in the Coventry system, he became a student teacher, climbing the ladder to the math faculty, department chairman, assistant principal and assistant superintendent.
“It was a big decision to leave,” he says. “I never thought I would; I’m a part of that community. The hardest thing is [leaving] the relationships that developed over that length of time. We had a good staff and faculty and we accomplished a lot together. That connection is hard to walk away from.”
Jim even met his wife, fellow teacher Kelly, at work; they’ll celebrate their sixth anniversary next week. They have a 19-month-old son named Kaden James.
The possibilities offered at EWG were too good to ignore.
“I read what EWG was looking for and said, ’I’ll take a chance,’” he recalls. “It’s a good opportunity and a good fit.” Erinakes was selected from a pool of 20 applicants after a nationwide search.
Erinakes’ education could not have been more perfectly planned to prepare him for the superintendent’s post.
He is coming to EWG at a time when schools across the state will be facing massive changes in evaluating teachers and support staff as well as greater expectations for students – many of whom, a recent study determined, are ill-prepared for college.
“A lot of things are required of all Rhode Island schools in the Race to the Top,” says Erinakes. “There’s a lot of anxiety in the state. Implementing the programs will take up a lot of time.”
Faculty members shouldn’t dread the changes, he says.
“I don’t view it as a way to weed people out. That’s not what I look at. There’s a lot of anxiety for teachers; supporting them is really a big piece.They need to be comfortable; support starts with the superintendent.
“Everyone is going through it – central administration, support staff, principals, and teachers; all the way down.”
EWG will have a leg up on nearly everyone else when it comes time to implement the mandated changes: Erinakes has already designed a similar initiative known as Coventry CASe Study. The Comprehensive Assessment System for student achievement and teacher professional development was singled out by the Rhode Island Department of Education as a model program.
The important thing, he says, comes down to the timeless edict, “to ensure you’re meeting the needs of students; that the classroom is working. I have a lot of experience in bringing together teams of educators, supporting schools already on board and bringing others up to speed.”
While acknowledging that his initial time as superintendent “will be a growth period, a learning curve; getting to know the community,” Erinakes believes he and other members of the administration are on the same page.
“We want to implement responsive intervention – target at-risk kids, try to close gaps if kids are falling behind. I did a lot of that work in Coventry. In EWG we’ve been meeting to plan it. I’m excited.”
Martha Smith can be reached at her new email address mgs3dachs@verizon .net.