SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Several parents expressed their concerns on Tuesday night over unexpected changes to the high school’s computer science program.

Recent efforts on the part of the school district to align the pathway program with Project Lead The Way will still allow the partnership with the University of Rhode Island, but parents are worried that these new changes could mean sending their kids off to college with less credits than anticipated. 

A partnership with Project Lead The Way, a non-profit organization that works to expand student learning opportunities in the fields of computer science, engineering, and biomedical science, has already been adopted by the district for its biomedical program, but this new realignment may throw some student’s plans off course. 

Onna Holland, whose son is currently a senior, said she was concerned that because of changes to what classes will and won’t be counted as college credit, his software course might not give him the jump start he was expecting next year. 

“That was supposed to be a URI course, and now he’s not going to get the URI credit,” Holland said. “They did offer him to also take an AP [course], but quite honestly, he’s in all honors and AP, and applying to college and started to do it, but it was just too much.”

“For the kids who are in [the program] now, unless they take an additional course now, is there any option for them to have the path they’re on have the 16 URI credits as they previously would have? Is there any flexibility with those courses?” 

Every student’s situation is going to be a bit different, according to South Kingstown High School Principal Chip McGair, and the school will be working with every student in the pathway program to see what options are available to them. 

Although she’s been thrilled with the program so far, Holland noted that she was disappointed about the change and not being notified ahead of time and had been “hoping to finish it out the way we had planned.”

The mother of a high school junior also raised concerns about how her son would be affected by these changes, along with more than two dozen other students who thought they were going to be studying app and web development this year. 

“He was in an app and web design class, starting on the first day of school,” said community member Woodi Woodring. “We all believed that would get URI credit. Now with all the changes that are going on, they have switched that class — which has 27 students in it — to the first PLTW class: Computer Science Essentials.”

Although this is a required course in the pathways program, Woodring pointed out that these upper level classmen in the class of 2021 and 2022 have already taken a very similar course. She wondered what other classes might be available to these students.

“We were all banking on a minimum of 16 credits or more,” she said. 

McGair stressed that the high school wants to ensure that whatever is being communicated with families of the Class of 2022 is accurate. 

“We’re still working with URI and crossing some t’s, dotting from i’s — we will be communicating with you very shortly about what all the options are for the Class of 2021,” he said, noting that they hope to have a meeting with families in the near future. 

“Obviously the way this came out to the community wasn’t good, and I’m sorry that’s the case,” McGain added. “I want to go just slow enough that we can get it exactly right and present options to individual families so they can decide how to move forward.”

Superintendent Linda Savastano also apologized for the confusion thus far and acknowledged that the concerns from parents were completely fair. 

“I know there’s confusion out there,” Savastano said. “I know that the district may have misspoke, may have misunderstood, may not have. The bottom line is how we move forward together.”

While discussing ways in which the pathway program will change, school committee member Kate Macinanti said she felt like “there’s a need to own the fact that families were taken aback by the sudden shift without having this mapped out.”

“I think it would have been great to have this presentation done with the kids and the families that were already involved in the CTE, because this is a shift from what it was,” she said, speaking as a member of the school committee and the parent of a child enrolled in the program. “I would love it if we could have that going forward, [...] because I would hate for it to be just wasted on the school committee.” 

Partnerships with Project Lead The Way (PLTW)  and dual enrollment at the university is nothing new to the district, according to Savastano. In 2018, the high school began its partnership with PLTW when establishing it’s biomedical CTE program, and the district had rolled out its automation and robotics program at Broad Rock the year before. The district’s collaborative relationship with URI was a huge draw, according to Savastano, when she was applying for the position of superintendent. 

The program, which features rigorous and innovative content, will force students to approach problem solving critically and collaboratively. 

“In South Kingstown, we have a true win-win-win, in taking a look at our Computer Science Project Lead the Way and then also being able to have the credits earned at the University of Rhode Island,” she said when first introducing the changes ahead of public comment. “In addition, we can offer additional courses from the University of Rhode Island.”

Although there is some question of whether students will face difficulty when attempting to have these credits accepted by institutions other than URI, many of the course offerings at the high school are billed as an AP — meaning students could take an exam at the end of the year. If they score high enough, many colleges and universities across the country widely accept this type of credit. 

For students who aren’t planning to attend URI, McGair said their credits from dual enrollment  “would be accepted or not accepted at another institution, based on how a URI transcript is viewed by that institution.” 

These sudden changes to the program have been upsetting to many families, and in the future, Savastano said she absolutely agrees with Macinanti that communication needs to be more proactive when announcing any kind of change like this. 

“It will be better going forward,” Savastano said. “As a parent, I would have been through the roof. I’m going to own that.”

She apologized for “any undue angst at a time no one needs it,” and hopes to move forward together as a district. 

“I just want to make it clear that the change — the addition of Project Lead the Way — didn’t change anything we were doing, it just added,” Savastano clarified. “We didn’t pivot away from anything, we didn’t stop anything that wasn’t already going to be stopped if PLTW didn’t come into our world at all. We just added another option for children.”

“I don’t want people to think we left one thing to go to another,” she added. “It’s and, not or.”

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