NORTH KINGSTOWN/EXETER – Leading up to the General Election on Nov. 3, the North Kingstown Standard Times will be featuring a Question and Answer series with North Kingstown and Exeter candidates for town council and school committee. This week’s question, for North Kingstown and Exeter-West Greenwich School Committee candidates, is:
In your view, what are the most pressing issues affecting the North Kingstown or Exeter-West Greenwich school district that have been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic? If elected, how will you address these issues?
The following answers from candidates appear below by town and in alphabetical order. Candidates were asked to keep their responses to 175 words or less.
JENNIFER HOSKINS (D): The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on education. The most pressing issues facing the schools include: the impact on services provided to vulnerable populations and children with special needs, behavioral health needs, and the impact on academic achievement. Schools provide services to children with special education needs which, in many cases, are not easily performed virtually. I will work closely with the administration making sure these services are available within the schools during a hybrid, full closure or for children who chose distance learning. I will continue to make sure policies reflect the importance of these in-person services. Schools help support behavioral health needs affecting children of all ages. Making sure policies are in place and schools continue to be supported in this area is vital. For academic achievement, knowing what the learning loss is from the pandemic is essential. As students complete testing so this can be evaluated, we need to make sure we do our best to provide support during this unprecedented time. The students must be a priority.
Hoskins is an incumbent on the North Kingstown School Committee seeking reelection.
ROBERT JONES (R): COVID-19 necessitated the district offer parental choice between virtual or in-person learning. While the district led the state in offering educational choice, it came with an unbudgeted cost of $1 million. While school and town fund balances along with school cuts covered these costs, this solution only exacerbates the pressing funding issues coming over the next two years given the general lack of state COVID funding, the current cut in state aid pending a FY21 budget by the state, and the likely significant cuts to North Kingstown coming in FY22 and 23 from the funding formula.
I have already led efforts to help hedge against this funding shortfall and will use my significant experience in understanding the district budget and financing to help navigate this looming financial issue.
Second, the differential educational options require focused assessments of learning to understand and mitigate any gaps, especially among certain student populations. I will ensure the district makes this a focus area and use my analytics background to ensure resources get allocated to address educational outcome gaps.
Jones is an incumbent on the North Kingstown School Committee seeking reelection.
JENNIFER LIMA (D): Big picture we are seeing all the hard work that everyone did getting the schools reopened safely pay off. Now that it’s been a few weeks some of the little picture details–that are actually very important–need to be fine-tuned. Those include (1) ensuring that children who are out of school pending COVID test results are able to seamlessly transition to distance learning and have a clear understanding of the procedure to return; (2) making sure the district has enough chromebooks to accommodate those who need loaners and/or a process in place that does not penalize those who don’t have access to one; and (3) addressing the issue of warmth and safety of students and staff in rooms which currently have windows open to provide proper ventilation as we head into colder weather. If elected, I would work with the superintendent to determine the obstacles that are preventing these things from taking place, figure out the resources needed, and then coordinate with the town as needed to accomplish them.
Lima is a newcomer to the field, seeking first time election to the North Kingstown School Committee.
JACOB MATHER (D): The struggles of how to provide the quality education that North Kingstown is known for in a safe, socially distant and responsible way is my number one priority. I am proud of our teachers, staff and administrators for their countless hours of planning and negotiating to develop new learning tools to keep our children engaged and safe while continuing to uphold the educational standards our town is known for.
Although I was not one of them, the majority of our district and state leaders embraced a return to in-person learning. My priority moving forward is that we return to in-person learning as safely and responsibly as possible. Sending our students and staff back to school during this pandemic has considerable financial implications including an additional $50,000/month cleaning fee, personal protective equipment costs, nearly $1 million in additional staffing and significant facility upgrades. It is our obligation to make sure the school community has the financial support it needs. No amount of money is worth risking the health and safety of our students and staff.
Mather is an incumbent on the North Kingstown School Committee seeking reelection.
HANNAH ZANGARI (R): The most pressing issues affecting the North Kingstown School District regarding COVID-19 are safety precautions and student development.
If I am elected to serve on the school committee, I will support and advocate for all efforts to safely return our schools to regular operations. This includes necessary cleaning and custodial services, HEPA filters to improve air flow, and continued student reporting of symptoms, diagnoses, test results, and exposure to COVID-19.
Continuously monitoring and improving safety precautions will allow operations to transition back to normal. I want students back in art class, chorus, and athletics. I want students to be able to talk to their classmates during lunch time. I want high school students who are attending school in-person, physically learning in the classroom five days a week. This will ensure that students are motivated to go to school every day, interact with their teachers and classmates, and engage in extracurricular activities. It is essential for the academic and personal development of our students that we move toward normal operations as quickly and safely as possible.
Zangari is a newcomer to the field, seeking first time election to the North Kingstown School Committee.
PAUL MCFADDEN (R): (McFadden did not respond to requests for comment.)
McFadden is an incumbent on the Exeter-West Greenwich School Committee seeking reelection.
MICHAEL PICILLO (R): (Picillo did not respond to requests for comment.)
Picillo is a newcomer to the field, seeking first time election to the Exeter-West Greenwich School Committee.