Ward 1 School Committee representative Jeff Gale stopped by Chester Barrows Elementary School last Tuesday to help allay parents’ worries about high rate of principal turnover at the parent-teacher board meeting.
In February, then-principal Karyn Rosenfield, on the job for only about seven months, was transferred and replaced by Keith Croft until an interim fix could be made. Since then, Mary McNally has taken over for the rest of the year, but Gale noted the situation is still in flux.
“I know this is a very frustrating situation,” Gale, who said a decision on the next principal could come in June, said. “I can’t comment on the current situation for privacy and legal reasons. I’m concerned about it, too. I’ve been on the school committee since 2013, and I think there’s been three principals [here]. Everybody who has come here has moved on because they’re good at what they do.”
The Herald placed a call to Rosenfield in March to clarify the circumstances of her removal, but said she was not at liberty to discuss the situation and did not know when she would be able to do so.
One possible explanation for the constant change could be the size of Barrows, Gale said. The school is by far the smallest in Cranston, serving just 190 students with just 16 teachers according to the R.I. Department of Education.
“They want to move up just like anyone else,” Gale offered. “I know that’s no answer, but hopefully it explains why things have gone as they have. There’s nothing you can do about size.”
Some principals at Barrows have gone on to higher positions in the district in recent years. Roxanne Gustafson, principal from August 2011 to January 2014, is now the director of education programs for Cranston Public Schools. Joseph Rotz, another former Barrows principal, is the administration executive director of educational programs and services.
That offered little solace to the dozen parents in attendance on Tuesday, though. Gale fielded ideas from parents on how the situation could be changed for the better. Some of the more concrete ideas included multi-year contracts for principals, increasing the number of teachers on the interview team and impact statements
“I can definitely bring [those] up to the Superintendent [Jeannine Nota-Masse],” Gale said. “Nothing’s happened [yet], but coming here is going to get me to talk to the Superintendent. This gives me time to talk to her and suggest things like that. That may be something she’s willing to consider.”
Barrows parent Shannon Reyes, who was unable to attend the meeting, told the Herald on Tuesday afternoon that fixing the interview process would be a “step in the right direction,” but it comes down to the contract.
“They need to put into the contract of the principal that they need to be there for a period of time,” Reyes said. “That’s something we [she and two other parents] proposed to the Superintendent when we sat down and talked with her. The problem isn’t the interview process, it’s the way they’re laying out the contract for the person who comes in.
“It’s very disheartening. Karyn came in and was phenomenal with the students and the staff. She put in place a lot of good chances.”