Talks with Chariho Educators
Barry Ricci devoted himself to the success of the Chariho Regional School District and served as Superintendent for nearly 15 years. Mr. Ricci passed away on December 22, 2019.
The following conversation with Barry Ricci is from 2016…
Community 2000: Through our Strategic Projects efforts, Community 2000 has invested more than $20,000 in Chariho's 1:1 Initiative -- computers for the high school and middle school students. Can you share your thoughts about the near-term and long-term benefits of the 1:1 Initiative?
Barry Ricci: I've often referred to the 1:1 Initiative as a potential educational game-changer. Educators have long talked about personalizing instruction, assessing current performance levels of students and individualizing instruction to move them forward. This is incredibly difficult in a class of 25. With technology in the hands of students and teachers, suddenly, this becomes possible… We've seen some remarkable changes. Students are more motivated and engaged and are interacting with content at a more rigorous level. The role of the teacher is changing, too. Teachers are assessing performance levels in real-time, and reacting immediately to student needs. It's great to watch a classroom where technology is effectively used to enhance instruction… We're keeping an eye on performance benchmarks, like graduation rates, attendance rates, disciplinary statistics, pass/fail rates. Long-term, I expect improvements in these and other measures.
Community 2000: The 1:1 Initiative rollout continues to proceed smoothly, and you've written extensively about the 1:1 Initiative on the District web site. Have there been any surprises during roll out, and do you have plans to extend the program into the elementary schools?
Barry Ricci: We did a great deal of planning prior to the initial roll-out, and have adjusted our approach based upon feedback from parents and students. Generally, we've received very positive feedback about the 1:1 Initiative. Not a surprise, but certainly a challenge, has been the implementation of the Responsible Use of Technology Policy. A great deal of trust is required when technology is placed in the hands of students and teachers. Unfortunately, we've had to deal with some regrettable events… We are in the process of revising and extending our technology plan. The elementary portion of our plan may not call for a 1:1 ratio of devices to students, but it will likely require a more robust allocation of devices. The goal will be the same, however. We want to personalize instruction so that, in real-time, teachers will be able to assess progress and individualize instruction.
Community 2000: Congratulations on the recent $73,000 Rhode Island Foundation grant. Would you summarize briefly how these funds will be used and what you believe the short- and long-term benefits will be?
Barry Ricci: We're very grateful to the Rhode Island Foundation for the award of this significant grant. It will be used to build teacher capacity to personalize instruction. As you can probably tell, I'm hyper focused on this. The research is very clear that technology will have the greatest impact on student achievement when it is used to personalize and individualize instruction… I was very fortunate to attend the kick-off event for the grant. We have a great bunch of model educators, almost 30, who have chosen to participate. They are unafraid to take a risk, and their enthusiasm and passion is inspirational.
Community 2000: You know we are very interested in supporting/improving the basics (reading, writing, math, science, computer and financial literacy) through both Innovative and Strategic Projects. Would you comment on the ongoing approaches to improve student performance in these areas, particularly math and science?
Barry Ricci: We have focused our attention on what works. There is no silver bullet, no headline-grabbing announcement that is going to remedy what ails public education. Instead, I believe that there should be a focused, statewide effort on the following: (1) strong and supported leadership, (2) high expectations for every student, (3) engagement with rigorous content, (4) expert instruction, and (5) early and intensive intervention at the first sign of struggle. You might wonder why I did not mention technology. Technology is a tool to make all of us better at all of the above. By itself and if not used properly, technology will not have the desired impact… The areas of math and science present unique challenges because of a shortage of highly qualified and certified teachers. Chariho has been very fortunate to have hired exceptional educators in these two areas. However, the pool of applicants is not of adequate size. We continue to think of how we can get stronger in these areas.
Community 2000: Where did "all kids all the time" come from? Did you coin this catchy phrase? We love it!
Barry Ricci: I'm glad that you love it. I don't remember exactly how it came to be, but I'm sure it was a team effort. It really speaks to our collective desire to do 'whatever it takes' to provide all of our students with what's needed to be successful. I think a really good example of 'all kids' in action happens at this time of the year. Any senior who is in danger of not graduating (I call it 'on the bubble'.) is adopted by one of the administrators, including me. We each take five to six students and provide whatever support is needed to make graduation a reality. There are lots of other examples.
Community 2000: Do you have a short vision/mission statement(s) for the District?
Barry Ricci: Our vision and mission statements were developed with community and student input when our strategic plan was adopted. Both can be found on the District website at www.chariho.k12.ri.us. Here’s the mission: The Chariho Regional School District ensures that all students meet high academic standards and are prepared for lifelong learning and productive global citizenship. And, here's the vision: With a commitment to continuous improvement, the District’s highly-qualified staff engages with students in state-of-the-art facilities to master challenging content, to promote creativity, and to foster critical thinking. The District is recognized by the community as its greatest asset. I hope that the community sees us living up to these lofty ideals.
Community 2000: How are the teachers doing with implementation of Common Core standards?
Barry Ricci: I think teachers are doing a really good job of implementing the Common Core State Standards. Our curriculum revision work is complete and we continue to engage in adult learning experiences to improve our practice. The Standards are very rigorous. They require a different approach as students are required to think and do at much deeper levels. I'm confident that our teachers and students will rise to the occasion, as they always do.
Community 2000: As you think about the next 5-10 years, what do you see as the largest challenges for the District?
Barry Ricci: The District will face the same external challenges that most, if not all districts in Rhode Island will face. Declining enrollment, unfair competition from charter public schools, reductions in funding from the state, and increases in regulations, are but a few of the challenges that we will face. Internally, I feel like we're in very good shape. There seems to be a growing consensus that we are providing a high quality pubic education to those we serve. Our member towns are supportive of the District and we are on our way to being recognized as the community's greatest asset.
The following conversation with Barry Ricci is from 2019…
Community 2000: We’re one year away from a new decade. Can you talk a little on the challenges you see for the District as we prepare to enter the third decade of the twenty-first century?
Mr. Ricci: In some ways, the challenges will be the same. To name a few, addressing the related issues of adequate funding along with finding ways to relieve the burden on taxpayers, maintaining our older elementary schools, helping all students and their families to understand that education opens doors that might otherwise be closed, and delivering a quality product that guarantees proficiency for all students. The newer challenges will include identifying the skills our students will need for careers that don’t yet exist.
Community 2000: Do you have any specific thoughts that you’d like to share on Vision 2023, the Districts’s new, 5-year Strategic Plan?
Mr. Ricci: I was very pleased with the development process, in that various stakeholder voices were heard as the Plan evolved. Our strategic plan continues to emphasize what works and what has worked for Chariho: high expectations, a rigorous and engaging curriculum, expert instruction, intervention at the first sign of struggle, and student accountability. At the same time, the Plan is forward looking, with an emphasis on personalization, increased community involvement, and global citizenship.
Community 2000: What’s going on with District efforts to improve the standardized RICAS test results from the “respectable” level to “satisfactory or excellent”?
Mr. Ricci: Given that the RICAS is a more difficult standardized assessment than PARCC (more correct answers are required on the RICAS to score at the same level as on the PARCC), our results were respectable, but not good enough. We’ve taken two immediate steps: (1) review of our internal common assessments to be sure that they are RICAS-like in format and level of difficulty and (2) the identification of Massachusetts schools with similar demographics to ours that scored higher than Chariho, to establish a new standard of performance from which to learn.
Community 2000: With the cap on Town funding increases, Hopkinton and Richmond will have difficulties with the upcoming District budget. Is there a long term solution to this problem?
Mr. Ricci: I have suggested a study of the impact of using a five-year rolling enrollment average, which the Director of Administration and Finance will facilitate. This would require a change to the Chariho Act, which is always a challenge. Other changes to the Act could also help to reduce costs. Taking advantage of the school construction bond also has the potential of reducing operational costs.
Community 2000: School districts teach a variety of useful skills, e.g., reading, writing, computer literacy, personal finance, -- and a range of valuable topics, e.g., math, science & engineering, business, history, civics , etc.; as well as the range of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors that are important for maintaining order and efficiency in the classroom. My impression is that values are not a significant part of the District’s curriculum, and that most students derive their value systems predominantly from their home environment. Is that correct in your view? Does the District offer any courses associated with values, ethics or religious studies?
Mr. Ricci: I thought we agreed that there would be no trick questions! I strongly believe that the development of a student’s value system should be rooted in family and faith. That said, there are values, let’s call them American values, like a strong work ethic, the importance of civic responsibility and engagement, tolerance, entrepreneurship, honesty and democracy, that we absolutely promote through curriculum, policy and practice.
Community 2000: What’s new with technology planning?
Mr. Ricci: We have fully implemented our technology plan for students. We plan to introduce a new web page later this year and are very excited about PowerSchool Analytics, which will allow us to better analyze and quickly respond to student achievement data.
COMMUNITY 2000 EDUCATION FOUNDATION - PO BOX 1161 - CHARLESTOWN, RI 02813