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Commisioner Gist tours schools to pitch diploma change

January 13, 2011

Deborah Gist

NARRAGANSETT–Education Commissioner Deborah Gist spent Thursday touring the town's schools and meeting for an hour with 50 teachers. The Board of Regents, meeting in Narragansett High School, voted to have a public hearing on their suggested three-tier diploma system. The system would award a Rhode Island diploma–the same diploma students now receive–with two additional tiers for high performers.

Gist answered numerous questions about the new system from concerned teachers and parents. In 2012, the state's schools will require a score of partial proficiency by the fall of a student's senior year in order to receive a diploma. Some parents suggested that the new system would be unfair and needlessly competitive. And, last month, Superintendent Sipala said that students currently receive honors–wearing gold tassels at graduation–and expressed the unlikelihood of colleges recognizing the top tiers of the diplomas anyway.

“The new system will be recognizing the achievement of those who are doing more,” Gist said of the proposed diploma change. She said 30 states have different levels of diploma and added, "We need to set our bar higher." Superintendent Sipala introduced Commissioner Gist and thanked her for her visit. In what seemed like standard administrator garb, both were dressed in nearly identical gray pantsuit–though, Gist's was embellished with a glittering crucifix. The commissioner mentioned her Oklahoma upbringing and described her desire to be a teacher since she was 13 years old. Her presentation clearly outlined an agenda of reform tied to teacher quality, what she called “educator excellence” and argued for a statewide educator evaluation system.

She also highlighted Narragansett's absentee rating, the percentage of students who were absent for over 10 percent of the school year. The Commissioner showed that the town is a little below the stage average, showing that 14 percent of Narragansett's students fall into this absentee category. Superintendent Kathleen Sipala described these absences saying that while they may be a bit high, it comes as a result of the vacations some families take during the school year.

For more information pick up a copy of The Narragansett Times.

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