A no-confidence campaign in Superintendent Philip Thornton has gained the support of more than 300 people, says its organizer, Jennifer St. Jean.
The mother of three – two of whom are in Warwick schools – said Tuesday she launched the online petition in the wake of Thornton’s robocall to parents that schools might close because of a teacher sickout.
In his notice to parents, Thornton said according to sources a sickout was planned, which could cause the closing of school if proven to be the case. While the number of teachers calling in sick was marginally higher last Thursday and Friday, it wasn’t at the point where any of the city’s schools were forced to close.
St. Jean, who regularly attends school committee meetings and follows social media, was disheartened by commentary following the notice to parents. There were comments applauding as well as lambasting the teachers. There was no shortage of criticism directed at Thornton for reacting to what was dismissed by Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh as rumor.
“What’s happening to our schools is despicable,” said St. Jean in a telephone interview. She said she feels the school administration is “ill-equipped to handle the Warwick school system.” Asked for specifics, she said the department lacks leadership. “There is zero trust in him [Thornton],” she said.
St. Jean was especially critical of the consolidation of secondary schools, saying that when her daughter was required to leave Vets High for Toll Gate, it had a huge emotional impact, leaving her depressed.
“She lost her love for school,” St. Jean said. She said Toll Gate teachers have been wonderful and she credits them with helping her daughter though a tough time. Overall, however, she sees a need for improved communications between the administration and teachers and, in particular, a resolution to a teachers’ contract.
“We used to work together. We need a strong leader,” she said. “How do we fix this for our kids…we need to give them [teachers] what they deserve.” As a means of bringing the system together, she proposed a Toll Gate and Pilgrim High dance.
Thornton knew of the campaign and said St. Jean and everyone is entitled to their opinions.
“We’ll always act in the best interest of schools,” he said. He urged St. Jean to contact him with her concerns and welcomed the opportunity to meet with her.
St. Jean said she had emailed Thornton some time ago, but didn’t find his response satisfactory.
Netcoh called the parent-initiated petition an unprecedented action that “speaks volumes” about the school administration and committee.
“Citizens are finally waking up to the problems created by the School Committee and the superintendent…this is obviously a very unpopular superintendent,” she said.
Netcoh said the union hasn’t taken a formal stance on the petition.
St. Jean didn’t know what she would do with her petition. She thought after gaining 500 signatures she would give it to the mayor, although she was uncertain as to whether that was the right venue. She hadn’t considered presenting it to the School Committee, which Thornton must answer to.
St. Jean said a number of signatories praised her for the petition, saying they felt similarly but were afraid of speaking out. She said she had talked to committee member Karen Bachus about the vote of no confidence as well as a few teachers, but not the union president, Netcoh.
“It’s step one in a lot of steps,” she said of the petition. “It’s the spark to start a larger fire.”