New Superintendent, Dr. Mark Garceau, Working to Better Westerly Public Schools

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New Superintendent, Dr. Mark Garceau, Working to Better Westerly Public Schools

Marissa Berardo, Staff Reporter

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Dr. Mark Garceau, the new Superintendent for Westerly Public Schools, brings a fresh perspective to the job and hopes to have an immediate impact on the high school.  He granted an interview to The Barker on September 29th to discuss a variety of issues affecting WHS students.

Role of the Superintendent

According to Dr. Garceau, just as a principal is the head of a school, a superintendent is like the principal of the school district; he is the top administrator and is answerable to the Westerly School Committee (and, by extension, to the community).

Dr. Garceau said, “Just today I had a meeting with the Town Manager, and I (must also) work with the teachers’ union.  I have to oversee the Transportation Director (who is responsible for all the bussing), the special education director (who is key to us and oversees that programming), the Athletic Director, and all those other people who do different things in the district.”

Dr. Garceau obviously has a lot on his plate.  In his limited free time, however, he enjoys riding his motorcycle, fishing, practicing his music, watching sports, skiing, “crabbing and clamming” at the beach, and being with his family.

Improving “Outcomes” for WHS Students

Improving a school system takes time, but Dr. Garceau hopes to implement changes to benefit current WHS students as well, both in terms of “outcomes” and opportunities.

“Outcomes,” according to Dr. Garceau, involve “making sure that you are learning at high levels in school, and also earning good SAT and other test scores, so that whatever school you want to go to, you’re a viable candidate.”  He said, “Last night, the Assistant Superintendent presented the latest round of test scores (including) the PARCC assessments and SAT, and we have work to do; we need to improve outcomes for the students.”

He acknowledged that the 2017 Math PARCC scores for WHS were especially disappointing (only 22.1% of WHS student met or exceed math expectations), and that Chariho High School, our closest neighbor, performed much better in math (58.6% at the high school met or exceeded math expectations).  He was surprised by the results, given the quality of the students and teachers he has witnessed in some of the classrooms.

“First of all, that low number is unacceptable, and we must strengthen our instruction and be more focused on how we deliver our instruction so students can successfully demonstrate what they know,” he said.

While Dr. Garceau does not subscribe to the idea of “teaching to the test,” he noted that standardized tests are important for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is getting accepted to top colleges).  In addition, to get proper funding for the schools, he needs to show good results, and “test scores are intertwined with that.”

“I’m working very closely with the principals, the assistant principals, and the deans and department heads about how to continually get better at ensuring that you guys are successful, and that’s really the bottom line,” he said.

Expanding Opportunities for WHS Students

Dr. Garceau noted that, along with high-level academics, it’s also important to provide students with opportunities to pursue their interests and passions, such as athletics, music, art, and drama.

He said that WHS is fortunate to have a “terrific music department” under Ms. Ferry, and an “outstanding art department” under Mr. Tedeschi.  Garceau has been to several football games, and is also impressed with the WHS Band and halftime show.  A bass and trombone player himself, Dr. Garceau observed, “Those kids are passionate and take great pride in their work.”

He said, “I want to expand opportunities for kids to find what they’re really excited about, what touches their hearts, what they can excel at, as that makes for a more enriching experience.  For some kids, whether it’s art class, the music program, student council, or the soccer team, that might be the reason they come to school.”

He continued, “There are still kids who don’t know what their niche is and where they want to go, or don’t feel as connected to the school as they could be.  I want every student who shows up to find something he or she is passionate about, so we’re going to expand on that. Within a really short period of time, Westerly High School is going to be known in the region as a place where you can get an excellent education, but it will also have a strong visual, performing, and literary arts emphasis.”

In terms of specifics, Dr. Garceau said that an arrangement has just been made with the Colonial Theatre (which runs Shakespeare in the Park) to collaborate with WHS and build up our theater program.  He said it would also be great to see the English Department encourage students to perform scenes or write and perform their own short plays at WHS.  In addition, Garceau noted that he had a meeting the following morning with the directors of the Chorus of Westerly to (hopefully) partner with them in order to strengthen our offerings.

With his positive attitude and new ideas, WHS students (and students across the school district) can look forward to immediate changes.

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