By JEN COWART
When Cranston Educational Advisory Board chairperson John McCarthy took on the chairperson role, it was his goal to not just focus on standardized testing, but rather, to focus …
By JEN COWART
When Cranston Educational Advisory Board chairperson John McCarthy took on the chairperson role, it was his goal to not just focus on standardized testing, but rather, to focus on what he calls, “the other 96 percent.” To that end, he began this school year focusing on each of the high schools, featuring a different school at each meeting. Cranston has three high schools: Cranston High School East (CHSE), Cranston High School West (CHSW) which also houses the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center (CACTC), and the New England Laborers’ Cranston Public Schools Construction and Career Academy (NEL/CPS).
The January 2017 CEAB meeting was held at NEL/CPS, on Pontiac Avenue, a school many did not know existed. It is often confused with the Residential Repair, Remodeling and Construction Pathways program at CACTC.
According to NEL/CPS Executive Director Dennis Curran, Planning because for the New England Laborers’ Cranston Public Schools Construction and Career Academy in 2002 and the first class graduated in 2006. However, people don’t know much about it, Curran said. “It’s a charter school, but it’s a public high school and it’s right here in Cranston.” It is one of 18 public charter schools, and one of three public charter high schools in Rhode Island.
“Their ultimate goal was to build up a workforce here in Rhode Island, to start a high school with a focus on construction,” Curran said. “The charter schools that were started in Rhode Island were started to create a focus on curriculum. The construction and career development piece was added in eight years ago.”
Curran emphasized that the school is a comprehensive high school in addition to offering the construction pathway program, and there are multiple pathways students can choose from at the school: Construction, World of Work, Credit Recovery, and College Readiness/Dual Enrollment. Students who graduate from the Construction program qualify to go on to the New England Laborers’ Training Academy in Pomfret, CT for training to become a Construction Craft Laborer Apprentice.
“In 2016, one-third of the class went on to join the construction field, which was 12 of our students. We are a small high school, we have just 165 students so we can really focus on the students’ needs at our school. Our class sizes are small, with an average of 14 students in them and often we have two teachers in a classroom. Half of our students are from Cranston and half are from the rest of Rhode Island.”
Academic Dean/Admissions, Carolyn Ferris said the school has capacity of 192 for grades 9-12. The students are chosen through a blind lottery that takes place on March 1. “We have 47 openings for our freshmen class,” said Ferris. “Some openings may exist in the upper grades if we are not full.” She said they’ve been making presentations at all of the middle schools in Cranston and so far we have 20-25 interested students. “Last year we had a wait list for the first time, we had more applicants than openings for the ninth grade. We have had wait list for the 11th and 12th grades for two years now” said Ferris.
Curran and Ferris shared the date for their school’s upcoming Open House on February 2 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
“There will be a school tour, an opportunity for questions and answers and a chance to meet the teachers,” Ferris said. “We are very proud of our school. We are proud of where we are and how well our students do.”
She explained that although 40-50% of their students do in fact, choose to go through the construction pathways program, the school worked hard to address the needs of all their students, those who attend college, those who join the military, and those who choose the World of Work program, which is aimed at teaching students the soft skills they need to be successful in their careers, matching students up with an educational path which meets their career interests, and helping them find work experiences in high school in the field they’re considering.
“We have also added in Spanish classes to our curriculum so that our students who are going on to four year colleges will have that language requirement at graduation,” she said.
Curran said one of the school’s major assets is its hands-on construction lab, housed in a separate building on the school’s campus. The lab is about a third the size of a football field and allows students do real construction, hands-on heavy construction work. “They do bridge-building and build a 40 foot bridge, they lay asphalt and build a 40 foot road, they do jack-hammering, scaffolding, welding, anything they’d do out in the field, they do out in the lab,” he said.
The students at NEL/CPS get a great deal of community service time also, contributing their skills to local area construction projects. They recently worked on the front walkway outside of Hugh B. Bain Middle School and also worked on the Station Fire Memorial project.
“We are the only program of this nature in the country, and we are the only ones with instruction in the work of infrastructure and plastic pipe fusion,” said Curran. “There are going to be jobs needed to correct infrastructure issues, and our students are learning that here.” He said students that graduate from the program can attend Pomfret Training Academy in Connecticut for free, including room and board, and after four weeks of training there, they are employable in the Laborers’ field. “They have come back to us and say they’re making $70,000 a year, they have full benefits, they have full annuity plans. This is a phenomenal opportunity for them” said Curran.
Those students on the college track have the same opportunities as students at Cranston East or Cranston West to earn dual enrollment credits, graduating high school already having college classes under their belts, for free.
Both Curran and Ferris felt that the Credit Recovery opportunities for students are very personalized due to the small size of the school population.
“Our high school is a fit for those students for whom bigger schools are not a fit for some students. We are a solid option for students here in Cranston,” Curran said.
Traficante said that early on in the planning stages for the school, it was determined that the charter high school could not and would not duplicate any of the programming already in existence in the pathways programs at CACTC, making the construction curriculum at NEL/CPS entirely different than the Residential Remodeling and Repair Construction pathways program at CACTC.
“They are doing much more heavy and highway construction here, they are doing more horizontal construction such as roadways and tunnels, more work with environmental remediation,” he said. “This is an entirely different program than what is offered in the other high school’s program.”
All of the teachers at NEL/CPS are certified and members of the teachers’ union; the secretaries and custodians are also members of their bargaining units as well. The school is governed by a Board of Directors which includes representatives from the Laborers’ Union, the school superintendent, the teachers’ union, a representative from the Association of General contractors, someone from CCRI, a parent, someone from the general public and from the Cranston School Committee. Traficante serves on the board as a representative from the Laborers’ Union, not from the Cranston School Committee, where he is currently serving.
“This is a great program,” Traficante said. “It’s really skyrocketed with Dennis and Carolyn on board. It’s a great opportunity for students to learn the skills they need to get a job or to pursue a post-secondary education.””
The meeting at NEL/CPS was hosted by Curran, Ferris, and Traficante, and attended by the CEAB chair, John McCarthy, Joe Rotz, from Central Administration, Jeff Gale, from the Cranston School Committee, Jen Davey from Park View Middle School, Jacqueline Kelly, from Cranston High School West, and Sharon Moitoso, from Woodridge Elementary School.
For more information about NEL/CPS, visit their website: nelcpscca.wixsite.
The next CEAB meeting is February 13 at 7:00 p.m. at the Cranston High School East Media Center.