My name is Justin Cahir and I am running for School Committee. I am committed to making a change for the positive in our community. I pledge to ensure taxpayers have a clear line of sight into the money the school department is spending, the effectiveness of those initiatives and making sure you get the best return on your investment. In addition, I commit to making it easier for you as parents and community members to be involved in important topics the school committee is discussing. Academics, open mindedness and finding solutions with feedback from the community are just a few of the things I will focus on if elected. Check back often for commentary on things that are happening in our schools! Please don't hesitate to reach out to me with any questions!
Please take a moment to read a recent Opinion Piece I wrote for East Greenwich News. If you feel strongly about this topic, please consider making a comment under the article on the website! The link is below, but I've also posted the write up below if you'd like to read it here.
Opinion: Accountability & Transparency: Your Money Matters! – East Greenwich News
I decided to run for School Committee in East Greenwich when I first reviewed the school’s Strategic Plan (SP) last summer (EGPS ‘21-’24 Strategic Plan). The SP outlines the district’s goals, priorities, and initiatives for the next four years, 2021-2024. The School Committee references this plan often and bases many of their decisions on its purpose. It was fully approved in October of 2021. As I wrote for East Greenwich News in December 2021, “Opinion: Schools Falling Behind – Property Values Next? – East Greenwich News,” it’s relevant not only for EG parents, but all taxpayers of this town. There is over $600K of your tax dollars being spent on various initiatives tied to the Strategic Plan and few measurements of success to show if any of them are working.
The lack of accountability and transparency not only in the plan itself but the infrequent updates the community has received since its approval is one of the main reasons that drove me to run for School Committee. We are now 25 percent of the way through the 4-year plan and there are very few, quantifiable metrics to measure success in the SP. There has been one update on tracking metrics in a “data dashboard” YTD (Data Dashboard Presentation 6-7-22 SC) to track success this past spring, and it’s questionable if the school even has the infrastructure to measure this data.
One example of this is the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS). On the EGSD website, MTSS is described as “using data to make evidence informed and student-centered decisions about teaching and learning” (East Greenwich School Dept. – MTSS (egsd.net). It goes on to state that over 30 educators from all schools and many disciplines will assist with implementing the framework. This sounds like an amazing program! Not only that, but it was also one of the #1 listed initiatives in the school department’s ‘21 Strategic Plan’s Priorities. The school budget allocated $166,244 of ESSER II funds (COVID learning loss related) which will be exhausted after FY ’23, and we had a district known administrator leading this great program and overseeing its success.
I wish I could tell you how it’s going. There have been two updates on this program YTD, (MTSS 1/18) and (5/3 link not working). Neither show what the criteria for entry is, what the status of the middle school or high school program is, what the success rate has been for MS and HS, or who will run this program now that the leading administrator overseeing MTSS has moved on to a new role. At the meeting in May, next steps included from the presentation: MTSS district goals ‘22-’23 and “data work.” Despite reaching out to program administrators, I have not been successful in locating any of the data the program is designed to be using to make “evidence informed” decisions.
If MTSS hasn’t gained traction, there are important questions that need to be answered one year into a two-year funded plan. What go forward plan is there to support not only our struggling students but students who need more of a challenge? How exactly was the $166K attached to the MTSS initiative used? In which ways could it have been used to implement tangible outcomes? For example, could we have added on one or two additional mental wellness coaches or interventionalists for our children who so desperately need the support?
In my professional career, I have initiated and executed over 250 initiatives from beginning to end, ranging in size, budget, and timing. The very first thing I do for every initiative is determine how we will measure success. Without this, how do we know if we have made a good investment? How do we know if what we’ve developed is beneficial for our kids, families, and teachers? How else do we determine what changes need to be made if something is not working? How do we know if YOUR tax dollars are being put to good use in our schools? Despite what some might say, colleges still base acceptance on Math and English acumen. For a district that has seen a downward trend in these subjects over the past few years, now is not the time to get lackadaisical on our initiative management.
In addition to measurements of success, in my professional role, we assign owners to every aspect of the initiative and provide a detailed timeline of when these milestones should be met. If there is a risk of delay, it is communicated early and often. Within the district’s Strategic Plan, I see no owners aligned to any of the initiatives that make up the $600,000 worth of investments. How is there any accountability if we don’t even know who is responsible to execute?
If I am elected to the School Committee, I will ensure parents and taxpayers are updated often on how their money is being spent and if the initiatives aimed at making students’, teachers’, and parents’ experiences better are making a difference. I will revisit the Strategic Plan and ensure the initiatives that are aligned to our priorities are measurable and we can realistically define success. I will ensure we have owners aligned to each of those initiatives, so there is accountability for the success or needed improvements of those programs. I can ensure we are not left in the dark wondering if we are getting a positive return on investment on our tax dollars and, more importantly, if it is having an actual impact on our students. I respectfully ask for your vote on Nov. 8 so I can help implement this transparency!
A neighbor said to me the other day “please thank your family for their support in your running for office as well”. I couldn’t agree more. It was a gorgeous day for knocking on neighbors doors. Thanks to my wife and kids for their support over the past few months. I couldn’t be doing this without them! Saxon was a big fan of all the Halloween decorations!!
I spent a couple hours meeting neighbors today and had some great conversations. This neighbor was a teacher for over 30 years and has lived in EG since the early 50’s!! We spoke for a long time about our agreed focus on academics and education.
RICAS test scores are always released in October. Even up until last week the RIDE website showed October as the test release dates to the public. Now Governor McKee announced today they won’t be released until November, after the election. You’d have to assume if they were positive he’d want them out right away. Very disappointing parents won’t be able to use that information to help them decide future leadership. Transparency is key and something I will bring to the School Committee if elected Nov 8th!
We had a great morning meeting with neighbors at the Swift Senior Center Lunch!
Candidates who also attended:
Doreen Costa for State Senate
Brandon Salomon for EG Town Council
Peter Carney for EG School Committee
I was able to speak to a lot of neighbors tonight knocking on doors. This neighbor sits on the Special Education subcommittee which has made significant progress this year with the community survey and audit being conducted and approved. I will make sure all the resources, initiatives and money spent on our Special Education programs have accountability and transparency tied to them. You as parents and taxpayers should know what your money is being spent on and how those programs are performing, especially for our children in need of extra support.
I had another great evening meeting neighbors. In addition to this neighbor agreeing with me that our schools should be focusing on academics, he shared with me several amazing revenue generating ideas he’s shared with our current administration that have fallen on deaf ears. I’m out meeting neighbors to show you I WILL listen to your great ideas and consider all thoughts and opinions of the community!! Please consider voting for me on Nov 8th!
I’ve knocked on close to 500 doors over the past several weeks and plan to knock on over 500 more before Election Day. I’ve had enlightening conversations with many of our neighbors. I will work hard for this community and more importantly I will listen to you when it comes to our kids education. Please consider voting for me on Nov 8th and keep and ear out for a knock on your door soon!
I had some great conversations with neighbors on 9/1 canvassing. This gentleman in particular spoke about something that is all too common.
“We moved to East Greenwich for the schools and because of the downtrend in academics we’ve moved them to private schools.” I’ve also heard: “We’re strongly considering moving to private school” This gentleman also told me I’m the first candidate who’s come to his house since he’s moved here in 2018.
Parents in this community have close, open relationships with their kids. Parents teach their kids morals and kindness. The focus of schools should be academics, life skills and technical skills. Not how to be nice to each other. Parents in the community do a fine job of that at home.
If I’m elected to the SC in Nov I will ensure academics is one of the top priorities, we are reinforcing in our school culture.
Credit: Picture taken by my newly minted 7th grader who was a big help to dad tonight!! Thanks LC!!
Accountability and Transparency
One of the main factors that led to my decision to run for School Committee in East Greenwich was when I first reviewed the school’s Strategic Plan (SP) last summer. The SP outlines the districts goals, priorities, and initiatives for the next four years, running from 2021-2024. The School Committee references this plan often and bases many of its decisions on the plan’s purpose. It was fully approved in October of 2021. As I wrote in an opinion piece for EG News in Nov. of 2021, Link, I have the utmost respect for the community members and administrators who worked on and developed the SP. If you haven’t seen it, take a look. (EGPS StrategicPlan) It’s relevant not only for parents of EG students, but also all taxpayers of this town. Over $600K of your tax dollars are being spent on various initiatives tied to the SP, and there are no metrics or data that I’ve seen show if any of them are working. Budget Link (Click on the EGPS FY 22-23 budget doc. Initiative costs can be found on slides 23-35)
So, what made me decide to run for School Committee? The lack of accountability and transparency not only in the plan itself, but the updates (or lack thereof) the community has received since its approval. We are almost 25% of the way through the 4-year plan and there have been approximately three to four updates that I can recall on initiatives laid out in the plan. I’ve attended every school committee meeting since last August, so I feel I have a decent grasp on what is discussed. There are very few, if any, quantifiable metrics to measure success in the SP, and I’ve only seen one update this spring on metrics to track success.
In my professional career, I have initiated and executed over 200 initiatives from beginning to end, ranging in size, budget, and timing. The first thing I do is determine how the company will measure success. Without this, how do we know if we made a good investment? How do we know if what we’ve developed is beneficial? What changes need to be made if something is not working? How do we know if YOUR tax dollars are being put to good use in our schools? There seems to be a lack of transparency when it comes to the success or needed improvements of these initiatives. For a district that has seen a downward trend in Math and English acumen over the past few years, now is not the time to get lackadaisical with our initiative management.
In addition to measurements of success, in my role, we assign owners to every aspect of the initiative and provide a detailed timeline of when these milestones should be met. If there is a risk of delay it is communicated early and often. Within the school’s SP, I see no owners aligned to any of the initiatives connected to those $600K investments. How is there any accountability if we don’t even know who is responsible to execute?
If I am elected to the School Committee, I will ensure that you as parents and taxpayers are updated often on how your money is being spent and if the initiatives those dollars are being spent on are actually making a difference for our kids. I will make it a priority to align owners to each one of those initiatives so there is accountability for the success or needed improvements of those initiatives. We should not be left in the dark wondering not only if we are getting a positive return on investment, but what the actual impact is on our schools.
Eldredge and the School Building Master Plan
I like to stay updated on things. I’ve attended every school committee meeting for over a year and several finance and building sub-committee meetings. I feel I’m pretty fluent on what’s going on. The major question on everyone’s radar as of late is what will become of the town’s centerpiece, Eldredge? Very valid question and not one that’s easy to answer. Recent legislation was passed in RI that focuses on affordable housing, some of which will make a huge difference in making it easier for low-income families to afford housing across the state. On the other hand, others take the decision away from local towns and communities that have not met the 10% low-income housing goal. EG is one of those communities.
One bill in particular could have a direct impact on East Greenwich and the decisions being made about your beloved town centerpiece, Eldredge. The building sub-committee has already voted and agreed, unanimously, that Eldredge will be decommissioned as a school. The school building Master Plan is heavily dependent on meeting certain criteria set forth by RIDE that would increase the reimbursement amount the state would give back to East Greenwich. The committee has decided that renovating Eldredge is too expensive and will not meet RIDE’s standards to be eligible for reimbursement, something very important to the building committee as well as taxpayers. But, to what detriment? Bill H7943A, which was passed at the end of June states, in part:
“…on an annual basis, provide to the speaker of the house, the president of the senate, and the secretary of housing, a list of all school buildings which have been abandoned or are no longer being used by a school district.” It goes on to note for districts below the 10% low- or moderate-income housing (EG is in the 6% range)… “for purposes of conducting a feasibility assessment to repurpose the building as affordable housing.”
You see, it doesn’t matter what the Sub-Committee, Town Council, or any taxpayer or parent in the town wants to do with Eldredge. The bill murkily states that if it is no longer being used as a school, it doesn’t matter if the town decides to use it as a rec center, a historical society building, administrative offices, or anything else for that matter. Calls to the Housing Czars office to clarify the bill have gone unanswered. It could likely be that Eldredge needs to be turned over to the state and assessed with the aim of converting it to affordable housing. Will it make the cut? Who knows? This will be up to the new state Housing Czar and a task force that will assess the former school. Are we willing to take that chance as a town? Are the residents of the Hill neighborhood, who may have specifically moved to that area for school within walking distance, willing to take that chance?
This bill’s ramifications have not been brought up once at a subcommittee meeting by our School Committee Vice Chair, who is also the subcommittee chair, or our Town Council member who is also on the sub-committee. They have said repeatedly in meetings and on social media, “Oh, we would never demolish Eldredge; we plan to keep it and use it to serve the community based on taxpayers’ feedback.” Are they not aware of this recent legislation? If not, that would be a pretty big oversight on their part. If they are aware of the legislation, why have they not made this a central aspect of community discussions? Have our School Committee and subcommittee members reached out to our state Representative, who voted in favor of this legislation, to ask her to advocate on our town’s behalf?
If I am elected as a School Committee member, I will always stay up to date on ALL things that could affect the decisions we need to make regarding our schools and outside factors that could play a part in those decisions. I will also work closely with our state Rep. and Senator to champion East Greenwich and its constituents. Don’t let the current administration’s promises fool you. It seems like they don’t even know that this important decision could already be out of our hands.
In addition, this doesn't even address my additional concern about how the current plan does not account for the growth we will experience in our town over the next 10 years. But that's a topic for another day and which I will be highlighting in my future communications.
Vote Justin Cahir for School Committee in November to bring the leadership you deserve to our schools.
7-31-22 - I have been very interested in the new Master Building Plan currently being discussed in the School Building subcommittee over the past couple months. There are SEVERAL severe issues and concerns I have with these discussions. Check back soon for a more extensive write up on my thoughts!!