September 2, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart
A WARM WELCOME: Sixth-grader Chris Shorey, a new student at Glen Hills, walks down to his classroom with Commissioner Gist and Principal DeCristofaro.
Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist loves the first week of school.
“The first week of school is my absolute favorite time of the year. It’d be impossible for me to stay away from classrooms during the first week,” she said on Tuesday as she toured Glen Hills Elementary School.
Gist said she wanted to be in the Cranston schools for the first day of school, and that Superintendent Peter Nero was very welcoming when she phoned and asked him if she could spend some time with the Cranston students.
Chester Barrows first-grader Claire Dancause and her big sister, Annemarie Dancause in third grade, had the opportunity, along with their mother, to walk to school with Commissioner Gist and Superintendent Nero.
Gist met the family at their home and took the daily walk to school with them. Once at Barrows, she spent nearly an hour in the schoolyard, greeting Barrows students and their families on their first morning back.
“She spent about 45 minutes visiting with parents and talking to them,” said Principal Paul Heatherton. “It was a great way to start off the school year.”
From there, Gist and Nero headed over to join the Glen Hills Elementary School community as their families began the school day. Gist spent time greeting the families in the lobby and then took a tour of the building, stopping into several classrooms along the way.
As she walked, she spoke to Principal Jay DeCristofaro about several of the school’s programs, including the Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports program (PBIS), which integrates positive school behaviors with the prevention of bullying. Many of the school’s teachers participated in intensive PBIS training over the summer.
Gist stopped to speak to classrooms and visited with individual students, kneeling down next to them and asking about what they were working on. She also made time to meet and greet some of the students who were new to the school in each of the classrooms they visited, asking them where they were from and if they were excited about the new school year.
As she walked from room to room, Gist would stop and introduce herself to teachers and students who were passing in the hallways, complimenting them on their behavior or wishing them a good first day of school.
When she visited Jody Joseph’s first grade classroom, Gist told the students how lucky they were to be in a classroom filled with books, as she loves to read.
As she spoke to the third-graders in Michelle Cornelia’s class, Gist was sure to spread the word though, about what she considers to be the most important job of all: being a teacher.
“Most importantly, I used to be a fifth grade teacher,” she told them.
Both Nero and DeCristofaro, who are former CPS teachers, welcomed Gist to join them in any one of the Cranston classrooms, any time she gets the urge to teach a lesson in the future.