FMS pioneering new program - Kent County Times  
Sunday, 21 October 2007

Hannah Clarkin
Daily Times
COVENTRY — This fall, middle school students are finding big changes. Not only has their school changed names from Knotty Oak to the Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School of Coventry, but it has a new administration, new teachers and, as one of the only schools in the state piloting a new school improvement plan, a new vision, as well.

Principal Michael Almeida joined the school this fall, flanked by assistant principals Tracey Whitehead and Augusto Gomes. Collectively, the school has signed on with the Rhode Island Department of Education to develop a strategic school improvement program that will serve as a model for the rest of the state.

Almeida says the program will combine student, faculty and parent energies to create an integrated learning culture. It will also provide accountability for the use of state funds per student.

The program will focus on four areas of action: literacy, numeracy, personalization, and family and community. Each area will have an accompanying action team of five to seven members drawn from faculty and parents. The team will meet every other month to set goals and track progress.

Almeida’s first area of focus is in parental relations. "When parents walk into this building," he says, "whether it’s to pick up their kids, for a social event, to volunteer at a dance, they need to be greeted in a very respectful way.

"They need to know we’re a resource for them; we’re in this together," he says.

See SCHOOL, Page A-8

HISTORICALLY, PARENTAL RELATIONS with the middle school have been less friendly than they could be, Almeida says.

Parent Robin Dazzeo agrees. "There is a lot of focus on the difference [between elementary school and middle school] for the student, but not for the parent," she says of her reservations about sending her child to the middle school.

"Elementary schools have an open-door policy. They have 500 students, and everyone really knows you and your kids. I don’t feel that when I walk into the middle school."

When she heard there would be 1,400 students at the middle school, Dazzeo says, she considered sending her child to private school or homeschooling. In the end, she decided to give the school a try. She says she’s been pleasantly surprised.

"I feel like Dr. Almeida and his staff are breathing new life into the middle school environment," Dazzeo says. "The students feel it, staff feels it, and, hopefully, parents will feel it as well. It’s invigorating."

"This community has an unbelievable precedent for performance," says Almeida, who came to Coventry from Riverside Middle School in East Providence. "There’s a willingness to go above and beyond."

Assistant Principal Whitehead, who came to Feinstein after working at the Rhode Island Department of Education, agrees that this is Coventry’s statewide reputation.

"We want to help parents see that a lot of what is happening [at a middle school] is just part of being a young adult, there is so much that goes on," Whitehead says. "We also want to help parents for whom school was not a good experience to make it a good one for their kids."

Social Studies teacher Ted Mitchell says he thinks this program will be effective because it is goal-oriented.

"The new administration is extremely long-term thinking," he says. "Education can be very trend-oriented, you’re always keeping up with new state requirements, this process is different," and Mitchell says, more sustainable.


FOCUSING ON THE PARENTAL RELATIONS is essential, according to Mitchell. "My job as a teacher is made so much easier when the parents and I are on the same page," he says. "The majority of the kids who do well come from families that are very supportive of education."

To make parents feel more welcome, Almeida has several changes already under way. He wants to set up a greeting program so parents feel instantly welcome when they enter the school. He is also planning to start a once-a-month coffee and Danish hour.

"Parents can come in and talk to the administration or hear a presentation about what’s going on and then they can take a 30-minute tour and see what is going on at the school that morning," Almeida says. "Doing something at night doesn’t capture what happens during the day."

Additionally, Almeida says he plans to make even more use of communication devices like the school list-serve, newsletter and website. He urges parents to establish personal communication with him if they have any concerns or ideas. "They can call me directly at any time or e-mail me."

The middle school will begin to develop in the area of numeracy, by meeting to discuss the math curriculum this Friday, and will continue with personalizing the team system and literacy in the subsequent months. The action plan for the next several years is due to the Department of Education in November.

Almeida can be reached at 822-9426 or by e-mailing