Burrillville public schools enroll 96 new students

Roofing supplies sit atop Austin T. Levy School. The new roof was installed as part of a comprehensive energy efficiency project at Burrillville schools.

BURRILLVILLE – Fears that enrollment at Burrillville public schools would continue to drop have been allayed for the time being.

Supt. Michael Sollitto reports that 96 new students joined the district over the summer months, in addition to the regular class of kindergarteners that signed up for school in April.   

“It’s higher than normal,” Sollitto told NRI NOW. “Everybody has been placed. Everybody has been scheduled.”

And thanks to summer projects, Sollitto says the facilities are ready for the increased action.

Austin T. Levy, which serves the town’s youngest students, saw the largest increase, with 37 new students joining classes when the school opens its doors on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Returning parents and students will find major improvements at the school, which was closed over the summer so that new flooring could be installed in the hallways and the cafeteria. The HVAC system was also upgraded at the school, and construction on a new roof began, with work to be completed by late September. 

The school, named after well-known mill owner and philanthropist Levy, houses roughly 350 students attending preschool, kindergarten and first grade. 

Some 32 combined new students will be joining the other two elementary schools in town, Steere Farm and William L. Callahan Schools. Upgrades there include heat added to the stairwells at Steere Farm, and HVAC upgrades, with a new boiler installed by the end of October at Callahan.

Burrillville Middle School has 14 new 6th, 7th and 8th graders joining classes, and over the summer, upgrades saw a new water booster system installed in the building with energy efficient pumps.

At Burrillville High School, 13 kids have joined a population of around 800 9th through 12th graders. 

Summer work at BHS included the installation of new boilers, a project expected to be complete by the end of September, and upgrades to the girls’ locker rooms at Levy Rink, work that Facilities Director Bill Robinson says will be done before the rink is in use in November.

The high school also had a number of security upgrades this summer, with wings and rooms of the building renumbered to align with national safety standards, and upgrades performed on security cameras. 

The district, Sollitto notes, may have more security upgrades on the horizon.

“As a part of the recently announced governor’s $10 million commitment to security measures in schools, we plan on applying for reimbursement,” he said of a $100,000 school infrastructure project that would see more security camera upgrades and swipe card system upgrades, as well as work on security door locksets.

If the projects are approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education, the superintendent notes that the district may be eligible for reimbursement of up to 57 percent on the work.

The district has also implemented several new classroom initiatives.

During 2018/2019 school year Burrillville elementary schools will pilot a new math program known as “Eureka.”

“Eureka is a curriculum tool that aims at developing conceptual understanding and encourages students to use various mental strategies to solve problems,” said Sollitto. “There is also an assessment and data collection component that will allow teachers to monitor student understanding and identify areas of need.”

Middle school students will see robotics and engineering classes expanded, and at the high school, two new CTE programs have been added: engineering and construction technology. 

“We also are offering a Biomedical Science pathway and will be applying for RIDE approval for this pathway during the school year,” said Sollitto.

The increased enrollment reverses a pattern town officials feared would lead to a continued a loss in state funding to the district. Burrillville schools saw state aid decrease by $727,000 this year due to last year’s drop in enrollment, a trend Town Manager Michael Wood said would leave town finances unsustainable if it continued. 

The School Department even eliminated one bus route this year to account for last year’s decreased enrollment at the urging of town councilors. Transportation has accommodated all new registrations and Business Manager Robin Kimatian communicates regularly with bus company Dattco.

Solitto, who replaced 9-year Supt. Frank Pallotta in July, said funding is among his top concerns for Burrilville education.

“As with most districts, Burrillville is faced with fiscal constraints,” said Sollitto. “Contractual obligations and state regulations leave a limited amount of discretionary funds. With the expansion of charter schools and the change in regulations regarding CTE program acceptance, the costs associated with students attending out of district schools has increased tremendously.”   

Last year, charter schools were among the culprits blamed for decreased enrollment. Sollitto said that while the district will not have a final number until the 2018/2019 school year begins, administrators are expecting total enrollment to be up by around 50 students.

“One of our goals for this year – and beyond – is to promote all of the amazing work that is happening in our schools every day,” said Solitto. “Through recognizing and promoting this important work, we hope to keep Burrillville students in our public schools and to offer competitive programs that address the needs of our students and families.” 

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