One constant bright spot through all the turmoil of previous years in the Bristol Warren Regional School District has been Dr. Deb DeBiase, beloved principal of Mt. Hope High School.
Not long ago, the Bristol Warren Regional School District was considered a district on the rise. Metrics and morale were trending in a good direction, one elementary school was among the highest-performing in Rhode Island, and Mt. Hope High School was pushing toward top-tier status in some measurements.
Though the wheels have not totally come off, the district bus is rattling down a bumpy road of late. The school committee forced out one superintendent (Mario Andrade); brought in a replacement without even conducting a search (Jonathan Brice); then forced out that superintendent; brought in an interim replacement (Robert Hicks); burned the bridge with him and watched him leave weeks later; replaced him with a former superintendent (Ed Mara); said goodbye to him weeks later; and finally hired Ana Riley late last year.
That all occurred in less than two and a half years.
During that same time, the district lost and replaced most of its senior administrators and some of its principals, including the entire leadership structure at Kickemuit Middle School. It also endured a string of embarrassing episodes, including discovery of a financial quagmire, stubborn refusal to respect a Jewish high holiday, and accusations of racism by a spurned outside consultant.
One constant bright spot through all the turmoil has been Deb DeBiase, beloved principal of Mt. Hope High School. There are many ways to assess the performance of a high-level administrator, and public schools are constantly measured in the cold, hard facts of student performance — test scores, graduation rates, college acceptances, etc. On those, Mt. Hope High School is still not one of Rhode Island’s top high schools.
But another way to measure high-level leadership is through culture, and on this measurement Deb DeBiase is among the best. As principal, and as a person, she exudes energy, passion, fun and affection. She loves her job, she embraces her students (often, literally), she engages and empowers her faculty, and she builds school spirit inclusively.
Through programs and passion, she has helped build a culture where students enjoy coming to school. Whether for music or theater or robotics or business or friendships or their principal, many Mt. Hope students discover a passion within — and a reason to come to school — because of the collaborative, supported culture within that school.
Not all schools can say the same. Though considered the best of the best, Barrington High School can be a soulless organization, led by robot-like administrators, where top students thrive and the larger majority drift this way and that.
Hopefully the school committee can see past its own stubbornness, listen to its highly respected superintendent and reward its highly engaged high school community, by re-hiring “Dr. D” for at least another year. In a district bumping down the road of turmoil and turnover, they need to invest in consistency at the top.