New state Board of Education meets for 1st time

Monday was a big day for education in Rhode Island.

"It's an historic day for education in Rhode Island," said Eva-Marie Mancuso, the new chairwoman of the state Board of Education.

"It's an exciting day. This is a big change for Rhode Island," said Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.

Gist is talking about the recent merger of the Board of Governors for Higher Education and the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

The newly combined entity is called The Rhode Island Board of Education, and the group held its first meeting and official vote on Monday.

Some education experts said merging the two boards will provide students with endless new opportunities.

"It really challenges us to look at education from early child learning, right through adult education," Mancuso said.

And the education overhaul means that changes are coming across the board.

"There will be a lot of changes, including the way in which we define what it means for our students to leave our schools ready for college, ready for higher education. So, together with our partners in higher education we've been working on that. And together we've been working on shared assessments so we don't have students taking multiple different kinds of tests," Gist said.

"The idea is that we all work together to try to make it seamless, so that a child that starts out hopefully in pre-kindergarten through kindergarten all the way through education as an adult that, in fact everybody, all the trained educators know what's happening with the whole process," said Mancuso.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee said the goal is simple: to turn out more motivated and prepared students from the system.

"We want to drive down our dropout rates at our high schools, and the way to do that is to have a hope that I can go to CCRI, I can go to RIC, I can go to URI. We can go to high school students to think, yes, I want to go on to higher ed," Chafee said.

Although the legislation does allow for the possibility of two commissioners, merging the two boards could come with staffing cuts and changes.

"How the staff changes, and how we work through the efficiencies in that area is what we're looking at going forward," Mancuso said. "What we're looking for is efficiencies, whether its elimination or a shift of resources into a different area remains to be seen, but certainly that's one thing we're looking at. It could happen."

"I think it's a great move for the state. It is complex, and I think that's important for everyone in the state to understand is that this is a pretty major undertaking, but there are huge opportunities within it, and we're going to make it work," Gist said.

Gist said gone are the days that every child's education looks the same, adding that the new system will allow teachers and guidance counselors to build a more customized learning framework for each student.