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PAWTUCKET â€” It's official: an assistant principal at Middletown High School who began his career as a mathematics teacher will take over the helm of the William E. Tolman High School starting July 1.
Christopher Savastano, of Jamestown, was unanimously appointed as principal by the School Committee at its May 15 meeting. Savastano was the top choice of Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke and a search committee, and he was also interviewed by the School Committee.
According to school officials, Savastano will be paid an annual salary of $118,283. This amount is higher than the previous principal's salary of $107,769, but is calculated on being asked to work an additional 20 days. Schools Business Manager Thomas Conlon said the higher salary was budgeted for because it was considered important to the transformation plan to expand from 205 working days to 225 for the principals and other school personnel.
Savastano replaces Frederick Silva, who had been principal of Tolman High School since 2004. The change in leadership was mandated under the state Department of Education-approved transformation plan that has been implemented to improve the graduation rates at both Tolman and Shea high schools. Interviews are currently being held with finalists for the job of principal at Shea High School and a decision is expected to be made shortly.
Savastano told The Times that he is pleased and excited about his new position, even though it comes at a time when the high school will be under intense scrutiny and pressure to improve under the intervention plan.
â€śIt is an honor to be selected to lead Tolman during this critical point of reform,â€ť he stated. He added that he is â€śthrilledâ€ť to be working with Cylke, who he considers to be â€śa dynamic leaderâ€ť and Patrica DiCenso, Pawtucket's secondary schools performance officer, who he knew from Rogers High School in Newport and credits with â€śturning that school around.â€ť
Savastano also said he had visited Tolman and found the staff to be â€śvery welcoming. Very supportive.â€ť â€śAnd I know they are hardworking because I met with many of the students as well,â€ť he said.
An educator for 23 years, Savastano has spent the past 13 years at Middletown High. He has taught math and computer science there, and for the last four years has been director of fine arts and applied sciences. Additionally, he has served as the site coordinator for the Virtual High School, a Massachusetts-based organization which Middletown High contracts with to supplement certain programs of study for its students. Prior to that, the Cranston native taught math for 10 years in that city's public school system, including at the high school and junior high school levels.
Savastano cites his experience in the Cranston public schools as helping him to understand urban and diverse school environments. He also said that there is a fair amount of cultural diversity at Middletown High due to sons and daughters of personnel who work at the U.S. Naval Underwater Systems Center and other places that draw a more international workforce.
Savastano also said that he â€śunderstands the challengesâ€ť that come from a school being in need of reform. He said that while Middletown High was not in intervention, he has experience with some of the requirements that are part of the transformation plan for Tolman and Shea.
For example, Savastano said that Middletown relies on a â€ścontinuous use of dataâ€ť to make sure students are aligned with â€ścommon coreâ€ť state standards, and utilizes a â€śwarning systemâ€ť to target and provide intervention to students in danger of failing courses or not graduating. Middletown also has adopted a â€śprofessional learning community modelâ€ť that uses â€śformative assessments to improve student achievement.â€ť He said that both Cylke and state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist believe in this model, part of a movement developed by Chicago educators Richard and Rebecca DuFour.
â€śIt's not a magic wand, but it is about harnessing and focusing the hard work that teachers are doing and getting them to work collaboratively,â€ť said Savastano.