Avedisian stands by school superintendent amid calls for resignation

Watch: Full interview with Dr. Thornton »

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — An array of problems in Warwick schools brought a huge crowd to a School Committee hearing Tuesday night, with several parents calling for the resignation of Superintendent Philip Thornton.

But on Wednesday, Thornton told Eyewitness News he has no plans to step down, and Mayor Scott Avedisian gave the superintendent his vote of confidence.

Concerned parents packed the Toll Gate High School auditorium as the committee discussed a number of issues, including fire alarms not working at two elementary schools and air quality and sewage concerns at Warwick Veterans Middle School.

“To be blunt, as a parent, I would like him to step down,” Norwood Elementary PTA President Jessica Cortez said of Thornton.

Cortez’s statement was met with cheers from the crowd on Tuesday and several other parents made similar requests for Thornton to resign.

Mayor Avedisian pushed back strongly at those suggestions on Wednesday, saying Thornton inherited many of the problems that have arisen and blaming a previous lack of leadership.

“We had at least two superintendents that paid no attention to the school buildings and instead wanted to go create all these new programs,” Avedisian said. “Now we have a superintendent saying we have major structural issues in our schools.”

Avedisian also called on school leaders to step up and face the problems head on.

“I think he has been incredibly truthful and honest with people and listed our deficiencies,” Avedisian said of Thornton. “Maybe we don’t want to hear our deficiencies, maybe we don’t want to tackle our issues. Now it’s up to us to say we’re going to be adult enough to tackle these issues, and I’m not sure people are there yet.”

One major complaint from parents was the approximately one-month delay between the fire alarm systems failing inspection at Norwood and Holliman Elementary Schools and when notifications were sent out about it.

Avedisian conceded that communication could’ve been better, but said the actions Thornton took to notify the city’s fire department and initiate a fire watch were appropriate.

“Everything that should’ve been done was done,” said Avedisian. “It just wasn’t communicated properly.”

Thornton apologized Tuesday night for the delay in notifying parents. On Wednesday, he told Eyewitness News via email he doesn’t intend to step down but plans to work towards improving communication, writing:

“I completely understand the concerns of our parents and teachers. As Superintendent, I want to assure them we will do better. We had a breakdown in our internal communication process. Specifically, we failed in relaying information about the fire alarm system to staff and the community. We have addressed that at all levels and we are implementing new protocols to ensure that when we have these mechanical or facility failures, we communicate them internally and externally.”