Thornton returns to Cumberland School Department

Thornton returns to Cumberland School Department

CUMBERLAND – Philip Thornton, the town’s former superintendent of schools who left for the same post in Warwick back in 2015, is back, set to return to the role after Supt. Bob Mitchell officially retires in June.

“The Cumberland School Committee is pleased to announce that after a comprehensive search and interview process, we will be welcoming back Dr. Philip Thornton as the next superintendent for the Cumberland School Department,” said the School Committee in a statement this week. “Dr. Thornton will replace Supt. Mitchell who is retiring at the end of the school year. Dr. Thornton is a familiar face to the district as he was the superintendent from 2011 to 2015.”

The School Committee will hold a formal vote tonight, April 29, on reappointing Thornton to the position.

During his time in Cumberland, Thornton frequently expressed dismay about the fact that Cumberland was last in funding per student. He had generally gained the respect of other school officials during his four years in Cumberland, according to a 2015 Valley Breeze story.

“Thornton is prepared to leave Cumberland after waging a four-year battle over school funding that saw him repeatedly complain – beginning in 2011 and still in 2015 – that Cumberland spends less per student than any system in the state, including the economically challenged city of Woonsocket,” read the story at the time.

Those funding battles have lessened somewhat in more recent years. Thornton is returning to a district that’s made substantial strides on its educational outcomes under Mitchell and is about to embark on a significant effort to upgrade all school facilities. He also has the benefit of having Antonio DiManna as his assistant superintendent, someone who has been widely hailed for his efforts in boosting academic performance in Cumberland and getting the district into the top five of districts on statewide testing.

DiManna told The Breeze in January that he would not be pursuing the top post, saying he was committed to keeping his curriculum team together to continue the work it started six years earlier.

Thornton left the North Kingstown school system in 2011 to become superintendent in Cumberland. He said he is now prepared to return to the district.

“I have been offered and am accepting the position of superintendent for the Cumberland School Department. I have truly valued being a part of a strong administrative team in Warwick and together much has been accomplished,” said Thornton in a statement to the media this week. “I now look forward to having the opportunity to return to Cumberland and work with their School Committee, administrative team, faculty and staff to continue the great work taking place in the district.”

After reviewing dozens of resumes, the Cumberland Superintendent Search Committee reviewed the credentials of 17 candidates with diverse backgrounds and experience, said the Cumberland school board in its statement. The committee included a variety of stakeholders, including teachers, school staff, administration, elected officials, and community members. The committee ultimately interviewed four candidates, overwhelmingly recommending Thornton to the School Committee as the most qualified candidate.

The School Committee then spent several hours interviewing Thornton before voting unanimously to offer him a contract, which he has accepted.

“We are confident that Dr. Thornton will successfully lead the district through its upcoming challenges and opportunities, including the pandemic-related challenges we continue to face and the opportunities created by the $79 million capital improvement project that is set to begin over the summer,” read the statement.

The Warwick Post this week detailed the somewhat stormy tenure of Thornton in Warwick, including a community call for his resignation in 2017 after staff there failed to alert parents that two elementary schools had been operating without fire alarms for a month. The outlet also reported on the Warwick School Department’s lengthy efforts to keep the contents of the Ragosta Report detailing the handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a science teacher quiet. The human resources director under Thornton threatened the Warwick Post and Warwick Beacon with defamation lawsuits to prevent the details of the report from being disclosed, but the story was reported, and it showed that the human resources director had minimized and denied accusations from students of sexual misconduct against Mario Atoyan, among other assertions.

School funding was also a hot topic in Warwick during Thornton’s tenure there, including a 2019 brouhaha over $7.75 million in proposed cuts to the schools, including the entire $1.3 million budget for school sports. Much of that funding was subsequently restored.