How this superintendent is fueling multidisciplinary learning with a food truck

Launching a food truck will require the skills of students studying culinary arts, graphic design, automotive repair and business.

A food truck can be much more than a food truck, Superintendent Lawrence P. Filippelli says about one of his Rhode Island district’s most exciting new acquisitions.

Lawrence P. Filippelli
Lawrence P. Filippelli

The food truck will, of course, be a big part of Lincoln Public Schools’ culinary CTE program. But getting the truck going will require the skills and participation of students studying graphic design, automotive repair, business and law, among other subjects. “This food truck is a mobile classroom that is cross-curricular,” says Filippelli, Rhode Island’s 2023 Superintendent of the Year.

Lincoln Public Schools bought the five-year-old food truck from a restaurant with $125,000 worth of help from the Rhode Island Department of Education. Three graphic design students, including one who is special needs, have designed the wrap to cover the exterior of the truck, now dubbed the “Lion’s Mane” after the district’s mascot. Business and law students will review state regulations to ensure the truck has all the appropriate licenses.

The CTE focus jibes with the “vision of a graduate” framework Filippelli and his team are now finalizing after three years of work. “That’s the curriculum driver for everything we want our little Lions to be when they come to preschool and what we want our seniors to exit as when they graduate,” he says.

That vision, however, goes nowhere without the facilities to support i. Lincoln Public Schools, a suburban district of about 3,200 students, recently completed a $60 million renovation of its high school and is now building a $9 million physical education center. In the fall, voters will be asked to approve a $25 million bond to fund new gymnasiums, makerspaces, STEM spaces and reimagined cafeterias at the district’s elementary schools, where the media centers are also being renovated and updated.

“We’ve got a lot of infrastructure to support the curriculum,” Filippelli explains. “By the time we’re done, we’re probably going to spend close to $100M in renovations. That is really exciting.”

Why you need a second therapy dog

Meeting the social-emotional needs of students and adults presents one of the biggest issues that Filippelli says he and his team are facing as the school year winds down. “Last school year, we were coming out of COVID and we came out pretty strong but this year, getting back into those routines and putting COVID in the rear-view mirror, that really has been a challenge,” he says. “There have been some behaviors that we’ve had to address that just leave you scratching your head.”

The district has used ESSER funds to hire extra social workers and psychologists and ramped up professional development on trauma-informed practices. The district is also now home to a therapy dog, a Labradoodle named Willow. “She has made an incredible difference when it comes time for state testing and finals exams,” Filippelli says. “We’re considering getting a second one because it has made a huge impact to have a therapy dog here.”

Lincoln has not struggled to hire teachers as much as it has in filling administrative vacancies. The district has received about half the applications that it normally gets for an open position.

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Filippelli is seeing both lower enrollments in college administrative training programs and fewer teachers excited about moving to central office. The pay for a beginning administrator—such as an assistant principal—is not that much higher than for an experienced teacher who also earns a stipend for additional instructional duties. Some educators may not consider the pay increase worth the tilt in work-life balance for an administrator who is obligated to attend school events multiple nights a week, among other duties.

Can schools provide everything?

Filippelli is deeply involved in state and regional school safety efforts, including with SENTRY, a Northeastern University-based think tank that is backed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is looking into the role artificial intelligence can play in K12 security, among other research. The organization has also analyzed Lincoln’s lockdown drills.

He is also an adjuct instructor in the principal development program at Providence College and often works with state legislators on laws that will impact education, both positively and negatively. He is concerned about a bill that, at a cost of $15 million, would provide universal free meals to all students and the financial strain that could place on the state’s education system.

“Ever since we became mobile hospitals during COVID, parents have this expectation that schools just need to provide everything,” he concludes. “As you provide more, responsibility gets pulled away from parents, and when people have responsibilities pulled away from them, you get used to that really quickly.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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