September 23, 2014
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‘Aldrich better,’ Bushell says of motion to close Gorton

Access, a better layout of rooms and proximity to the rest of the school district all went into Robert Bushell’s concluding it makes sense to keep Aldrich open and close Gorton Junior High School.

Bushell, director of elementary education and a member of the committee studying closing a junior high school, made the motion to close Gorton at the committee’s meeting last Wednesday. It passed by a 7-2 vote, with one abstention. It now goes to the School Committee for a vote.

But the closing is far from a done deal.

The Gorton community of teachers, parents and students are mounting an effort to save the school. It includes petitions, calls to City Council and School Committee members and letters to the editor. Also, at the urging of some members of the short- and long-term committees, the school administration has agreed to convene meetings of the study committees before passing along a recommendation to the School Committee. Those meetings are scheduled for this Wednesday with a joint meeting at 3 p.m. followed by a long-term meeting at 3:30. The meetings are at Toll Gate High School.

Amie Galipeau, who opposed the motion to close Gorton, feels the two committees should work together and report back to the School Committee.

“We have to look at the long-term effect,” she said. “I feel like the decision was based on finances, not what’s best for the kids,” she said.

Jackie Harris-Connor, of the long-term committee, said the mission of the committees has changed, from looking at options to actually closing a junior high school.

“I don’t know why closing a school became so important in the last couple of months,” she said.

She questions what impact closing will have on curriculum and whether that has been fully considered.

Asked about the process, Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said the administration would notify the School Committee of a recommendation and it would schedule a public hearing before conducting a vote. He did not have a date for a hearing or vote.

“It’s a very emotional subject,” he said observing that Gorton, which opened in 1939, has a long history and it is hard for people to accept change.

“It’s the mindset of people,” he said.

Nonetheless, D’Agostino called consolidation of the district “a positive thing for kids … this is how we’re looking at it. We need to run schools as efficiently as possible, as they [parents] do at home.”

As the city’s three junior high schools are operating at about 50 percent of capacity, Bushell says, “We’re totally underutilized.” And, referring to the budget, he adds, “we’re way in the hole the way we’re going.” Closing either Gorton or Aldrich would save an estimated $1.2 million in operating costs and avoid the costs of bringing the schools in line with fire codes.

“It’s a better facility because it has more access for buses and it’s easier to get to,” Bushell said when asked why he picked Aldrich to remain open. He called Gorton “isolated” and said Aldrich has additional classrooms and, “To me, it’s just a better building.”

Still, some questions remain. What of converting the junior high schools to middle schools with grades 6 to 8, which would open space in elementary schools for full-day kindergarten? What proposals will the long-range committee make?

“To close a building without knowing what the district is going to look like is putting the cart before the horse,” said David Testa, a member of the short-term committee who voted against closing Gorton. Testa said he found most systems had middle schools and that those systems provided students with greater instruction in math and science.

He said most systems are built like a pyramid, with the high school at the top “and we’re like an hour glass.” Because of “class weighting,” which counts students who have special educational needs as more than one in calculating class size, Testa argues with the closing of a junior high, the district won’t be able to go to a middle school model. There won’t be the room for the 6th graders.

“It’s a short-term gain, but I think it’s tied our hands,” he said.

Harris-Connor also asks whether closing a junior high school will inhibit the district’s ability to use the middle school model and apply the common core standards as being required by the department of education.

Bushell, who once resisted the middle school model, feels students are “more mature” today and that integrating 6th graders with 7th and 8th is workable. That would open the way to all-day kindergarten. But, while there is state pressure for all-day kindergarten, Bushell said there isn’t funding. To do it, he said, would require hiring an additional 21 teachers and aides at a projected cost of more than $3 million annually.

“Here’s the thing, that’s not a definite,” D’Agostino said of all-day kindergarten. And he sees a middle school “happening down the road” when projections call for even further reductions in enrollment.

Peter Stone, a Gorton teacher, said the recommendation to close the school cast a pall over the school Thursday and Friday. He said the faculty sought to remain as upbeat as possible and to not have the news affect school operations. He described the school as in “full protest mode.” Actions include a petition to save the school, calls to City Council and School Committee members and meetings of the student council.

“It came out of nowhere,” he said.

School Committee member Eugene Nadeau said he had received about 35 calls about closing Gorton as of Sunday evening.

The recommendation to close Gorton came as a surprise to many because others considered some of the very reasons Bushell saw as assets as liabilities. Being on a busy artery – Post Road – and next to a fire station was seen as a hazard to kids. Also, being contiguous to the former Christopher Rhodes School, which is closed and has been turned back to the city, the two properties were viewed as potentially marketable for redevelopment.


Comments
8 comments on this item

Aldrich Better??

Mr, Bushell says this but offers no data to support his claim.

So allow me to do the research to "fact check" Mr. Bushell since The Warwick Beacon did not.

Education - Necap results 2012

% Proficient in Reading Aldrich 77% Gorton 75% (slight edge to Aldrich)

% Proficient in Math Aldrich 55% Gorton 62% (edge to Gorton)

% Proficient in Writing Aldrich 64% Gorton 67% (slight edge to Gorton)

So based on effectiveness it wold seem that Gorton is better...

But maybe it's the facilities, maybe Aldrich is bigger and has more space? Again, no speculation, lets look at the data.

Classrooms Aldrich 48 Gorton 50

Library Area (sq/ft) Aldrich 1940 Gorton 3090

Cafeteria Area (sq/ft) Aldrich 3757 Gorton 6597

Cafeteria occupancy Aldrich 250 Gorton 440

Gymnasium Area (sq/ft) Aldrich 4940 Gorton 6547

Auditorium seats Aldrich 422 Gorton 650

Hmmm, that information doesnt make Aldrich better either???

Maybe, it's busing.

It must cost more to bus Gorton kids to a new school than it cost to bus Aldrich kids to a new school

Nope, it would require one more bus at a cost of $80,000 to close Gorton according to data presented at a consolidation meeting

Yet Aldrich it better?

I know, boiler systems are expensive, Aldrich must have a brand new boiler...

Nope, Gorton's boiler is younger...

And Gorton has a nearly empty building next door (Greene) that could be use to house a computer lab should Gorton need to lose it's computer lab... Thus making Gorton expandable if need be.

So why is Aldrich better?

The only answer can be the Warwick School Administration does not want to close a junior high, they want to close Gorton period.

This whole thing about needing to close a junior high appears, on the surface to be a ruse to do what they wanted to do all along and that is to close Gorton. There is no other explanation. Why Gorton, I don,t know. But whatever the reason is, there appears to be little factual data to back this decision up.

I challenge The Beacon to wake up their cracker jack investigative team and fact check this decision as I have.

I challenge The Warwick School Committee to do their due diligence as well and find the real reason Gorton needed to be shut down.

Well said, th0062! Add to that the 80K more the department would save in closing Aldrich as well as the field and track facilities on the Gorton land that Aldrich does not have and I ask again, why Gorton? Oh, I forgot, Denis Mullen stated today that Aldrich was "brighter" and the "lockers were in the halls instead of the classrooms." Excellent reasons, Mr. Mullen, to disrupt the lives of so many students and families. I agree completely that the administration has been out to acquire the Gorton land long before this year, back when John Green Elementary was closed over the moldy and crumbling Warwick Neck Elementary School four years ago. Warwick administration wants these buildings and this land for the school department? I say no. It seems to me that there is some inside deal going on with City Council at the sad expense of the students.

Both middle schools would be at about 80% capacity after the merge. Population is trending downward so why would they need the bigger Gorton?

That still does not explain with data why Aldrich is better?? Why are they will to pat $80,000 more in busing Gorton students Why are they closing the school with better test results. They want to close Gorton, even if the evidence doesn't work for them.

Better test results? Hardly! All junior high schools in Warwick have similar test results. Looking for excuses to save Gorton, when the whole Warwick School system is broken...consolidating is not the answer. Although I do agree to some extent w/ Mr. Bushell, lets bring these schools up to code / date. These schools, or whichever school is chosen, needs significant improvements.

Check the RI Department of Education website. Gorton is the only Junior High in Warwick that is not in "warning" status.

I did check the test score for Aldrich and Pilgrim and Gorton and Vets. Look at the NECAP sores and you will see Aldrich and Pilgrim better perform Gorton and Vets. GreatSchools.com also rates Vets, 4 out of 10 and Pilgrim,6 out o 10 . Gorton and Adrich receive the same 6 out of 10 rating, with Aldrich having slightly better scores, especially in reading, with Aldrich receiving 85% proficient and Gorton 69 %.

To clarify -- Pilgrim's NECAP scores for reading were 84 and Vets 69.

Here are the results for Aldrich, Gorton and Winman --

Reading: 2009. 2010. 2011

Aldrich. 81 80 83

Gorton. 73 72 78

Winman. 77 80 82

Results all similiar.. math, too, with scores averaging in the 50 's

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