Should the re-purposing of Warwick Veterans Memorial High School as a junior high be approved by the School Committee next week, Superintendent Dr. Richard D’Agostino believes moving the sixth graders to the junior high and implementing all-day kindergarten in the district could occur by fall 2015.
While presenting the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee’s report on the recommendation to re-purpose Vets as a junior high and close Aldrich and Gorton Junior Highs during Monday evening’s public hearing, D’Agostino mentioned that the reconfiguring of the grades and all-day K could be included in the move.
“In discussion with individuals, including members of the School Committee, I was asked if we could move the sixth grade at the same time,” said D’Agostino. “It is possible. There’s room.”
The recommended plan is to close Vets in June 2014 at the end of this school year for renovations, and reopen it as a junior high for fall 2015. Aldrich and Gorton would close in June 2015, with those seventh and eighth graders being sent to either Winman Junior High School or the new Vets Junior High depending on how the boarders are determined. D’Agostino believes the work of bringing the sixth grade up to the junior highs can be done at the same time.
“It’s a big move, but it’s a clean move,” said D’Agostino. “It also doesn’t require additional moves later.”
According to the school system’s current enrollment as of November 2013 (taken from the Long Term Facility Planning Committee’s report), the population of grades four, five and six, who would be in the six, seventh and eighth grades in school year 2015-2016, is a total of 2,162 students. Split 50/50, that would be a population of 1,081 students at two junior highs.
D’Agostino explained that the original plan was to move Aldrich and Gorton students to their new schools, allow them time to establish a routine and then examine sending the sixth grade up. Now, he says moving all of the students at the same time is an advantage for all grades because it eliminates the need for scattered changes to the system over a few years.
Then, because the sixth graders are no longer in the elementary schools, all-day K becomes a possibility.
“By moving up sixth grade, you’ve provided room for all-day K,” said D’Agostino.
The superintendent estimates the cost for the move to all-day K will be $3 million, for 16 teachers and 16 teacher aids for all-day K in all the elementary schools. D’Agostino did not address any financial requirements for moving the sixth grade, but said it would require logistical planning and scheduling.
“This is what parents have been asking for. Why hesitate?” said D’Agostino, adding that the middle school model and all-day K are necessary to implement the Common Core Standards. “This is what happens when you start talking about ideas.”
The big question this move leads to is the certification needed for teachers.
Jim Ginolfi, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, admitted that he has not been able to look at what is required in teacher certifications to make a switch to a middle school model today, but he knows they have changed since the discussion was brought up a few years ago.
“I’d have to look into all the certifications,” said Ginolfi in an interview yesterday. “Before it wasn’t as difficult. The previous Commissioner [of Education] gave a period of time to have teachers get that certification … I know they’re [certification process] much more difficult now.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Rosemary Healey, director of Human Resources for Warwick Public Schools, said certification for a middle school is very specific, and the necessary certification needs to be determined if the school system changes.
Healey described a middle school certification as “whole school instruction” compared to elementary, which operates grade-wise with one teacher teaching all subjects.
“The whole school teaches the whole school,” said Healey, while explaining a middle school model. “That requires a different certification.”
Healey said most sixth grade teachers would need an elementary certification with middle school extension (K-8) and the junior high teachers would need junior high school certification with elementary extension (6-12).
Healey also pointed out that to be integrated in the junior high, sixth graders would need to move throughout the school to different classes for the different subjects; all teachers need to be subject specialists for that to happen. That plays into the certification process.
“It’s not an easy transition for us to have,” said Healey, believing that it would take over a year to complete. “It would take some planning. We would have to give our teachers the chance to be properly certified.”
To start, Healey said the sixth grade could be moved up and “housed” in the junior high buildings. That means the sixth graders go to the junior high, but they remain with one teacher for all core subjects as they do at the elementary schools. While that could be the model used to start, Healey said that is not the optimal system long-term.
“Our preference is they be educated by certified, subject specialists,” said Healey.
Ginolfi said going through the process of finding out what current sixth grade and junior high teachers have the certification, which ones need certification and getting everyone the proper certification would be “a major hurdle” because it is not an easy process and the certifications have changed.
“They better plan this out so there is enough time for these people to get certified,” said Ginolfi.
D’Agostino said he believes teachers would be allowed two years for the certification process. The school would operate with the model of having sixth grade “housed” in the junior high, having them remain with one teacher all day for core subjects, until proper certification is in place.
Ginolfi added that the WTU has not had discussions on if they support the move to a middle school model but said there are pros and cons to everything.
For now, Ginolfi wants the focus to remain on the fight to stop consolidation from happening.
“I think that’s a side issue at this point. That’s not what they’re voting for. These are all what-ifs,” said Ginolfi, adding that he believes putting 1,000 kids in a junior high to make a super junior high is too big and not a community school.
Ginolfi believes if the committee wanted to bring up all-day K and a middle school model, the research should have been done and the data included in one of their plans. They should know how many teachers have the proper certification, how many teachers need it, what certification is needed and how they will get it.
“All these people with elementary certification. What are you going to do with them? And what if there are not enough teachers with the right certification? Where are you going to find them?” asked Ginolfi. “The research and the details are there. It’s unfortunate because those people did do a lot of work.”