To the Editor:
I have lived in Warwick, R.I. for the past 21 years, have had the pleasure of raising my family in Warwick and I am a parent of a Warwick High School student. I would like to see this community thrive and improve for future generations. The closing and consolidation of schools is an issue that affects not just parents with children in the school district, but taxpayers whose property values will be affected by a weakened school system. Strong schools equal higher property values.
The top five public high schools in Rhode Island consistently have enrollment below or at just 1,000 students (see GolocalProv.com “The Top High Schools in Rhode Island 2013”). Of these schools ranked one through five in GolocalProv.com, Narragansett has 462 students, East Greenwich has 766 students, Exeter-West Greenwich has 562 students, South Kingstown has 1,095 students and Barrington has 1,037 students. Our current enrollment in each of the three Warwick High Schools is 958, 991 and 910 (for Pilgrim, Tollgate, and Vets, respectively). Our current high school enrollment levels are within the same range as the best performing high schools in the state.
Why would we want to pack another 300 to 600 students into an existing high school when studies have shown that high schools with such large populations do not perform as well as smaller schools? Therefore, the debate should not be limited to which high school to close, but rather whether a high school should be closed at all. If anything, having 958 children in one high school may actually be too many. It does not matter that the schools were originally built to hold many more students than they have now; maybe they never should have had this many students at any one time and we are now in a position to correct that error.
The current process being followed by the Warwick School Committee has its focus on meeting monetary goals by closing facilities (schools). That is why the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee has been meeting and is the driving force behind the future of the school district. Why are we closing/consolidating schools first and then looking at how we are going to fit the students’ needs into the existing schools?
Should we not be looking at the current class sizes, course offerings, impact on the students’ academic needs and then decide what facilities fit those needs? I have read the posted minutes of the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee and while they have looked at total numbers, there is no focus on actual courses, what students’ needs are, and why we are putting more students into schools that are in dire need of infrastructure rehabilitation and restoration. They are throwing students together without regard for their needs. They are merely using bus schedules and total numbers of students to determine where they will go to school next year and for years after that.
Our students deserve a better analysis and our community deserves to make the decision that will result in a better school district for all students. I am not sure we can say that the current process and decision will lead to this result.
I wrote to the School Committee last year that the children of Warwick deserve a long-term strategic plan that shows them the path that we as a community have paved for them to achieve their career goals. They deserve a community that has demonstrated that they have researched all funding options, reviewed outcomes, the causes of those outcomes, and a vision of their educational future before making a choice that has not even taken into account all of the unintended processes and consequences that will flow from this decision in less than one year.
We need to look at funding options that will facilitate a reasonable approach to solving these issues. Additionally, I will be urging the mayor and City Council to relieve the financial pressure that has created this draconian approach to solving systemic school planning issues. This is not just a School Department issue; it is a community issue – with an impact on tax revenue for years to come.
We realize that these choices and decisions may not be easy – but closing and consolidating schools without a long-term strategic plan that demonstrates that the end result will be a stronger educational system, with adequate resources for all of the children in Warwick – is not only unreasonable but harms the best interest of the students in Warwick as well as the community as a whole.
I would like to assist in any way that I can and urge you to think about not the money you are saving in the next one to five years, but the type of school system that you want to develop for the next 30 years and beyond.
Neena Sinha Savage