As per the request of the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee, Superintendent Richard D’Agostino presented a possible scenario and timeline for consolidation at the secondary schools level Monday afternoon.
“We thought about the best scenario for our district and this is what we came up with,” said D’Agostino.
According to D’Agostino’s scenario, should a high school be closed, students from the closed school could be moved to the two remaining high schools as early as fall 2014, following a planning stage to determine what students, teachers, staff and administrators go where and other matters such as schedules, room assignments and bus schedules.
Then during the 2014-15 school year, the now closed high school could undergo renovations to become a new junior high school. Upgrades would include building mechanics such as heat, electricity, plumbing, etc., technology upgrades, cosmetics changes such as painting, and a security review.
D’Agostino explained that these renovations could be funded with the money saved by not upgrading fire codes at Gorton Junior High and Aldrich Junior High. He explained that if it is decided those two schools will close, they will put in a request to the Fire Marshal to forgo fire code upgrades next summer.
The planning stage would then be repeated, but for the new junior high (student population, teachers, schedules, bus routes), and a new junior high for students from Aldrich and Gorton would be ready for fall 2015 at the earliest. Gorton and Aldrich, the two oldest buildings in the district with the most required upgrades, would both be closed.
The process would take two years and there would be consistent monitoring. D’Agostino was clear that this was just a possible scenario requested by the committee to look at as they prepare to present their proposal for consolidation to the School Committee in January; it is in no way an official plan and no school has been scheduled to close.
“If you focus on the high school and determine a high school can be consolidated into the other two existing high schools, then what you’ve created is a building or a facility that is now available for other purposes,” said D’Agostino.
The superintendent estimated that combining the student populations of Gorton and Aldrich would result in a total population of about 900; that population could fit in any of the existing high school facilities with the room to add a sixth grade, should Warwick Schools decide to move to a middle school model in the future.
D’Agostino pointed out that Winman Junior High was built to accommodate three grades, so the potential to house a sixth grade is present in that facility as well.
At previous committee meetings, there had been discussion of staggering the transition at the high school level over a few years, allowing juniors and seniors to finish their careers at their home school and only moving freshmen and sophomores into the other two schools. However, after discussions with administrators, D’Agostino said it was decided that was not the best route.
“We thought the best thing was to rip that Band Aid off and move all of the kids into receiving schools,” said D’Agostino. He said taking away two grades would be detrimental to sporting teams at the remaining high school and it would dilute the teaching staff at the schools. Teachers who teach all four grades would possibly be required to travel to two schools in a given day.
D’Agostino said the option would be given to those upperclassmen moved to a new school to receive a diploma with their original high school’s name should that be important to them.
In the scenario, all students at Gorton and Aldrich would be moved to the new junior high facility and those at Winman would remain. D’Agostino said the potential is there to move some Gorton and Aldrich students to Winman in an effort to balance the population, but there needs to be adequate space left in Winman to accommodate a possible sixth grade.
Elementary Education Director Robert Bushell, who has experience in consolidating elementary schools, said where students go would likely be determined by bus routes.
“There might be some outlier streets that would be better going to the other junior high and that’s where you make those adjustments,” said Bushell.
The committee had also requested that the administration present data on how many students are in each of the secondary schools, how many classrooms are vacant and other data to help them determine if consolidation is truly possible. Director of Secondary Education Dennis Mullen and his secretary Paula Lavigne delivered, providing a folder stacked with documents.
“Certainly, there is a lot of information to digest,” said Mullen. He encouraged committee members to take the information home, go over it and get back to him with any questions. He did, however, take a few minutes to explain what information he had been able to provide.
Within the folder was an individual packet of information on each of the six secondary schools. Each packet included a room utilization form detailing the rooms in a building and the periods they are not utilized, a course detail report, an Empty Room report detailing all of the rooms empty during a given period and a course schedule summary. Mullen encouraged the members to look specifically at core classes (English, math, science and social studies) because every student is required to take those in a school, where as electives are more flexible.
Because it appeared no one school was emptier than another, the committee members asked what other factors should be looked at before determining which high school to transition to a junior high.
D’Agostino encouraged them to compare empty room capacities but also the total facility in terms of parking, athletic fields and other features needed for a high school versus a junior high school.
Before the meeting ended, D’Agostino pointed out that the discussion about consolidation has been focused on what is important.
“And all through this discussion, we haven’t even mentioned finances once. It’s focusing on what’s good for the kids, how we can provide better for them, better programs and give them the education they deserve along with the 21st century technology. We need to do that,” said the superintendent.
Looking forward, the committee decided it was time to go into the field, starting with tours of the three high schools. D’Agostino proposed that the group will take a guided tour of each of the high schools to better visualize the space for larger populations, see which building would function best as a junior high and to look at any required upgrades or renovations needed.
The committee scheduled a private tour of Warwick Veterans High School for Sept. 24.