September 14, 2014
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If a decision had been made, why was a committee needed?
Letters

To the Editor:

On Wednesday, March 6, 2013, the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee (LTFPC) voted to submit a recommendation to the Warwick School Committee to close Gorton Junior High School. The vote was a tight one with two members not present and two who chose to abstain. However, the outcome of that vote had no bearing whatsoever on whether Dr. Richard D’Agostino, superintendent of Warwick Schools, was going to make the recommendation. He made it very clear to both the LTFPC as well as the people who attended the meeting that he would go forward with the recommendation to close the school no matter which way the committee voted. He also claimed that the committee has been working toward the determination to close the school for the past two years. As a member of the committee since it’s inception in November 2011, I was never informed that the committee was charged with closing a junior high school. In fact, we were told that there were many options we should consider. When it was found that student population numbers were unclear, the committee voted to disband and revisit the problem of declining student population at another time.

In December of 2012, the LTFPC met for the first time in nearly a year. We reviewed what we had discussed last year and were re-oriented as to the mission of the committee. On Jan. 2, 2013, the committee met again and it was decided we would break into two subcommittees. It was also made clear (as is in the minutes) that the subcommittees would bring their findings to the LTFPC. The Short Term Committee met many times and at the last meeting in February, they voted to close Gorton. When asked by a member of the Short Term Committee if this decision was going to go back to the LTFPC, Dr. D’Agostino said “no” and that he was going to make his recommendations directly to the Warwick School Committee. This caused concern for the remaining members, myself included, and we requested a full committee meeting. He relented and we had the meeting on March 6. Again, he made it clear that no matter what the committee decided, he was going to go to the School Committee with his recommendation.

Why the need for a committee at all? Many of our members left work early for each meeting because they were held at 3 p.m. and to most people that is the middle of the workday. They came to the meetings anyway because of the wish to be involved in a process that would impact our children and all the children who attend Warwick Public Schools. Dr. D’Agostino made it clear that the decision to close a school has been the goal for the past two years. Again, why the need for a committee? We were NEVER told that LTFPC was, in fact, a consolidation committee. If the decision was already made, then our time should never have been wasted.

My question to Dr. D’Agostino regarding the impact on curriculum was met with a response that was less than reassuring. The committee never researched the impact on curriculum in the event we should vote to close a school. I felt that we should have done so before taking a final vote. The committee never received a plan for the two remaining schools should they have to absorb the students from Gorton or if the situation were reversed (Aldrich closing) and it was Gorton and Winman that would be effected. Transportation reporting was spotty at best, and again no clear plan was presented to the committee.  

I am not an educator, but I am a parent and a taxpayer and I expect my children, as well as all of the children in this district, to have an education that is either equivalent to or better than a private school. No one should have to choose between attending public school and private school when we live in a city that receives so much in revenues from its residents. Not only am I disappointed with the decision to close a school without a clear and specific goal; I am disappointed in the way the process unfolded.

Jackie Harris-Connor

Warwick

Jackie Harris-Connor is a member of the long-range committee


Comments
10 comments on this item

Shame on you superintendent if you or the school committee members close any schools in this city remember warwick residents are watching you and the current members just to see if any school closes and if they do all of you who voted for the closure of gorton jr high we the residents of this city will elect new officials so shame on any of you including u Dr Dagostino for you asking to close a school

K goslin, learn how to read a balance sheet. Then send your kids to private school.

Rule #1 in any administrative heirarchy, but especially those of a government/public sector nature: Before announcing a decision, establish a "committee" that will endorse your decision. That way, no single individual is ever responsible for the decision. Ms. Connor, you were undoubtedly well-intentioned when you decided to participate in this committee. But you were clearly duped. Not surprising, however. If you truly believe that junior high and high school-aged kids in Warwick "...have an education that is either equivalent to or better than a private school", you are also living in a fantasy world. kgoslin is Exhibit A of why local elected officials know that they are immune from the voting, lemming public.

Mr. Stark..It is not "living in a fantasy world" to expect more bang for the buck. You clearly did not read the remainder of my letter. My intention was that we should not have to accept a substandard public education given the amount of money each homeowner in Warwick pays in taxes. We need to look no further than our neighbors to the north..in Massachusetts to see how public education should be addressed. We should not be looking at any Rhode Island public school systems for example..considering our public schools place in the bottom three states nationally. Do you not believe our children deserve better? I do...guess I am "living in a fantasy world." ...oh and Exhibit A is EXACTLY why we should demand better of our school department.

...One more thing Mr. Stark..I did not say that secondary school students in Warwick are currently receiving an equivalent level of education as their private school counterparts..I said for the amount of money in taxes this City takes from its residents the public schools should be on level with private schools....

jackie: Exhorbitant expenditures have NEVER equated to better public schools. If that were the case, families would be flocking to beacons of assumed academic excellence such as Providence, Boston, Lawrence and Lynn, MA, and Bridgeport, Ct. In fact, there is a negative correlation between publc expenditures and measurable academic outcomes. Government-run schools have never, and will never improve as a function of taxpayer demand. One need look no further than a former US Sec. of Education's characterization of the education beaurocracy when he referred to it as "The Blob". You wish to "expect more" from a beaurocracy that just used you as a means to justify their end!! How much "more" should we expect from this bunch? While I am sympathetic to your laudable view of things as they should be, I am a realist and see things as they are, have always been, and are likely to remain. With the exception of high income communities, there are virtually no cities or towns in New England where local public schools are on a par with private schools. Keep in mimd, however, that Catholic schools spend significanlty LESS than their local public school counterparts for a far superior product. The ONLY way this changes is through competition, and that means vouchers. Can we agree? If not, I'll await the measurable outcomes of more well-intentioned committee assignments.

Mr.Stark, I'd concede some of your points but also would you agree that a direct comparison between public schools and private schools has to include the fact that publics have to take everyone, regardless of their ability? Private schools have the luxury of being selective in who they take. That's significant. I also find it a bit ironic that,in many cases, should a private school kid require services not offered by their school, guess who has to provide the service? The public school. Also, public schools pay for private school busing and, i think, textbooks. Some would argue that "we'll, if the publics don't provide this kind of support, then many of those kids would end up in the publics" and yet some of those same people are the ones who bash the publics any chance they can. I'd like to call their bluff. Let privates pay for their own busing, textbooks etc. publics will always ave a more difficult time than the privates - especially in urban areas. Charters can help there and they should but also remember that charters can take kid with 'problems' and once they get the state funding for that child, they can send that kid back to the public school and guess what? - they get to keep that funding while the public gets the kid back without the funding! I'm all for fair play but that reeks. Competition does work but its not a panacea that will magically solve all of the public school issues. Vouchers sound great and in areas they've been instiuted there have been successes and failures.

John Stark...did I say we needed to dump more money into the school district? I think not. By the way, have you been to Franklin, Ma...or North Attleboro...both are towns with large populations which are comparable to Warwick...both have outstanding public school systems which are on par with the private sector. There are many more communities like the ones I mention throughout New England who are demanding more of their public school systems...it's not that outrageous to expect a better performance from ours...by the way...will you be running for City Council in the near future? School Committee? Mayor? You have all the answers...why not put them to good use? Ugh. Why do I bother responding to you at all? ;)

It's now up to the school committee to show Mr. D'Agostinto that he has a boss. Let's hope the school committee does the right thing and asks for the study of the effect of closing a school be done as it should have been before the vote was even made. This went down just like last time, they only create a committee as a facade for what their real plan is. They have no intention of listening to the recommendations of people that are not in line with their ultimate plan. We need more people to run for school committee to take control of this situation or we're doomed.

Jackie- Because I work in the dreaded private sector I've had little time to respond. The "...you have all the answers..." comment says it all. It is meant to trivialize futher comments, and I understand that. Tragically, you fall into the requisite RI trap in that anyone with a contrary view either needs to run for public office or simply shut up because government is always the answer. If you are correct and I am wrong, the following will occur: Warwick's group achievement test results will improve because taxpayers 'demand it', students from Franklin and No. Attleboro will stop flocking to Bishop Feehan and Xaverian, and families will move to Warwick due to the superiority of it's public schools. I won't hold my breath on any of the above. I do, however, respect your civic conscience as exemplified by serving on this committee. Perhaps you should next serve on the committee charged with determining which high school should close.

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