October 24, 2014
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LETTERS
Let’s make positive changes for our schools

To the Citizens of Warwick:

In a few weeks, the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee (LTFPC) will present its 5-Year Plan for our district. This plan represents the culmination of two years of meetings, with diligent, detailed review of our district schools.

This committee is represented by a majority of citizens from this community. They are parents with children in all three regions of our city and with children at Veterans, Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools. This is a united committee that believes the consolidation of the three high schools is feasible and necessary to provide our students with the educational tools, instruction, programs (especially all-day kindergarten) and the needed refurbishing of our schools. We believe that this is the right direction to take. We are very excited about the benefits that all students can be ensured to receive with the resources that become available through consolidation.

You may have only heard that the LTFPC has recommended closure of Warwick Veterans Memorial High School. That is not quite accurate. The committee is proposing re-purposing Veterans High School to create a new and improved junior high school. Having said that, closing of a school should not be looked upon as a negative action for students and faculty. Instead, it should be viewed as a positive step into the 21st Century. Changes need to come, not only for economic reasons, but more importantly for the future of the students of Warwick Public Schools. Buildings are not students and, although they hold some great memories, the buildings have the least amount of impact on how successful our students are. What is truly important is the staff, technology, instruction and the dedication of our educators that make a school and a school system.

Presently, Warwick lags behind other school districts in the state. Very little change has occurred over the past several years. We know this from our own teachers and administrators who have children in other school districts who are aware that Warwick is behind in what we provide for our students and parents.

To make changes, we need more funds – keeping buildings open for the sake of memories does not economically serve the students of Warwick Public Schools or the taxpayers of the city. Memories of the past are never gone; they live within us forever. Our needs no longer require three high schools serving 20,000 students. Instead, student needs now focus on all-day kindergarten, junior high schools that include grade 6 students and updating of our facilities to meet the technological needs of the present and future students of the city of Warwick.

Change is difficult but inevitable. Nothing should be cast in stone. It is fluid and should adjust to the time and needs of a society.

The LTFPC believes, unanimously, that time has come for change in Warwick to take place to better serve our students. The members of this committee and community believe that this five-year plan is the beginning of change. This meeting is not just for high school parents. It is for every parent in the district who wants all-day kindergarten for their young children, a newly refurbished 21st century technology-equipped junior high school, and high schools that provide the latest technology, instruction and programs for all students, no matter if they are special education students, honor students or career tech students.

To close any school is a difficult decision to make. It is not easy. If you eliminate the emotional factors, the picture becomes clearer: Declining enrollment, excess building capacity, need for new programs, technology, buildings in need of repair and limited funds. Please ask yourself what is best for our students? There is a lot at stake. Please express your thoughts and opinions to the School Committee members through letters, emails, phone calls and in person, in order that they can make a well-informed decision. Please do not allow a vocal minority to dictate the outcome of this critical decision. We are at a crossroads and we would like to choose the road of change rather than that of stagnancy.

Richard D’Agostino, Ed.D.

Superintendent


Comments
5 comments on this item

Perhaps those opposed to the LTFPC's recommendations should consider the following questions:

Why are a disproportionate number of academically gifted students leaving the Warwick public schools?

Why do many of these students, and their parents never even consider the Warwick public schools for high school?

Why are Warwick's public high schools cutting programs while Bishop Hendricken is expanding programs?

While New England states continue to gain population, why is RI losing population?

Why is Warwick's population roughly the same as it was thirty years ago, but the school-age population is down by 50%?

While the scope of these questions clearly goes beyond the purview of the LTFPC, it may go a long way in explaining the prevailing plight of the Warwick Public Schools.

Great questions, and the Committee did consider all of those issues at one time or another. It's a frustrating process because we live in a City that is so reluctant to change anything. We also live in a City that is not willing to give another dime to a school department that refuses to look within to address fiscal issues that are directly tied to declining enrollment in our schools. The schools are "money-pits," they are in disrepair (and have been for years), they are less than half full, and statistically those numbers will not increase. What to do? We can either consolidate, which will free up funds for major repairs, cosmetic upgrades, books, technology, programs, professional development, athletics, arts etc., OR we can leave things the way they are. Which is great right?

While I agree that consolidation needs to occur and appreciate all the well meaning efforts of the committee, I do not feel this plan fully examines the issues or adequately describes a long range plan for the City's school facilities. Following the logic in the draft proposal that the upgrade of Aldrich and Gorton would cost approximately $18 million per building ($36 million total) which was not an acceptable option to the committee, the exact same upgrade analysis of the high schools and repurposed Vets, shows each building also needing approximately $18 million in upgrades ($55 million total) which aside from a few minor upgrades identified were largely ignored by the committee. As the proposal indicates, the remaining high schools will be close to or over capacity depending on which of the many capacity numbers listed in the various documents on the website you decide to use. (I would suggest that none are sufficient indicators of capacity as operational, programming, ancillary space, traffic pattern/parking studies should be included in capacity analysis). My concern is that we will be exacerbating current subpar building conditions by crowding the schools without the much needed improvements (and the one school ,Vets, given the most renovations will be the only one with the excess capacity).

One positive result of this process has been a broader public recognition of the aging school facilities in the City. While I appreciate the committee's efforts to work within the school department's current financial limitations, I do not feel this is in the long term best interests of either the City or school department. Every long range facility plan should incorporate ongoing capital improvement planning and this process should include an analysis of the true costs associated with the continued operation and upgrading of all school facilities. If the real costs associated with upgrading all our "2" rated facilities (which I believe many are actual "3"s) are identified and compared to the costs of new facilities, other options may make more sense for the long term viability of our City. The City should be held accountable for the condition of school facilities and should not expect the school department to solely finance facilities that are in dire need of upgrades but unless the school department/committee provides an accurate capital assessment, this will not occur. While the proposal may describe the best case solution given the school department's limitations, it does not provide a bright future for our schools. It only provides a short-term solution to gain a few dollars for minor renovations, will continue to perpetuate the lack of capital investment in our schools, and will likely be a financially, academically, and emotionally damaging decision in the long run. I would be in full support of the school department/committee developing a long term capital improvement plan, educating the public on the true needs/costs, and of the City financing the needed upgrades/renovations or construction of the schools and the school department providing the ongoing annual maintenance to keep up improvements.

Always asking for more money. THe schools mentioned are old but they aren't in terrible shape. I've been all through them. Vets needs some work. Pilgrim is fine. All of them have been updated repeatedly and they can last a lot longer. There is no money to replace them now or in the near future. The inability of the WP schools to properly educate has little to do with the buildings. Consolidation has to happen. It is in fact long overdue. Five years at least.

Stop asking for more money. It comes from tax payers.

If this plan goes through, then maybe the school department won't have to go to City Council with their hats in their hands next spring and beg for money they won't give them. The schools in Warwick will not see a population boom as the naysayers are claiming..it's not going to happen. The City needs to wake up..and adapt.

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