November 26, 2014
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Linking the short and long term

There’s nothing good to say about closing a school.

It really makes no difference which school. Even when it came to closing some of the city’s oldest schools, such as Central off Post Road in Cowesett, Apponaug or Conimucut, it pulled on people’s memories and emotions. Things were changing and a bit of the past was being left behind.

In the case of those three elementary schools, the buildings had simply outlived their usefulness. They were either too small, too costly to modernize or impractical to operate.

That wasn’t the case with Potowomut School. It, along with Drum Rock, Greene and Christopher Rhodes, was a victim of the school system’s declining enrollment. Enrollment has slipped from a high of nearly 20,000 in the mid 1960s to less than half that today.

Now the department is faced with closing a junior high school.

It’s not the first junior high to be closed in recent memory. Lockwood was closed in the ’70s and has since been converted into housing. But back then, Winman was a new junior high and the system maintained three junior highs feeding into each of three senior highs.

Should the School Committee follow the recommendation of a panel, Gorton would close. And, given the speed with which the panel reached its proposal, it would appear this is Gorton’s final academic year. Today’s seventh graders, as would this September’s crop of seventh graders, will go to Aldrich or Winman.

The most that can be said as good about closing Gorton, is that it will save money [an estimated $1.2 million in operating costs] and what resources the School Department has can be more effectively used to educate our children.

We have no problem with any of those reasons, nor do we disagree with the urgency.

The flaw is the premise that the current system is the way to go.

Those panel members who opposed the Gorton recommendation questioned whether the city might implement a middle school model [grades 6-8] and, if that were to happen, whether two schools had the capacity. There is administrative support for middle schools, aside from the argument the city may be faced to adopt it if it is required to offer all-day kindergarten. An additional 21 classrooms would be needed for kindergarten, a number that could only be achieved without new construction by emptying sixth grade classrooms.

Junior highs are just a part of the picture, however.

Senior high schools are also operating below capacity, a condition that will become more pronounced as enrollments continue to drop. Will we be looking at closing one of them in a few short years? It looks that way.

As members of the public and the study committees have articulated, short- and long-term school goals must be linked. Plans for our schools should include the practical and efficient use of our resources, with a clear picture of not only where we are today, but also where we want our children to be tomorrow.

We need that discussion.


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