November 20, 2014
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LETTERS
Look for creative ways to save our schools

To the Editor:

I graduated from Aldrich High School in 1955, the last class to do so. My father was Harold F. Scott, the first principal of both Aldrich in 1935 and Warwick Veterans Memorial High School in 1955. I moved away from Warwick shortly after graduating from college. I spent most of my years working in the Philadelphia suburbs and served on an elected school board from 1990 through 1997. If there is one thing I learned, it is that it is very difficult to predict school enrollment, even two to three years in the future. Radnor Township in Pennsylvania started building schools in the mid-1950s and started closing them in the mid-1970s, including selling both buildings and land of two of its four elementary schools. When I was on the school board, we had to buy land at an expensive price to build a new elementary school.

I am not familiar with the detailed economics of the school closings. But, it appears that the proposal is to close Aldrich and Gorton junior high schools and then convert Warwick Veterans Memorial High School from a high school to a junior high school. It appears that children aged 12 to 14 will endure a much longer bus ride to Vets, particularly from the Aldrich area.  After spending three years making friends at a super-sized junior high school, they would then be split into two groups to attend Pilgrim or Toll Gate High Schools. Disrupting their lives in this manner would only make the early teenage years more difficult than they already are.

I know that if my father were alive today that he would try to find a creative solution to the problem. One might be to keep all three schools open, possibly renting out parts of one or more of the schools for an appropriate use.

 

Jerry Scott

Naples, Fla.


Comments
6 comments on this item

Mr. Scott, there will not be a "Super Jr. High School". According to the LTFPC recommendation, the new Vets Jr. High will serve as the direct feeder to Pilgrim HS after it is converted starting in 2015 while Winman Jr. High will remain as the feeder for Toll Gate. There will be some reconfiguration of the elementary feeder system to account for this and to balance out the district (for instance, Park & Lippett will feed Winman->TG while Sherman, Oakland Beach and Warwick Neck go to Vets->Pilgrim). The end result will be a 1:1 jr high/high school system (Vets/Pilgrim and Winman/Toll Gate), not a "super" Jr. High. And it is important to keep in mind that, thru all of this, the overall populations in the remaining buildings will still be less than what they were designed for and within a couple hundred of what they were in 2005 (just eight years ago). All of this info is available at the School Committee web site.

Just a note: my feeder system formulations above are mere speculation (based on a logical look a the city geography), not the actual plan as far as I know.

Mr. Scott, Warwick, like many other communities uses NESDEC for their demographic data. Historically, their margin of error has been approximately 1.5% - in other words very accurate. The District has all live birth data as well as the numbers of kids from the city that are enrolled in private/parochial schools at all grade levels, so they have a good handle on the school age population of the city from now through the next 10 years. With respect to the bus ride times, there are state laws that govern that and that should not be an issue. I cringe at the term 'supersize' junior high school. Only in RI can a junior high with roughly 800 students be considered 'super sized'. There are other, higher performing districts that have that amount (Barrington) and more (Coventry). While your experience may have been one where Radnor Township saw population growth, Warwick has little buildable land, airport expansion stands to take another couple hundred homes in addition to the hundreds they've already taken, and RI is one of just a couple of states that is losing population. There is no baby boom, or population explosion on the horizon here. Lastly, the disruption you mention is overblown, in my view. Cranston students attending some of their elementary schools are split from their classmates when they go to junior high and then some of those same students are split from their classmates again when they go to high school. Kids are incredibly resilient, I know because I was one of those Cranston kids and me and my friends were 'no worse for the wear'. The bottom line is that Warwick's school population has declined by roughly 2500 kids since 1999 and will decline another 1000+ in the next 10 years; it has more buildings than it needs; and it's paying the price for not addressing these issues earlier.

This school issue has to be looked at not with emotions and sentimental feelings. The bottom line is this, the schools are less than half full with students. It is very expensive to keep these buildings going and only have them half full. Warwick is seeing a drop in population not an increase. They must reduce. I know it stinks for many reasons but it is a necessary evil. Think how much the city will save by making this cash cow more efficient. The time has come. Yes change can be tough to swallow but it is for the best.

I agree with Mr. Scott, who is "...not familiar with the detailed economics of the school closings" but wishes to keep them all open, anyway. In Mr. Scott's spirit of "renting out" parts of the schools, how about this: Pilgrim High School, Tattoo Parlor, and Liquor Emporium. Call it "Pats with Tatts". Or, Warwick Veterans Memorial High School of Used Cars and Pizza (we deliver). One call to the main office could get you an English teacher, a low mileage Chevy, or extra sausage. We're limited only by our own creativity.

I very much agree with Jerry Scott's urgent advice to "try to find a creative solution." To that end (while disregarding John Stark's unnecessary and unproductive snarking), I suggest the following:

It goes to reason that, if the public schools are facing hard times and holding excess or unused - or unaffordable - facilities, the parochial, private, and charter schools are, to one degree or another, facing the same situation. My idea is this - the City of Warwick Schools contact these schools (and they do not necessarily have to be in-Warwick schools) and propose renting our unused facilities. This gives parochial et al the opportunity to continue their work without having the expense of building ownership, maintenance, utilities, etc, while providing the city an offset revenue. To further enhance this package, consider that if these non-public schools are using the same contracted buses or other services, the reduced costs for single location pickup and single route delivery would be both an enhancement and a cost offset>

I don't propose for a second that this is a perfect solution. There may be legal issues of which I am unaware, and there would have to be a cooperation between all parties that doesn't always exist - often by design.

It's not perfect - but it's a start. And it's all compromise and cooperation, and not a power move or political play. Think it over. And then comment on mine, or maybe come up with your own. But work in the same direction.

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