Interim Assistant to the Superintendent, William Sangster, has heard the rumor that Pilgrim High School will be closing and that’s just what it is, a rumor.
“Right now, there is no decision to close any high school,” Sangster said of the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee. The committee, headed by Superintendent Peter Horoschak, has been charged with looking at school consolidation as a means of trimming schools costs in response to declining school enrollments.
Currently the committee has eight options under review, ranging from closing of one of the city’s three high schools to closing two of the junior high schools. Sangster said he will report to the committee at its meeting this afternoon. He will outline his findings about school sizes and facilities if sixth grade classes were combined with junior high schools; and how 7th and 8th grades could be integrated into the campuses of Pilgrim and Vets High Schools. Winman Junior High School is part of the Toll Gate campus. Sangster will also report on the proposal to convert Winman into a 4-year vocational and technical school. Presently 10th, 11th and 12th graders attend the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center while remaining students in their respective high schools. The four-year plan would enable students to develop an affinity for the school while lowering enrollment in the traditional high schools, making it more practical to consolidate high schools.
Sangster said the committee must look at consolidation from several perspectives, including enrollment projections and facilities.
“The last thing you want to do is to close a school and then feel you need it,” he said.
Rumors that Pilgrim would be the school to close spread like wildfire last week. Sangster said it was the subject of texts, emails and conversation to the point where school officials who have been closely following the committee’s work were being told a decision had been reached.
“One thing I don’t have control over is rumors,” he said. Sangster said it is “too late” to close one of the high schools for the 2012-13 academic year, if that was the decision made by the School Committee. Further, he said the committee would conduct a public hearing before acting on any consolidation plan.
Driving the examination of secondary schools is a declining school enrollment that was first seen several years ago at elementary levels. In response, the school committee closed Rhodes, Drum Rock, Potowomut and Greene Schools. Drum Rock was reopened as an early childhood center and Greene has been partially converted into administrative offices.
Those reduced elementary school populations are now moving into secondary schools, raising the question as to whether cuts can be made at that level. Sangster sympathizes with the concerns of parents voiced at consolidation meetings; of integrating 7th and 8th graders with high school students. Enrollment at Pilgrim is 1,149 and is projected to dip by 40 to 1,109 in the next three years. Toll Gate enrollment now at 1,014 is projected to climb to 1,051 in the same period Vets now at 1,008 is projected to drop to 965.
Creation of a 4-year career and technical school, Sangster estimates, would result in enrollment declines of about 250 students at Pilgrim and Vets and enable the closing of one of them.
The question then becomes; which school?
As Toll Gate is the newest, and part of a campus of several schools, Sangster pointed out that leaves Pilgrim and Vets.
The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, at 3 p.m. at the school administration building on Warwick Avenue, calls for re-visitation of proposals made at the last meeting, narrowing those options down and setting the next step for moving forward with a plan.