November 22, 2014
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EDITORIAL
Now what for schools?

Adrift. That word best describes the condition of Warwick schools following Tuesday night’s vote to further prolong inaction in response to declining secondary school enrollment.

Understandably, the decision to bring in the “experts” after an exhaustive examination and unanimous recommendation of a study committee to close Aldrich and Gorton Junior High Schools and consolidate a high school as a junior high comes as a relief to those who sought to save the schools. We saw the same thing last year, when many of the same committee recommended closing Gorton. The School Committee shot down that plan in favor of delaying any action until completion of a long-range plan.

Evidently, some committee members bought the argument that there are wiser minds beyond Warwick, although we won’t be surprised when those expert findings are released and we’ll hear, “What do they know? They don’t live here.”

We appreciate that schools are not merely buildings and that long-range planning needs to incorporate components like universal all-day kindergarten and middle schools with grades 6 through 8 rather than the existing junior high model. Those changes were discussed by the long-term facilities planning committee and they were considered, if not thoroughly studied.

What’s disheartening after such earnest and exhaustive study is that the School Committee (five people, not the 15 individuals of the study committee) could not reach an agreement and, in essence, elected to start all over again.

We don’t believe consultants will return with any different conclusions. The trend in the decline of school enrollments or the capacities of school buildings will continue. That’s straightforward math and projection.

What they might offer are alternatives on the buildings that best fit the long-term needs of the system. Whether that is the case or not, the debate over closing schools will happen all over again. It will just be a different set of parents and students.

Meanwhile, the committee faces the decision of whether to sink funds into upgrading buildings that eventually close. While there were strong arguments that smaller classes make for better education, will the mayor and the City Council and the taxpayers provide the level of funding to sustain such operations?

Unless the committee and the department can reach consensus on a plan soon, those holding the purse strings would question the efficacy of additional or even level funding for schools. Instead of being adrift, the system could be in a downward spiral.


Comments
9 comments on this item

There is no educational basis to consolidate Warwick’s high schools. They each actually have slightly more students than studies show is ideal. It is not just class size but also grade and school size that should be considered when determining whether to consolidate high schools.

A school district should not determine how many students should be in an individual high school only by the building's capacity. The three highs schools all currently have between 900 and 990 students. If the consolidation was approved, it appears that one of the remaining schools would have been assigned an additional 600 students and the other would have been assigned an additional 300. In addition, the proposed new super junior high school would have had 500 students in each grade.

Please review the articles and studies listed below that demonstrate that smaller schools, at least those below one thousand students with individual grades no bigger than about 250 students, are the best academic, social, and disciplinary environments for high school students. Our current high schools are finally down to these near acceptable levels. Consolidating the high schools would have returned them to well over that acceptable level. In addition, there is no basis for putting 500 students in one grade in a school, which was the proposal for the super junior high school. The WPS argument of using economy of scale (to keep high schools large to reduce costs per student) was accepted during the middle of the 20th century but has been discredited since the 1990s. There was no discussion about the best educational environment in the Long Term Facility Planning Committee Report; it only discussed cost savings. That alone made the report an unacceptable basis to support a vote to close a high school.

These are some of the articles and studies stressing the importance of smaller schools:

New York, small school perform better: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/size-matters-nyc-high-schools-smaller-gain-big-article-1.1494953;

NYU New York: http://wagner.nyu.edu/files/faculty/publications/highschoolsize-effectsonbudget...pdf

MIT Study of NY Schools: http://economics.mit.edu/files/9158

Private schools keep schools smaller to improve education: http://privateschool.about.com/od/choosingaschool/qt/sizematters.htm

University of Texas Study:

http://www.edb.utexas.edu/hsns/HSNSbrief1.pdf

U.S Department of Education

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/hsinit/papers/turn.pdf

While I have been a strong proponent for both long term planning and the use of an expert since the beginning of this process, I do feel that there were options that could have incorporated both while still moving forward with the work of the LTFPC. An expert could have been brought in to quickly validate the projections and capacities/complete any other recommended analysis and to assist in the detailed implementation plan which seems to be the major point of disagreement (including the identification of multiple options for consolidation and districting, which, there are many beyond what was considered). In a parallel process, long term planning could have commenced, ensuring short term changes would not prevent longer term solutions. But here we are, so let's take this opportunity to learn from the past and create a process that values stakeholder and community input throughout, not only at the end, and one where our system's values and educational goals drive infrastructure needs. The School Committee has many important questions to answer that will drive the analysis and recommendations, such as optimal school and classroom size, grade level groupings, educational and extra curricular offerings, their values regarding neighborhood schools, cost vs.benefit, equability across schools/districts, etc. and they need to be key participants/decision makers throughout the process.

Adrift...good word for it. I hope this outside evaluation takes into account the city budget side and the money not only that it will cost but what feasibly will actually be given. I hope that city councilors who were so outspoken against consolidation and applauded this plan are sure that whatever is recommended is actually funded!

It just isn't realistic to think that this outside expert will be able to look at the numbers and the abysmal state of our old school buildings and pull some magic plan that will provide the education and resources our students deserve in buildings that meet safety codes never mind the excellence in lab and tech facilities they deserve within the monetary framework that is the reality for our district out of thin air which keeps these schools all open.

I suppose the only silver lining is that perhaps this analysis and resulting recommendations will show clearly and without bias exactly how much money it will take for those who want it all to have it. I do not believe that money will be there, but maybe we will have a positive of the public putting the sort of pressure put against consolidation on the city to provide the money necessary to at least be doing the minimum of facility upkeep and upgrades required for our districts schools....always a silver lining...too bad this one is going to have such a high dollar sign attached to it in lost savings.

OK all you negativists, here's the good news. 1) The school committee can now blame the outside consultants for their recommendations instead of doing what they were elected to do, 2) The superintendent can continue to hide under his desk, 3) The mayor can remain completely absent from the entire process. And Warwick voters will continue to line up for more of the same. Priceless.

There is nothing wrong with big class rooms. Look at college and the lecture halls. Besides, parents are doing a lot of the teaching these days... have you seen the amount of home work going home lately ?? I can't wait for this outside consultant. I don't think it's necessary but what is going to happen is the numbers will be worse and the closings will be more. You wait and see. Becareful what you wish for.

JohnStark you are so right, I totally agree.

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CLOSE THE freakin SCHOOLS ALREADY! THIS DELAY IS UNNECESSARY AND WILL CONTINUE TO WASTE TAXPAYER DOLLARS.

Michael2012, Nailed it.

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