December 21, 2014
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Panel to set a path for schools’ future
Warwick Beacon
BACK AT IT: Dennis Mullen, director of secondary schools, and Superintendent Richard D’Agostino look for input as the school facilities committee embarks on drafting a plan for the future of Warwick Schools.

On Tuesday afternoon, School Superintendent Richard D’Agostino called on the long term facilities planning committee to develop a realistic vision of what the school system should look like in the future, taking into consideration declining enrollment, aging buildings and the prospect that the city administration is not likely to approve funding for new schools.

Tuesday’s meeting, the first since the School Committee rejected a sub-committee recommendation to close Gorton Junior High School until at least next year, was noticeably low key and reflective as members sought to understand what they were being asked to do and the boundaries of their work. Fourteen of the planning committee’s 19 members met in front of an audience of 10 and the meeting, scheduled for an hour, was over in about 50 minutes.

But if history is a guide, the committee’s work will move to center stage when it focuses on what schools could be consolidated and proposals such as all-day kindergarten and configuration of schools by classes that could result in the closing of one or more secondary schools. In the mix, too, was the suggestion of committee member Edward Racca that the group look at a 9-12 vocational-technical school offering students a “home school.” Presently, students attend classes at the Warwick Career and Technical Center beginning in grade 10 but are enrolled in one of the city’s three high schools. Racca reasoned the range of classes offered at the center is extensive and provides students the training to enter the workforce, if not further pursue their studies at an institution of higher learning.

Seemingly beyond the scope of the committee is the curriculum to be offered by school districts. Presently, the city is divided into three districts, with elementary schools feeding into one of three junior highs and those junior highs feeding into three senior highs.

Why districts are beyond the purview of the committee baffled member David Testa. He observed that closing a secondary school would alter the feeder system.

But two points made clear by the administration is that Warwick needs all-day kindergarten; and that, with a declining school-aged population, the system is spending money keeping buildings open that could be spent on improving education.

“Full-day K, we can’t give that up. We need that in our schools and to me that’s a high priority,” said Robert Bushell, director of elementary education.

Bushell has long said incorporating all-day K would cost about $3 million for teachers and teacher assistants. On Tuesday, however, he thought there are ways to reduce that cost, if children were moved out of their neighborhood district. As an example, he said Holliman School has the space to accommodate kindergarteners from Wyman, John Brown Francis and Norwood Schools. This would require hiring one additional teacher and assistant rather than four of each.

Testa said, in a perfect world, everyone has a neighborhood school, but that is not practical and “what we have to do here is not going to make someone happy.”

Bushell left no doubt that is going to have to happen. He pointed out that, not all that long ago, each of the city’s elementary schools had about 1,100 students and today those numbers are between 700 and 800. He said class sizes in Warwick are very good, with an average of 18 in elementary school and 17 in junior high.

“But, can we afford to live with that kind of number?” he asked.

“Vision” was also questioned.

“Are you looking for real vision or what is reality?” asked member Patti Nazareth.

D’Agostino noted that, in earlier meetings, member Stephanie Van Patten called on the committee to consider a new super high school that would consolidate all three existing schools. While that could be desirable educationally, D’Agostino did not think a $100 million bond issue would be realistic.

“The city will never authorize that bonding,” ventured Testa.

Yet doing nothing, which would require millions of dollars in upgrades to Gorton and Aldrich Junior High, is not an option for Bushell.

“It’s looking us right in the face. To spend all that money to repair those buildings [just] to close them down, that’s a sin,” he said.

Member and Norwood Principal Nancy Plumb urged the committee to look at factors affecting the city.

“The future of the city needs to be looked at,” she said.

She questioned what sections of the city might experience growth. School Business Affairs Director Anthony Ferrucci suggested the committee not overlook future airport plans and how the loss of homes to expansion could affect the system.

“You need to factor that piece in,” he said.

Also mentioned was the possible acquisition of vacant New England Institute of Technology buildings for a super elementary school, which D’Agostino did not reject, and conversion of the high schools to incorporate grades 7 and 8. There was little mention of the middle school model where grades 6, 7 and 8 would be in a single school. The possible conversion to middle schools was an argument for keeping Gorton open while enabling the closing of elementary schools.

D’Agostino said a smaller committee would be more manageable and efficient. He removed three administrative members of the committee and suggested non-school members of the committee likewise reduce their numbers.

If there was a consensus, it was that the committee needs to think long-range and it would be a mistake if, after a couple of years, the system was again wrestling with the future.

The next meeting is scheduled for July 11 at 11 a.m.

James Ginolfi, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, who was not at the meeting, questioned why a meeting was scheduled at 11 a.m. when it would be difficult for the public to attend.

“Is this going to be another sham,” he asked. “Is this going to be more of the same?”

Ginolfi attributed part of the adverse reaction to the proposal to close Gorton to the administration’s “lack of transparency.”

D’Agostino wants to have recommendations for the School Committee by Jan. 14, 2014.


Comments
7 comments on this item

Of course, no one will dare to mention that when student:teacher ratios were closer to 26:1 in contrast to the current 17:1 group achievement test scores were higher. Yes, counter-intuitive, but education data tends to yield uncomfortable (and frequently unspoken) results. Full day kindergarten is another panacea (like HeadStart) that sounds good on the surface but has never yielded results that are worth the expenditure. And when all is said and done, isn't this typical EduSpeak; More panels, commissions, and committees so that no one is every held accountable for the outcomes.

John, what year was it 26:1 compared to now? Was it when kids with developmental issues were sent to hospitals and institutions each day not expected to learn or exist in society? All kids deserve an education and the ability to grow in the world today, the law states this and it is the right thing to do.

Rather than complain, would you be willing to sit on the committee to try to make a change for the better, or would you rather sit at home on the computer and complain?

My kids all went to half day preschool and kidergarten and they are great students. I do agree that I don't know that all day K will increase performance in the kid's education. I do know that less time in class is devoted to education each year because of unnecessary State and federal regulations and testing. If they spent less time on testing and more time teaching, maybe they wouldn't need all day K. All day K should not turn into free day care for the kids. If they do all day K, it need to be effective and not babysitting.

Personally, I believe having kids at that age sitting in class all day would be too much and they won't get more than being there half the day. I think we would be better off having the kids do half day kindergarten, teach them the entire time and then when they get home, not stick them in front of the TV for 4 hours until dinner.

Ain't rocket science. close a middle and a high school. the teachers will hold their breath and throw a tantrum, but they only look out for themselves so who cares.

Right on Hepdog. If this was a public company would have been done 10 years ago.

This is basically a brainstorming session. Let's see what areas are cut in the forthcoming Education budget; that will be a guide to the future. The members on the committee have stated most of the problems-declining enrollment, old buildings that require substantial upkeep/improvements, airport expansion that will likely lead to further enrollment declines, a tax base that can not provide long term funding for the education system to operate as is. Decisions need to be made to reduce physical buildings(elementary, a junior, & a senior high school) as well as staff reductions-administrative, teaching, & support staff.

John, 26:1 student teacher ratios haven't been seen in a long, long, time. Not even your private schools have that ratio. Also, I think that most privates/parochials that offer K do so in an all day setting. All day K is relatively new in public schools. Who suggested that it was a panacea? Yes, Head Start has been shown to have little benefit once the students hit grade 3, but to assume all day K would mirror that is presumptions. The fact that many kids are coming into K without the requisite skills that Common Core demands is a problem. If incoming kindergartners can not read at all upon arrival, or know their letters, a half day program just isn't enough time to get them to read. (Don't compare to when we were kids because curriculums have changed a lot since then). So we have to have an inordinate amount of reading specialists to teach the to read because they start off band. You and I agree that Warwick's results are not good enough. I just don't think that it's the fault of the model.

I would like to get statistics on how many students are in our schools who either do not speak english as a first language or are here illegally. If the governor wants to welcome more people to the state who are here illegally, he should make sure he provides adequate funding to teach the english as a second language students. This should be a 100% State funded program and not come from any of the city budgets as it is a State and Federal Mandate. I believe it is time to look at all the State and Federal Mandates and push back for either more funding if they are forced on us or abolish some of the mandates that we can not afford.

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