September 19, 2014
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LETTERS
Plan should focus on children’s education, not money saved

To the Editor:

Kudos to the Warwick School Committee for delaying action on the school administration’s plan to close Aldrich and Gorton, and turn Warwick Vets High School into a junior high. Before making a decision of such magnitude, it would have been great to hear the “other side” of the story from concerned parents, teachers, students and others who could present the human side of the argument along with some pertinent facts that might contradict those of the administration.

Schools are an important part of any community and Warwick Vets High School is the glue that unites thousands of people. For a city of over 90,000, with good fiscal management, is three high schools of 900 to 1,000 students a problem?

In the 1960s, Pilgrim and Vets were huge schools of almost 2,000 students each. That was over 50 years ago. Many of those classrooms no longer exist. Today, we have computer rooms, resource and special education rooms and areas that are used for different purposes. Will everyone fit comfortably in each school? Changes will have to be made and, in my opinion, it is not a “slam dunk” that all will be well.

Last Wednesday, on Dan Yorke’s talk show, Mr. Cushman, a former school committee person, stated that there is a ratio of 15 students to one teacher. That sounds great, but it does not reflect the true ratio of classroom teachers to the students in their classes. Is he not aware that some teachers don’t have classes, such as guidance councilors, librarians and nurses? Some, by law, have classes under the norm, like shop teachers, special education and resource teachers. Physical education and music teachers have more than the norm. Core curriculum teachers have about 25 in each class. For a former school committee person to state that another five or six students won’t affect student education is ludicrous. His remarks show a lack of knowledge of today’s comprehensive high school.

For the Planning Committee, I have a few questions:

1. Did you do your own research, or did you take what the administration fed you?

2. From what part of the city did you come?

3. Did the members from the Vets area like the plan?

4. Did the committee spend several days walking through the schools while they were in session?

5. Did the committee talk to any parents, teachers or students regarding a possible change?

6. How much “impact” did the committee have, or did it “rubber-stamp” the administration’s plan?

7. Did the committee meet often during the past year and have substantive discussions about all the options, or was it directed by the administration?

8. Would the committee still feel that this was the best plan available to them?

In 1986, the then-administration attempted to close Aldrich and Gorton and move them to Pilgrim and Vets, respectively. Parents, teachers and students were told enrollment was declining and they had to accept this plan. Well, parents from both communities fought this dictate and the administration backed off. Several years later, it proved to be a smart move because, lo and behold, the population of Aldrich and Gorton went up and a major disruption to our school system was averted.

I don’t know if the above increase will occur again, but I do know that the first consideration for any future change should be our students. I also am a taxpayer and I understand that many are hurting, but our students deserve the best education we can afford to give them. Our superintendent, also on the Dan Yorke show last Wednesday, spent 10 minutes talking about how hard he worked on the plan; how much educational experience his staff has; how disappointed he was; and it was not until the last minute that he talked about those most affected by this process – our children.

The question that should have been put forth by the administration and the planning committee at the beginning of this process was, “What plan is the best one for our children’s education going into the future,” not “Which plan will save us the most money?”

Warwick is not a rich, nor a poor city. It has been managed extremely well by Mayor Avedisian and the City Council. If our kids are our most important asset, treat them as such within reason. If the numbers keep dropping, it may be time to begin preparing for the 1986 plan, Pilgrim and Vets becoming junior-senior highs so that each section of the city can retain its community identity through its junior-senior high schools.

Bob Salerno

Former teacher

and coach in Warwick for 32 years


Comments
24 comments on this item

Why does saving the most money and giving a good education seem mutually exclusive to everyone? We have been throwing money at education for decades with poor results. Obviously, money is not the answer. Close the unneeded schools now.

I will not repeat the extensive comments that I made in response to the article and editorial in last Thursday's Beacon. However, in summary, there is no educational purpose to consolidate high schools that already contain over 900 students each. An ideal high school should only contain between 600 to 900 students. The plan was rejected because, even if the numbers had been accurate, the plan was inadequate because it only addressed costs; it failed to address the impact consolidation would have on the students. A school system should do not determine how many students should be in a high school by how many students fit in a building; it should determine its size by estimating how many students allow a high school to maximize educational, social, and athletic opportunities, and minimize disciplinary problems and most studies find that this is accomplished through schools no more than 1,000 students. A smaller size school also reduces students' feeling that they are in a big impersonal institution whose administrators and teachers do not know or have the time to care about them individually; this impersonal mega school approach contributes to " at risk" students quitting school. Some school districts have dealt with having buildings that are too big, but the number of students for a high school is the right size, by having "schools within schools." For example as Mr. Salerno noted, by putting junior and senior high schools together in the same building. However, if this were done, they should remain separate schools within the same building. They could remain separate through maintaining different start times, class starting and ending times, and dismissal time. The plan submitted rejected this ideal this year because they assumed it was unworkable.

Mr. Savage,the 7-12 model doesn;t work because Common Core curriculum is not written to that grade configuration (it's written to a 6-8 middle school model) and none of the high schools can physically hold that many students anyway. We could go to 6-8 tomorrow in the 3 JH;s but do we want to do that with two of the three buildiings that are over 70 years old and in need of millions of capital improvement costs? And, the LTFPC looked at 7-12 and rejected it because it would be very difficult to keep the students separated because the high schools were not designed for that purpose. Again there is not an accepted consensus on ideal high school size and schools within a school models are often used in large high schools. Please don't loosely use the term 'mega-school' to describe a high school of roughly 1300-1500 kids because that is not a mega school. And to think that a typical student will somehow feel lost or that his or her feelings will somehow be comrpmised in a school of 1300-1500 is, in my view silly. Are some student's tender? Of course. but remember, that class sizes are governed by contract and teachers are professionals and going from a class of say 20 to 24 is simply not a huge deal. It's not a mega school. Those are capacities that we had a handful of years ago and if your contention is that a 1300-1500 student school is a mega school that jeapordizes students emotional and physical well being, then we owe an awful lot of past graduates of Vets, TG, and Pilgrim a sincere apology for what we've done to them.

David Testa

Biased opinion. Former teacher and coach LOL !! Obviously money is not a consideration to you Bob.

Davebarry so true. Well said. A lot of times people think just throwing money at a problem will fix it. This couldn't be further from the truth.

Population is not over 90,000. It probably is closer now to 76,000-80,000 and continues to drop. Warwick's tax base now is businesses.

While you may view it as "silly," studies do indicate that schools that are over a thousand students do lose benefits associated with the smaller intimacy of schools that ideally should be between 600 to 900 students.

Warwick does owe an apology to the students of Vets and Pilgrim that were subjected to double sessions in late 1960s and early 1970s, which was only relieved by building Toll Gate in an atmosphere of a crisis. There was never an adequate plan for these schools. What ever students were in a school's district went to that school with no thought given to whether there were too many students for the school to function properly. There has been never been planning for proper school size in Warwick. We are just lucky now that we have fallen into the near ideal size high schools due to a decline in enrollment. It was obvious by the reaction of Vets students and their parents that this small environment has succeeded in giving the students confidence that the teachers and administrators at Vets care about them and they care about their school. We should not destroy this obvious beneficial environment. (I graduated from Vets in 1978; please don't tell me about the good old days.)

Also, according to RIDE, there were only 500 students at Aldrich and 461 at Gorton. If Vets were closed, we heard that about 600 of former Vets students would go to Pilgrim and a little over 300 would go to Toll Gate. If 600 Vets student could fit into Pilgrim why couldn't 500 Aldrich students and why couldn't 461 at Gorton students fit at Vets? However, I do not think this would be the best solution; but if WPS insist on closing a building it would be the least disruptive to the current students. Remember that Gorton, Aldrich, and Lockwood started as schools from 7th to 12th grade. It would be best to leave the high schools as they are and put 6th grade in the junior highs and add all day kindergarten. We have heard about how old our junior high schools are and are not worth maintaining for decades now; for example, WPS tried to close them in 1980s. However, when Lockwood was closed it was not knocked down; it still stands as a nice apartment building that apparently was not too old to continue to maintain.

Its obvious that the LTFPC did not consider the impact that consolidation would have on the students and it did not take any factors into consideration other than costs.

David Testa, thank you for including your name to you comment. Similar to writing letters to the editor, the Beacon should require people posting comments to include their actual name.

correction: My last comment should have stated "your comment" not "you comment."

I wonder if the mathematically challenged will take the "professional" opinion of whoever is hired to assess Warwick's education mess as an unbiased report and shut up. This city needs to move forward. If our schools were doing a better job and added some stability to the Warwick housing market it would be one thing. Parents are fleeing the city because our schools stink.

.

Mr.Savage, I mis-spoke when I said grades 7-8 couldn't fit (typed too fast and proof read too fast!).i meant that 7-12 wouldn't work.

I'm not referring to the good old days of the 70's or even the 80's. I'm talking about the late 90's and the 2000's. The fact that Aldrich, Gorton and Lockwood were once 7-12 really has no bearing on the discussion. And yes, Lockwood still stands but I'm not sure what your point is. They're incredibly well built but as a school district who resources are limited you really have to decide where best to deploy those resources in light of the fact that we still need all day K, middle school, technology improvements, and more and all of this while our populations decline. Your last comment I think is a bit out of bounds. If by impact on the students you mean emotional, well if that's the primary yardstick then I doubt that anyone who feels that way would ever consider consolidation. At the end of the day, a professional consultant will do their diligence and make recommendations. My contention is that any recommendation to close or consolidate any school will be met with the same level of opposition from the impacted community(s) that Vets had, regardless of how sound the data and analysis is.

Exactly Dave, the emotional, selfish residents will see Warwick burn to ashes before they will concede to having their little worlds disrupted. Funny you don't hear any opposition from the Pilgrim or vets parents complaining about this.

Dave, to cut to the chase, in other words, may last comment was not out of bounds. You've admitted that the LTFPC did not do any analysis on what the educational impact, or any other impact, would be on the students. It was a costs only analysis. You stated that "none of the high schools can physically hold that many students" it response to my raising the possibility of combining the junior and senior high schools. I mentioned Lockwood because I keep hearing how old Gorton and Aldrich are and they are not worth keeping up with repairs because they are so old; but the is nonsense, since as you concede "they are incredibly well built." They could easily stay open and bring in the sixth grade. I heard the superintendent; he stated that the question was not whether to consolidate but which school will be closed. Neither WPS or the LTFPC went into this with an open mind. Consolidation was plan no matter whether is was warranted or not. What further hurt the credibility of the LTFPC was that not only was it predetermined a plan to consolidate but it then went an picked Vets even though Vets had far superior athletic facilities compared with Pilgrim both on location and in the vacinity of the school, which would be unused by a super junior high school that does not offer sports. The pretext was the it picked Vets because it was set up more like a junior high. In addition, Vets had superior parking. However, unlike what is being portrayed in the press and talk radio, in the two meeting nights the opponents did not focus on "Why Vets?" but did focus on "why the consolidation?" because they were aware that there was not adequate justification for the consolidation no matter what high school was picked to be closed.

While I an not accusing you of this, the comments of those the write in support of you over the last several months appear to be Tea Party-type arguments to cut government costs and don't worry about the consequence because those that receive any type of government service are just leaching off the taxpayers. Is the right "patlentman" (whoever that is)? Those that opposed the consolidation were not selfish. Their arguments were in the best interest of the City, as well as the best interest of themselves or their children. If Warwick does not have stable schools, the housing value for everyone will decline. Threatening to close schools year after year, decade after decade, does not create stability, especially not when there is no justification for it. Having high schools between 900 to 1,000 per high school is a good size; leave them alone. Brag to the rest of the state that Warwick has moderate size high schools, as does Barrington and East Greenwich, and stop bashing Warwick and it schools. Warwick is a nice place to live and we should try to provide the best schools for our children, which includes trying to get then to about 600 to 900 student each. We should try to minimize the distributive influence of Tea Party type voters whose goal is to degrade all government services as a waste of money. They are not only a threat to Warwick but to municipalities all over the United States and to everyone property values. Dave, it appears that you do not hold these views, but many of your followers do and that it not healthy group of voters to base another run for political office.

Bob, If the schools were doing a good job our home values wouldn't have plummeted. Meanwhile the towns population continues to decline and our schools are at half what they once were. Look at the towns that have good schools. Look at the home values historically in EG and Barrington. Now compare them to Warwick. Parents that value education move to towns that have good schools. Warwick overall is not doing a good job. Call people that disagree with you "Tea Party type voters" as some way of discrediting their views is childish. I would rather spend the money on programs to move our schools forward. You would rather spend the money on building repairs so your life isn't disrupted. Our city is in a death spiral of higher taxes and fewer people paying them. You are destroying this city with your head buried in the sand. BTW Evanston high school where I used to live does a great job with over 4000 kids. Just let the me know, Why didn't you take action earlier. Why weren't you screaming to bring in outside pro's earlier. Because you thought it would be Pilgrim closed is why. Selfish selfish people like you will ruin this poor city. I can't wait until the report comes in and says we need to close a school. And when its Vets I'm going to blame you for the 4.6 million dollars wasted. Stolen from our school programs to pay for an extra unneeded building.

patientman (again not saying who he/she is) I am against consolidation of the high schools because they already have over 900 students each and the studies that I have read find that an ideal sized high school, especially high schools like Warwick in which 1/3 of the students receive subsidized lunches, which is an estimator of poor "at risk" students, should be between 600 to 900 students. I was against the closure whether it was Pilgrim or Vets. Increasing the student population at Pilgrim by 60% is not a way of improving our schools. Also the saving did not come from closing the physical buildings, that would be eaten away by increase busing costs; the alleged saving come from eliminating about 35 positions, teacher and support staff. Our high schools are moving in the right direction now; the is no need to return to overcrowded schools.

Bob,

I said that we did not dwell on the emotional impact, your kind of putting words in my mouth there. I clarified that I mis-spoke when i said that 7-12 wouldn't fit. The fact that Aldrich and Gorton are incredibly well built by itself does not mean that it neecessarily follows that it remains a school forever. I disagree that we did not go in with an open mind. we acknowledged that the Vets athletic fields were better but in the end, athletics should not drive consolidation. I also think that Pilgrim had more parking spaces then Vets (though I'd have to double check that). Wecould go on but it boils down to you and I have a different view on how to handle the steadily declining student population and I just don;t think we;'ll agree.

Also, we need to clear some things up a bit. You flatter me by saying that I have 'followers' as if I'm somehow directly or indirectly leading something. Trust me, I'm not nor do I even know who the posters on this site are, nor am I running for anything - tried that already twice and was unsuccessful. As an aside, you wield the Tea Party moniker like any of the hosts on MSNBC who tie every issue in the country today to them. You obviously don';t agree with those who sympathize with Tea Party issues but subtly denigrating them serves little purpose here. Not everyone who criticizes their city's spending of tax dollars is a Tea Partier, I've always been interested in good public schools, I'm a product of them and my kids are in them, just like you and your children. I've been very involved in our schools for the last dozen or so years and the community as a whole doesn't bash our schools. People will not come to Warwick because we have 'moderately sized' high schools. They'll come if we have high performing schools (or a school system that can at least break the top half of the pack). But when we consistently finish in the middle of the pack and below in the state that is an issue and and that is simply not directly related to the size of our high schools. There are more substsantive factors that create that result.

David, Bob isn't interested in facts or reality. He just doesn't want his world disrupted in any way.

David, you are comparing apple to oranges. To determine how well our high schools are doing you must take into consideration that at least 1/3 our high students are considered "at risk," as estimated by those that receive subsidized lunches and/or special education services, and compare our schools with other schools that have a similar student population to determine how well they are performing. Again, by ignoring these factors it makes Warwick's high school appear as though they are not performing as well in comparison but when these factors are considered Warwick schools may actually be performing well. Small school size is especially effective in educating "at risk" students. Looking at costs only without addressing other factors is the tactic of those that merely want to lower taxes and cut government services regardless of the outcome. The most prominent of those today are Tea Party supporters. Take a good look at the comments of those that write in support of your positions and tell me whether they fall in this destructive category.

While I probably should not bother to address persons who do not identify themselves, I'll address "patenntman" one last time. "My world" includes pulling one of my children out of Warwick Public Schools when I thought that it was best move for him. I have two children, a son who is 21 years old, who is a physics major at Holy Cross and an engineering major Columbia University in what is known as a 3-2 program, and a daughter who is a freshman at Warwick Vets. My son went to Sherman School from 2nd grade to 6th, which ended, I believe, in June 2004. My wife and I did not like the composition of the students in his grade but had no problem with the school or the teachers; the grades below and above him were fine. We decided enroll our son in a small "school within a school" at La Salle Academy known as Pegasus for 7th-8th grade. I think that it had about 40 students in an entire grade and small class sizes. I contemplated having him return to Warwick to go to Vets for high school but he wanted to stay a La Salle and he graduated for there in 2010. My daughter has had a great experience at Sherman, Gorton, and her first year at Vets. Her grade and classes in the honor programs at Gorton and Vets had been good and the class, grade, and school size have added to her and her classmates educational, social, and athletic experiences. I did not see any reason to take my daughter out of Warwick schools to put her in a large parochial school such as La Salle, which I understand now has more than 1,300 students. I have confidence in Warwick Vets and I know that it is being well run and the students are very enthusiastic about their school. Gerry Habershaw has done a great job as its principal. What is the education purpose of closing such a good school and increasing the size of one of the other high schools by 60%?

Finally, if the WPS manipulates the bid process for the study so that the scope of the study will again only determine which high school will be closed due to a consolidation, the study will be a waste of money and time and most voters will lose confidence in the integrity of WPS and the School Committee. I hope that does not happen and the study actually evaluates our entire school system K-12 and come up with alternative long term plans that will give the school committee and the public choices to select from. If it does not, then will all be a waste of money and time.

Mr. Salerno regarding your claim that, “Last Wednesday, on Dan Yorke’s talk show, Mr. Cushman, a former school committee person, stated that there is a ratio of 15 students to one teacher”: Since I did not believe I made that statement, I requested the audio from WPRO and listened to my comments as well as those from Mr. Rob Coti who also appeared on the show.

At no time did I bring up the issue of class size in my conversation with Dan. Hopefully your motivation to write this letter wasn’t simply an attempt to discredit me and my call for school consolidation, and you made an honest mistake.

As proof please paste this link into your browser and listen to my conversation from the Dan Yorke show on Wednesday, December 11, 2013.

http://stationcaster.com/stations/wpro/media/mp3/Bob_Cushman___Rob_Cote_12_11-1387377296.mp3

Also, I am aware of the fact that some teachers do not have classes and many other important point of information regarding class size as I did experience the process of negotiating a contract with the Warwick Teachers’ Union where this and teacher financial compensation was a major point of contention in that three plus year process.

What troubles me the most about your letter is your apparent lack of understanding of the destructive budgetary trends that have occurred over the last decade when you write that the city “has been managed extremely well by Mayor Avedisian and the City Council”.

Do you have any proof to backup this claim or is this another attempt by you to make the appearance of fact, support your false claim?

Warwick is experiencing serious financial problems that have been ignored and exacerbated by Mayor Avedisian and City Council decisions for years that is directly effecting schools today.

Please copy this link and then let me know if you still believe either one of your two statements are true.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6P1sIPd4PTdTkI5WF9NM1pjVXM/edit?usp=sharing

Well Bob (if that's even your real name) I'm glad that you didn't repeat the extensive comments that you made in last Thursdays Beacon. The school wasn't good enough for your son, but its perfect for everybody else's kids.

When the decision is made to close a school I fully expect a full page apology and a letter of capitulation to be taken out in the Beacon. And if you could start to collect the $4.5 million dollars from yourself and the other protesters who hijacked this city, it would be appreciated.

If money was the answer, families would be flocking to those school districts that spend the most money on their public schools; Bridgeport, Providence, Boston, Springfield, Worcester, Hartford, etc. Amount of money spent and measurable outcomes, in fact, have little to do with one another. Likewise, residential home values and quality of schools. Try finding a livable single family home in Boston for under $500k, then take a look at the deplorable condition of the schools. Property values have everything to do with the median income and education levels of those living in that particular community. RI, in general, continues to have the second lowest median level of adult education of the six New England states, and not coincidentally a depressed real estate market. Show me the graduate degrees and I'll show you high real estate values.

Bottom line: Anyone paying attention will tell you that secondary school consolidation should have happened five years ago. Superintendent, school committee, mayor: A collection of cowards.

This is a financial decision. People crying over thier pet high school probably don't have a decent education themselves. Change is the only constant. Money doesn't grow on trees. There's some education for ya.

Warwick's population is closer to 72,000+. It likely will become the 3rd largest city in RI soon(by population). I also believe it has the 3rd highest student enrollment at present.

In the 1960s, Warwick had 19,000+ student enrollment; today, 9,600+

It would be preferable to have 900-1000 students in the high schools; but if one wants computers & other educational resources, tradeoffs need to be made(do you want higher student to teacher ratios or possible outdated/older technology?

Now is the time to study & make the decisions.

When we see retribution from public servants,like what recently happened in Cranston,the need for "nome de plumes" is obvious. It is also an American tradition,from Ben Franklin on. A facetious comment could lead to absurd reactions from others..

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