October 30, 2014
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Reasons to save Gorton
Matt Bower
“I hope what you choose to do is for the best and out of wisdom, not fear.” Amanda Gorton

Normally, attendance at school committee meetings is sparse, but it was a different story Tuesday. Not even the rain could stop students, teachers and parents of the Gorton community from showing up to defend their school.

A recommendation to close Gorton Junior High has been presented to the School Committee following a decision by the short-term facilities planning committee, and once word got out, Gorton supporters and defenders showed up in force to voice their concerns.

Some spoke of the positives of Gorton, such as ease of access with being a neighborhood school or boasting the best NECAP [New England Common Assessment Program] test scores of the district’s three junior highs, while others voiced their displeasure with the way the short-term facilities planning committee handled the decision-making process.

James Ginolfi, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, referred to the short-term planning committee as the “school closing committee” and limited his comments to the decision-making process.

“The committee’s actions, in the public eye, are reflective of you as a School Committee member,” he said. “The majority of members on the committee did not vote in favor of the recommendation to close Gorton.”

Ginolfi said only eight out of the 19 members voted in favor of the recommendation.

“There’s been a sense from the beginning that the outcome was pre-determined,” he said.

Ginolfi then gave a list of examples to illustrate his point.

“When the committee was asked by the public to define a timeframe for ‘short-term,’ one member said, ‘we’re looking at two to three years,’ and within 20 minutes, there was a recommendation to close Gorton by August of this year,” he said. “At one of the meetings, the crowd was overflowing and someone asked if the venue could be moved and they did not even get an answer.”

Ginolfi concluded, saying, “It seems the facts and figures were one-sided, manipulated or ignored to bring about a pre-determined decision to close Gorton.”

Tom Hughes said he was also concerned with the process.

“You’re looking at a recommendation from a short-term committee without a long-term vision. And the recommendation came from a minority,” he said.

Darlene Netcoh, an English teacher at Toll Gate, said she’s attended most of the meetings of the short-term facilities planning committee.

“It’s become very clear that the committee’s hand is being forced,” she said. “Two women that are parents on the committee repeatedly asked questions and were ignored until a member of the audience repeated the question, then there were no more meetings for a while after that.”

Netcoh said the short-term committee has met multiple times while the long-term facilities planning committee only met last week.

“I’m disappointed with the way the process has been preceding and with the decision to close Gorton,” she said. “Principals on the committee said ‘yes, it could fit [if Gorton were closed and students were divided among the two remaining junior highs], but it won’t be easy.’”

Netcoh asked how the district would be able to implement the new STAR Enterprise system and the PARCC [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers] test, which will eventually replace NECAPs, both of which are computer-based assessments, if schools don’t have the necessary technology to support them.

“Until you get that, you can’t decide to close a school,” she said.

Susanne Racca, president of the Gorton PTO, said Aldrich has two computer rooms, with 26 computers in each that are required for keyboarding classes.

“PARCC and STAR are great assessment programs, but how will students benefit if they don’t have access to the technology?” she asked. “Are we going to have a problem like we did at Vets years ago with students having to sit out [of keyboarding classes] to allow other students to take the PARCC and STAR tests?”

Bill Malone, a parent of a former Gorton student, said an important aspect to education is involved parents.

“I think you have that at Gorton,” he said, motioning behind him to a crowd of supporters who cheered and held up signs whenever people spoke in favor of saving Gorton. “Plus, Gorton has the highest NECAP scores of the three junior highs.”

“I bleed Gorton Green, for better or worse,” said Stephen Andolfo, a retired Gorton teacher, who wanted an answer as to whether or not mayoral academies were ever discussed by the planning committees.

“The question was asked at a committee meeting and we were told that’s the city’s decision,” he said. “You see the clouds and then go outside and say, ‘Oh my God, it’s raining!’”

David Testa, a member on the short-term committee, said at no time was a mayoral academy ever discussed at any of the committee meetings.

Michael Pierce, a teacher at Gorton who also has a son at Park School, the cons of closing Gorton had nothing to do with the quality of education.

“The cons you’ve listed include a loss of community identity, crowding at the other junior highs and busing issues – there is nothing to do with the impact on the quality of education or the state testing regimens,” he said. “The money savings is coming from cutting faculty and staff, not closing the building. Closing the school and then convening the committee and saying what you want the community to look like – that’s putting the cart before the horse.”

One audience member who identified himself as a descendant of Samuel Gorton said he didn’t feel the School Committee was paying attention to what the students, faculty and parents had to say about their school.

“It seems like the decision has already been made,” he said. “What I want to know is, are you going to the close the school or not?”

A parent in the audience said he was concerned if Gorton closed, his son would have to travel a further distance to attend one of the other two junior highs, “at least an extra 20 minutes at the minimum,” and would have to walk home after dark during the winter months.

Alanna Morrison, a seventh grader at Gorton, said she doesn’t think she should have to move to another school.

“I’ve moved a lot in my life and I haven’t felt more at home anywhere but Gorton,” she said. “I have been in crowded classrooms and it was hard to get attention, but I can get that at Gorton. We need to stay together and not close any schools at all.”

Amanda Gorton, another descendant of Samuel Gorton, said she has a son that will be 2 years old in April and she’s looking at buying a house in East Greenwich.

“I don’t know if my family will receive the education they deserve, that I, my brother, my father, our grandparents, were all granted,” she said. “I hope what you choose to do is for the best and out of wisdom, not fear.”

Juliann Dutra said it means a lot to students to see their school close and for them to lose all their friends.

“It hurts,” she said, as she choked up with emotion.

Gary Marsh, who described himself as a proud parent, concerned citizen and worried taxpayer, said he’s tried to look at the school budget for the past four years online but said it’s hard to follow because “it’s always in a different format and the numbers don’t match up.”

“Why are we closing a school and putting students in a smaller area and asking them to do more with less, like we did with [the closure of] John Greene and then move in administration staff?” Marsh said. “I was under the impression that building was beyond repair.”

John Sullivan, a teacher at Aldrich, said Warwick seems to be behind the times.

“More effective teaching is done in smaller schools,” he said, adding he felt something was missing at the planning committee meetings. “I felt the committee meetings lacked a passion and a pride for your district. I’m not sure you’re doing everything you can here. This is about the students, so make the good decision for them.”

Gloria Rossiter, a teacher at Aldrich who also has children in the Warwick school system, said the committee should start looking at students as people with rights.

“These students are people, they’re human beings, that have feelings, needs and need to be taught,” she said. “I’ve always been proud of my city, but you’re not ranking at the top anymore because you don’t put education first.”

Julia French, an eighth grader and Gorton class president, spoke on behalf of the school and her classmates and gave a list of reasons why it should remain open.

“If you go to a middle school model, will the other two junior highs be able to sustain it?” she asked.

French said her years at Gorton in seventh and eighth grade have been the best of her life so far.

“Some of the best teachers I ever met are at Gorton. You can trust them with your problems,” she said. “My sister is in fifth grade at Sherman and she was so excited to start junior high at Gorton, but she was devastated when she heard the news and asked me to try to save the school. I want her to have the privilege of walking through the halls at Gorton, just as I have.”

French listed many programs the school is involved in, such as Rachel’s Challenge, saying the school really took the program to heart and there have been more than 1,000 random acts of kindness performed at the school since being introduced to the program.

“Longer bus rides will take a toll on after-school activities, “ she continued. “Students won’t get the proper attention if Gorton closes, with 97 percent [projected] capacity at both [remaining] junior highs.”

French said if Gorton closes, a part of the community would be lost with it.

“Keeping all schools open is the better choice,” she said. “For the sake of the education of students to come, we’re asking you to reconsider closing Gorton.”

Seventh grader Mary Greenwell said students’ education will be negatively impacted if they are crammed into larger classes.

“I think closing Gorton will seriously affect my education and what I want to accomplish in life,” she said.

Following audience comments, School Committee Chairwoman Beth Furtado thanked everyone for their “impassioned pleas and respectful comments.”

Committee member Eugene Nadeau also had some comments for the audience.

“I’m looking at the largest crowd we’ve had in many months,” he said.

Nadeau said he’s received close to 100 e-mails, phone calls and personal contacts regarding the recommendation to close Gorton.

“I know the anxiety of the students, parents and teachers of the community and I offer my heartfelt appreciation to all who have contacted me for their respectful and gracious comments,” he said. “There was also anger there, but I never experienced it and I will not forget such courtesy. I urge you, if you feel deeply about a subject, make your voices heard, whether from Gorton, Aldrich or another school.”

In other committee news, the School Committee approved the adoption of a revised school budget as presented by Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci. According to the revised budget, Ferrucci projects a $45,417 surplus, which when added to the $44,338 surplus included with the most recent revised budget approved in December, results in a total net surplus of $89,755 for the fiscal year 2013 budget.


Comments
8 comments on this item

Instead of consolidating schools @ the students expense, let's focus on their education. Comparable to oher school districts, our Warwick students are not performing well. Saying Gorton has the best NECAP scores... is not saying much. Looking at the test results, in Reading and Math for the last several years show all our junior and seior high schools lacking. Aldrich reading NECAP results for 2009, 2010, and 2011--81, 80, 83

Gorton reading NECAP results for 2009, 2010 and 2011--73, 72, 78

Winman reading NECAP results for 2009, 2010, 2011--77, 80, 82

Math results for 2009, 2010, 2011

Aldrich 54,56, 58

Gorton 57 52, 58

Winman 60, 58, 59

I'd hate to see the results...if schools consolidate.

Consolidation has nothing to do with education. Children's futures are being treated like widgets in a factory.

Ohhh, this factory is under capacity, let's stuff more widgets into it. Doesn't matter that 60% or more of the widgets are defective when they leave the factory, we have saved money, in the short run.

Besides, when were the capacities set for these schools?

When they were built?

Wow. Our student/widgets can stand around the punch-card machine and see if their program runs.

The time has come for visionary restructuring of the Warwick schools, but keeping the old guard around doing things the way they are done because it has always been that way is no way to run things. Starting at the top and going down to the lowest rung, things need to be shaken up and made flexible so that the system will work better now and will be able to change with the times.

I think there should be a complete investigation of the whole Warwick Administration Of Schools and the Financial Department. These people have been put in place to protect our children and their education. Unfortunately the Adults seem to resort to CRONYISM, starting right from the top Dr. D'Agostino. Warwick must take a stand and SHOULD NOT TAKE CREDENCE to the DEPLORABLE actions by the 19 individuals who should have been there not just the 8, and there should never ever been a vote taken. I say demand an investigation, question why there is never correct documentatin published on the financial website, why there is not enough information released to the tax payer on how the School Administration is really spending our money and how the decision are REALLY being made. Speak now demand anwsers. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN. How about calling in Govenor Chaffee in????????? And why has Mayor Avadesian not stepped in??????

If they close Gorton will the City of Warwick reimburse my tax cost for any child that is sent to the private school of the parents choice?

WAKE UP WARWICK AND FIGHT BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Keeping Gorton open is a different matter than that of providing children the best education possible. The closing of Gorton is a justifiable financial matter. If the decision was Aldrich, I'm sure similar argument would be made and, the bottom line is it wouldn't matter much. Warwick will continue to produce very mediocre-at-best results.

If you truly wish to address the issue of providing kids the 'best education possible', then embrace the notion of sending kids to schools that succeed via vouchers. On the other hand, if your goal is to perpetuate the long-standing beaurocratic navel-gazing the personifies education in Warwick, then by all means continue to argue about Gorton vs. Aldrich. The results speak for themselves.

Closing Gorton is justifiable only if you want to continue with a k-6 elementary model. By moving to a middle school model and creating a 6-8 schools the three junior highs are actually better utilized, space-wise, than they are by closing Gorton. Most other districts in the state have this model and many of them perform better than we do at the secondary level. And not all of those communities that do are more affluent than Warwick, by the way. If you, look at the current K-6 enrollments and then weight them accordingly, there is simply not enough room to place 6th graders in two junior highs until at least the 2021-2022 school year. This would open up space in the elementary's, most of which are currently at 60-70% capacity. At that point, a discussion about elementary's takes place to address issues like all day K, how the airport expansion effects Wickes, etc. Closing three elementary's saved approximately $2.7 million. Closing Greene saved about $800-$900k. (Most if not all of this comes from staff reductions). So here we are looking to save $1 million, when we could save a bit less than that by moving to the middle school model and consolidate an elementary, which should not be too difficult with the 6th graders out of them. And, we would be teaching the Common Core curriculum in the model for which it was designed! It makes no sense to keep "swimming upstream" with our elementary model. All of this first requires a long term plan and that is currently what we do not have. As for vouchers, most voucher programs I've seen allow for them in cases where a school is failing as defined by State measures. Plus, there are some areas where vouchers have been very successful and some where they have not so I think the jury is still out on them. If other community's public schools can perform highly, so can Warwick. Warwick is not an urban school district with all of the problems that are inherent in those districts. Other communities perform better than we do who are more and less affluent than we are. It can be done but it requires leadership, vision, and collaboration between Administrators, teachers (and their unions), and parents. Over the years these have been lacking.

Rhode Island is getting $15 million to repair roads. If we were all being honest, including honesty from the "Officials", (I know honesty is a foreign word to those corrupt worthless POS) we know that money isn't going to go to repairing the roads. Those of us who work pay plenty of taxes to cover road repairs, yet year after year these roads remain a pothole heaven. Give that money to our schools! Put children in this state first for a change. Invest in their futures so when the liberals have completely run this state into the ground our children will be ready to leave to start a good decent life in states run by competent leaders. One more thing: With the small size of this state, there is no need to have a superintendent for every single town. They are earning an awful lot for very little work................

One problem with the voucher system is that students may be bounced around a lot.

Private schools don't have to take anyone they don't want, so if your child is fat, protestant, ugly, black, hispanic, female, stupid, un-athletic, has bad breath, doesn't play well with others, any combination of these or for any whim of an administrator, they can be bounced from the school.

Private schools are not the answer, they are just smug enclaves of the well to do and wannabes.

Got it. Certainly, the last thing we'd want to do is give parents a realistic choice of where their child goes to school. Much better to leave it to the government, since government-run schools appear to be doing so well, especially in Warwick. I'm sure there are a variety of private schools who decline admission to students with bad breath, I just can't think of any and would be open to hearing about that. But that's exactly why vouchers work so well; Parents of children with bad breath would not choose to send their child to a school that declines such children. Yet again, the marketplace works brilliantly, in marked contrast to the monopolistic, mind-numbingly beaurocratic system of abject failure we have presently. I trust parents to make decisions for their children, not the demonstrated failure of government beaurocrats.

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