More than numbers
Municipal officials and representatives from Warwick social service agencies took away a daunting packet of numbers from the Warwick Data in Your Backyard event hosted Monday by Rhode Island Kids Count and the Warwick Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse.
They learned, among many factoids, that 1,319, or 8.3 percent, of Warwick children were living in poverty from 2010 to 2014; that the rental cost of a two-bedroom Warwick apartment for 2015 was $1,346 compared to a state average of $1,238; that Warwick schools identified 85 children as homeless in 2014-15; and that Warwick infant mortality at 6.3 per 1,000 is slightly higher than the state average at 6.1.
But that’s not to stay that the numbers left people numb.
Lynn Dambruch, director of secondary education, was buoyed by the data showing third-graders improved in math and reading proficiency. Numbers were up from 2015 for both math and reading, and results for 2016 were ahead of state averages for 2016.
“We would like to see that [trend] continue,” she said.
Dambruch was concerned that only 18 percent of low-income children participate in the breakfast program. Breakfast is identified as being critical to having students ready to learn.
Dambruch said the department offered an in-class breakfast to Oakland Beach students, but that proved to be inefficient and resorted to a universal breakfast in that school’s cafeteria. Nonetheless, she found participation in the breakfast program across the district low and one of those items she took away from the presentation.
On the positive side, Dambruch noted that 91 percent of eligible Warwick families take advantage of the Head Start program.
It was the report on the outcome of the school system that caught the attention of Mayor Scott Avedisian, Col. Stephen McCartney and Superintendent Philip Thornton. All three picked up on the city’s 81 percent four-year graduation rate. A further breakdown shows 8 percent were dropouts, 4 percent completed their GED within four years, and 8 percent were still in high school.
Comparing the rate with other municipalities, Thornton pointed out that Warwick’s rate is only greater than that of Providence, Newport and Woonsocket and on a par with Central Falls and Pawtucket. He said factors resulting in failure to graduate need to be examined, including “social and emotional [issues] getting in the way of performance in school.”
Thornton also pointed to an anomaly he found in comparing data on special needs students.
Kids Count senior policy analyst Stephanie Geller, who gave the presentation, didn’t look at the special needs population. Thornton pulled that information from the state report, noting that Warwick has a population of 219 autistic children compared to Providence’s 211, although Warwick’s overall student enrollment is about a third of Providence’s. In fact, Warwick has more autistic students than any other municipality.
Thornton didn’t have an answer as to why. Overall, according to the report, 17 percent of the city’s student population is classified as special needs, which puts the city on par with other communities.
“We need to be working on the graduation rates,” Avedisian said. He thinks efforts should be directed at that time between a student dropping out of school and then at some time later deciding they should get their GED. He thought online courses might offer a means of addressing the issue.
For McCartney, the graduation rate and rates of chronic absences at middle and senior high schools jumped out. The chronic absence rate at city high schools was 24 percent for the 2014-15 academic year. The state rate was 26 percent.
McCartney sees the system as too lax and needing to hold students more accountable.
“Sometimes tough love isn’t such a bad thing,” he said.
Asked what jumped out to her as either issues Warwick should address or take pride in, Geller picked reading and math proficiency at third grade as a positive. As for the opposite side of the coin, she termed chronic absences and the graduation rate as “opportunities.”