OP-ED

We need teamwork to fix our schools

Posted

One thing is certain when it comes to the outcome of our school system – one way or another, we will become a national case study, and we are the only ones who can determine how that case study will play out.

On Oct. 6, US News and World Report, in conjunction with the Associated Press, published an article summarizing our situation and what led up to the “sick out” at Pilgrim High School the very same day. It is among the first articles that will pop up if you Google “Warwick Teachers Union,” “Warwick, RI School Committee” or “Warwick, RI Public Schools.”

From those who were “moderately interested” 15 to 20 years ago to those who are “fascinated” nowadays, the development of our schools has gained statewide attention and has gathered interest as a national case study among successful school districts.

Sadly, Warwick Public Schools currently is being disseminated as a “How-To” case study in how the dysfunction of a public education system can retrograde citywide growth from both a socioeconomic perspective, as well as plainly appreciating the value of education for learning’s sake.

Our school system serves as a blueprint for other large suburban cities nationwide to learn from our lessons and apply the organizational principles and deliberate inclusivity necessary to create a successful school system for themselves. The beauty of all of this is that every opportunity is disguised as a challenge and that state of our school systems is very dynamic and fluid – our case study is still in progress and we can right the ship.

What do I mean by “case study,” and why should all citizens become stakeholders in our public education? Our public school system impacts all of us even if we do not have children in the schools.

Perhaps your children are grown and moved out already, or perhaps you are a young family with no children in school. Think of the value of your home. Warwick’s futile efforts to fix our schools will eventually result in people not wanting to relocate here to raise a family and, worse, will cause others to move elsewhere. It has already happened and the decline of our population can be monitored in the last two decades.

Greatschools.com has some of the “crown jewels” of Warwick Education dropping significantly in the past 3 years. Cedar Hill Elementary, Winman and Warwick Neck Schools once a 10 out of 10 now have plummeted to 6’s and 7’s, and other schools have dropped significantly more than that.

Do we really think Cedar Hill is only a “6?” Of course we don’t – we know that is a quality school due to the people in the school, but outsiders looking in at Warwick as a potential place to start a family will steer well clear of Warwick when they see that even the best of our schools fall low on a nationwide scale that has a reputable methodology for determining school quality.

Wealth creation and community development can only happen if we have great schools here in Warwick, otherwise the cost of living and other vital assets like real estate will suffer as a result.

We are all compelled to direct attention, and if necessary, our own resources, time and efforts to rectify the situation that we have. My comments are not meant to be divisive in nature, but rather create awareness and urgency when it comes to community involvement into making our schools the best that they can be.

We need teamwork, mutual respect among everyone in the community and truly altruistic efforts of everyone. Every time we commence a new school day with all the activities associated with the administration of our schools, extra-curricular activities and sports, we are making history as a community.

We all have control of the fate of our schools, and it is up to us to determine the desired end-state of what we want Warwick Schools to stand for. My proposal is that Warwick Schools become a case study that colleges and organizations rave about in how the people seized control and made it an organization that businesses, higher education, and others can use as an example given the opportunity that we have directly in front of us.

I aim to create awareness to our citizens that history is unfolding before our very eyes. I have been back in Rhode Island for nearly two months and come from the perspective of a RI DCYF ward that gained refuge by taking advantage of the Warwick Public School system.

I have had the opportunity to teach and be involved in admissions at the Nation’s #1 Public College (US Naval Academy – Forbes 2017 Ranking). I have also served as a volunteer in Anne Arundel County (Maryland) and San Diego County (California) public school systems.

I have seen what works and what does not work and am desperate in my efforts to bring all concerned parties together and put personal agendas aside so that we can create an education system that will be better for our children than the system that we had. Our children are the ones who will go on to lead our world into the next generation. I propose that we shift our paradigm of education and embrace the concept of what it truly means to “be smart.”

Addressing the quality of education

Warwick’s contract has no bearing on the wide-sweeping changes that we need. Let’s say the contract gets signed off and everyone acts all unicorns and rainbows again – that not only does not fix long-term negotiations, but it really does not address the quality of education that our students will receive. Our class sizes are still too big and the quality and facilities needed for special education are severely lacking.

This comes directly from the top. With “level funding” our school committee is receiving roughly the same amount of money each year to pay teachers, fund after school activities, sports, facilities, etc. 2017 was the first year in some time where the schools received an increase in funding, even if it was “only $3 million,” according to the Providence Journal. Level Funding shows where the priority of schools lies in terms of our budget. The issue with level funding is that inflation happens and the value of the dollar now is more than what it will be 15-20 years from now.

We need to protect our community when it comes to the longevity of schools here in Warwick.

I, too, once believed that paying the teachers and getting the contract done was the simple solution that would magically fix all of our problems. Since being back home, talking to committee members, teachers, parents, alumni of our schools, Congressmen, and others, I have realized it is a much more complicated issue than I, and most parents and citizens, could wrap their head around.

The truth of the matter is many Warwick Teachers do not agree with the course of action that the Warwick Teachers Union has taken to move towards a long-term solution to develop our schools. A “sick out” certainly helps no one. Teachers deserve our respect and admiration. I love my former teachers who are still doing more than what their contracts say they should be doing. However, all teachers here in Warwick need to realize that everyone is in fact expendable.

Let’s analyze the cost of living index of Warwick and other places to determine if they are being paid appropriately. If the nation-wide average index is set at 100, Warwick is 113.2. The Step 1 salary (majority of teachers) is $86,000. Comparatively, in Barrington, cost of living index is 148.3 with an average teacher salary of $69,000. In McLean, Va., the cost of living index is 234.0 with a teacher’s salary of $75,000. The average teacher in McLean has a master’s degree and 15 years of experience.

We need our citizens, school committee and others to realize that if we were to place a nation-wide public service announcement that Warwick was considering hiring new teachers, that many teachers nation-wide would gladly pack their bags and move to Warwick – fresh with new perspectives and track records of success in secondary education.

Many teachers would be grateful for the opportunity to make a difference here, make history and get compensated in the manner that teachers here do.

Doing more than less

I ask Warwick citizens to keep an open mind and consider alternative methods of what it means to be successful in public education and expend all necessary efforts in order to do this.

Other places are outperforming us by having a community-based learning model where the entirety of the population can learn and contribute to the enterprise of public education. People across the nation continue to do more with less than we have in our public schools. Our sense of entitlement at all levels needs to end and we need to think outside the box to make our schools an entity we can be proud of.

To gain some positive momentum, I am starting a scholarship that I plan to establish and fund. I need the help of the school committee, the Mayor, teachers, parents and other administrators to help me select this person. The award will be $3,000, a plaque, and recognition of receipt at the high school’s honors night.

The criteria of the award will be to the Warwick high school student who demonstrates the highest ideals of leadership, citizenship and excellence. It will be recognized by the entities that selected this student and endorsed by them to aid them at the college of their choice. The criteria will be a student in the top 5 percent of their class academically who has excelled in leadership by putting others before themselves. Excellence in sports and extra-curricular activities as well as volunteer experience in the community will be heavily considered.

If the city leaders choose not to work with me on the selection and endorsement of this award and scholarship, I will publicize a more formal notice shortly to begin receiving those applications for the scholarship.

I feel that personally, it is the least that I can do for a school system that has given me so much opportunity to grow. I want others to see the resilience, grit, and excellence that Warwick Schools is truly made of.

The opportunity for us to make history is right here in front of us. We can be stagnant and worry about the nuances of a teacher contract that probably won’t result in major progress even if it gets signed soon, or we can embrace the opportunity and change the paradigm altogether by teaching our children that character, and doing the right thing matters; emotional intelligence and the willingness to make a difference and understand that others are important matters.

With all of this being said, I ask all Warwick citizens, parents, teachers, and students – What kind of case study do we want to be? The power is in our hands to decide.

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