To the Editor:
On Wednesday, March 6, 2013, the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee (LTFPC) voted to submit a recommendation to the Warwick School Committee to close Gorton Junior High School. The vote was a tight one with two members not present and two who chose to abstain. However, the outcome of that vote had no bearing whatsoever on whether Dr. Richard D’Agostino, superintendent of Warwick Schools, was going to make the recommendation. He made it very clear to both the LTFPC as well as the people who attended the meeting that he would go forward with the recommendation to close the school no matter which way the committee voted. He also claimed that the committee has been working toward the determination to close the school for the past two years. As a member of the committee since it’s inception in November 2011, I was never informed that the committee was charged with closing a junior high school. In fact, we were told that there were many options we should consider. When it was found that student population numbers were unclear, the committee voted to disband and revisit the problem of declining student population at another time.
In December of 2012, the LTFPC met for the first time in nearly a year. We reviewed what we had discussed last year and were re-oriented as to the mission of the committee. On Jan. 2, 2013, the committee met again and it was decided we would break into two subcommittees. It was also made clear (as is in the minutes) that the subcommittees would bring their findings to the LTFPC. The Short Term Committee met many times and at the last meeting in February, they voted to close Gorton. When asked by a member of the Short Term Committee if this decision was going to go back to the LTFPC, Dr. D’Agostino said “no” and that he was going to make his recommendations directly to the Warwick School Committee. This caused concern for the remaining members, myself included, and we requested a full committee meeting. He relented and we had the meeting on March 6. Again, he made it clear that no matter what the committee decided, he was going to go to the School Committee with his recommendation.
Why the need for a committee at all? Many of our members left work early for each meeting because they were held at 3 p.m. and to most people that is the middle of the workday. They came to the meetings anyway because of the wish to be involved in a process that would impact our children and all the children who attend Warwick Public Schools. Dr. D’Agostino made it clear that the decision to close a school has been the goal for the past two years. Again, why the need for a committee? We were NEVER told that LTFPC was, in fact, a consolidation committee. If the decision was already made, then our time should never have been wasted.
My question to Dr. D’Agostino regarding the impact on curriculum was met with a response that was less than reassuring. The committee never researched the impact on curriculum in the event we should vote to close a school. I felt that we should have done so before taking a final vote. The committee never received a plan for the two remaining schools should they have to absorb the students from Gorton or if the situation were reversed (Aldrich closing) and it was Gorton and Winman that would be effected. Transportation reporting was spotty at best, and again no clear plan was presented to the committee.
I am not an educator, but I am a parent and a taxpayer and I expect my children, as well as all of the children in this district, to have an education that is either equivalent to or better than a private school. No one should have to choose between attending public school and private school when we live in a city that receives so much in revenues from its residents. Not only am I disappointed with the decision to close a school without a clear and specific goal; I am disappointed in the way the process unfolded.
Jackie Harris-Connor is a member of the long-range committee