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Skeptics question plan to close Gorton
Warwick Beacon
APPEAL TO SAVE SCHOOL: Gorton Student Council President Julia French urges the commitee to keep "historic" Gorton open.

Superintendent Richard D’Agostino made the case Thursday: Money spent to keep the city’s three junior high schools operating at about 50 percent capacity would be better spent if Gorton closed and the $1.1 million saved is used to enhance programs for all students.

Whether the School Committee sees it that way won’t be known until it votes Tuesday, May 14 at 7 p.m. at Toll Gate (the meeting, which had been scheduled for this Thursday, was changed yesterday.) Meanwhile, the discussion to close Gorton and the question of D’Agostino’s reasons for that conclusion will continue this evening starting at 5:30 when the committee meets at Vets High School.

While a short-term facilities committee recommended closing Gorton by a single vote about two months ago, it wasn’t until last Thursday that the five-member School Committee saw the presentation. It wasn’t easy to see, either for School Committee members or the nearly 300 gathered at Vets. Columns of enrollment and class size numbers filled one slide after the next on a large screen, but they were so small they were illegible. People complained. Rosemary Healey, the department’s legal counsel and human resources director, informed the audience the slides are on the school website and that those with laptops and smart phones could follow along.

Legible or not, when it came time for the audience to speak, several said the numbers didn’t add up and that there wouldn’t be a $1.1 million savings. They also argued students would be spending up to an hour on buses to get to school and that the department should be moving toward a middle school, with grades 6 through 8, that would improve math and science instruction for sixth graders. Further, they reasoned, going to the middle school model would free up space at elementary schools for all-day kindergarten.

In his opening remarks, D’Agostino sought to cover all of these bases and more. He said he felt sadness when Rocky Point and Sholes roller rink closed, but they are gone. He pointed out that 12 Warwick schools closed between 1973 and 1978; that the senior class for the city’s three high schools is 699 and that, “We’re getting to the point where our high schools are going to be below 1,000 students [each].”

He said the administration’s plan is to stay with the junior high school system and that by moving sixth graders into a middle school model would “cost more” because the system lacks the teachers certified for model school instruction.

D'Agostino argued all-day K “won’t be here,” and if it is legislated, it would be an unfunded mandate.

D’Agostino countered claims that the department has got it backwards and should have a long-range plan before moving ahead with closing a junior high. He said the first step has been closing four elementary schools, this is the second step and the third will be an examination of the high schools and “then we will look at a five-year plan.”

D’Agostino called closing Gorton a “win-win” for teachers, students and taxpayers.

“We’re putting money back in the classrooms,” he said. “We need to downsize so we can do the things we need to do.”

Director of secondary education Dennis Mullen, who chaired the short-term committee, said that Gorton had the lowest teacher-student ratio of the three schools [1-14]. His reasoning is that there should be equality between the schools. And while he acknowledged Gorton performed better than the other two schools in some NECAP tests, which brought cheers from the audience, he said, “you want to look at all the scores” to get the full picture.

In response to claims that closing Gorton would compromise instruction, Mullen said he had run schedules for Aldrich and Winman, which would absorb the Gorton students, and found that there is legitimate room. There would be no reduction in course offerings, including music and art, he said.

Possibly signaling how the committee may vote, only members Jennifer Ahearn and Eugene Nadeau had questions of the proposal. There wasn’t a clear answer as to how much longer Gorton students would be on a bus to reach Winman or Aldrich. The answer given was 10 to 12 additional minutes to reach the district boundary of the other school, which got laughs from the audience.

Anthony Ferrucci, director of school business affairs, outlined the calculations he had used in projecting savings by closing Gorton. Also, the administration traced earlier efforts to use Gorton as the pilot for middle schools in the city.

“We spent thousands doing that and it wasn’t successful,” said D’Agostino.

That wasn’t reason enough not to prepare for the possibility, in the opinion of Amie Galipeau, a member of the short-term committee. She said closing Gorton could preclude a middle school system.

Several Gorton students addressed the committee, saying closing the school would be disruptive and split “one big family.”

“I would not want to go to a school so far away from my house,” said seventh-grader Alyssa Ferland. Eighth-grader and student council president Julia French said Gorton has a 74-year tradition.

“Taking away Gorton is like ripping the heart out of Warwick,” she said.

Gorton teachers also argued to keep the school open, as did parents and Warwick Teachers Union president James Ginolfi.

“You’ve got this backward,” he said. “What are the goals and the vision?”

He called the numbers used to justify closure “distorted,” and claimed that moving the Gorton students would make for tight fits at Winman and Aldrich.

Gorton parent and member of the short-term committee Edward Racca said he couldn’t see how the administration would save 12 teaching positions by closing the school.

William Mellone went a step further. He provided the committee with a written analysis of Ferrucci’s projections, saying, “I think you have been badly served.” He said closing either Gorton or Aldrich would end up costing money due to added transportation costs.

Gorton social studies teacher and Warwick resident Peter Stone reasoned closing the school would have a negative impact on real estate as families won’t want to move into the area and prices would drop.

City Council President Donna Travis told the committee she doesn’t feel they have all the information they need. She said she is 100 percent in favor of keeping Gorton open. Yet, she said, the committee has approved a budget calling for an added $3.8 million in city funding. Asked after the meeting whether she would look favorably on the school budget request if Gorton remained open, she said, “I have a serious problem when they come to us any time they want to get money.”

Travis claimed that a disproportionate amount of school funds go to the administration.

“It is time to put the brakes on the administration, it is way too heavy,” she said.

The committee will learn soon enough how the mayor and council intend to deal with their request.

The mayor will have his budget to the council by next week.


Comments
17 comments on this item

The teachers' position is basically this: "We don't want a single school closed, under any circumstances, ever." If Peter Stone's well-intentioned argument is valid, Warwick should add a junior high or two or three in order to increase property values. The fact is, property values and local public schools have little relationship to one another. Just ask residents of Boston and New York, where the schools remain deplorable while real estate values continue to skyrocket. The fact is, a junior high needs to close this year, and a high school in two years. And when Warwick goes to two public high schools, which is about seven years overdue, the remaining two schools will still be at only 65-70% capacity. It's time.

Please don't complain that your children will be on a bus and extra 10-15 minutes. Special Needs children can be on a bus for up to a hour! Your children will not be suffering and if you feel that way bring them. If it will bring more money into the classrooms and not into the pockets of a administrator or to add a job of one I don't see the problem.

The airport is going to take 500 houses in the future. Warwick is shrinking . The school needs to close. The taxpayers of Warwick can't afford anymore. With having small classes, check out Go Local prov. and see where are schools finished.

Mr. Stark. The only reason Gorton would have to close is if you want to remain in a K-6 elementary model and not move to a 6-8 middle school. Warwick is one of 4 or 5 districts in the state that does not have this. If we did this, we would actually more effectively utilize the three buildings than we would by closing one and splitting those kids between Winman & Aldrich. And that would be the case for the next 7 plus years. Middle School, if done right, provides better instruction to those grades. This frees up space in elementary's to consolidate at least one of those and there'll be room for all day K when that comes. By the way, if Gorton closes and all day K comes in the next couple of years, there's not enough classroom space in the current K-6 model to fit them. Schools have to close, no question about that but the question is which one(s). As far as the high schools go, we should use our three buildings and greatly expand the Career & Tech center to make it home school in one of the buildings, open it up to more Warwick students, let 9th graders in, and add more out of district students and charge them a higher tuition than what they currently because it would be their home school. That generates revenue from the building. Then see where's that leaves the 2 remaining buildings with respect to capacity.

greedy teachers and their union don't give 2 hoots about anyone but themselves. Pretty much if the teachers or the union are for something it's best for the rest of us to be against it.

they should close this school this would save the city thousands

and the land should be sold for housing which would generate

tax revenue for the city

I was a Gorton Raider (Class of 92). The ruffians from Oakland Beach used to give me wedgie's, wet-willies, and the dreaded Rear Admiral almost every day. Because of all that happened there, I cant hold a job, stay in a relationship, or interact with people to this day. I am all for closing that school down!!!!

Thank you, Dave, for being the voice of reason. Everyone is being very emotional, but not thinking about what is best for the kids' education. The middle school model is what is best for their education. Did everyone see how well our schools are doing in comparison to the other districts in Rhode Island? I agree that schools need to be closed, but first we should look at the middle school model and full-day kindergarten. If that can be done with one less Junior High and High School then fine.

David, if you think a middle school model is the answer, think again. Many districts around the country are moving from a middle school model to a K-8 model, whole others are moving to a 'lower school-upper school' model. There is emperical evidence to support all three. But in the end, it doesn't matter. The single best indicator of student achievement is parental intelligence, while the second best is parental education level. RI ranks low in both when compared with other states in the northeast, so it should come as no surprise that RI's achievement test scores are second lowest in New England. And that's with most of the state having already endorsed your middle school position. So unless you can adjust parental intelligence, you're simply rearranging deck chairs, while leaving taxpayers with multiple schools at 50% capacity. LIke new math, phonetic spelling, open classrooms, and whole language, the trendiness of middle schools will fade. That is the cold, hard reality.

It's past time to close this school and one of the high schools. And then REDISTRICT. Schools are the lions share of our tax bill. Well over 60% of taxes on our houses go to schools that are not even producing well.

John,

Of those districts moving away. most (if not the large majority of them) are urban districts like Cincinnatti, Baltimore, Philly, and NYC all of whom don;t compare demographically or socio-economically to us. Research on the efficacy of K-8 is thin because in most cases K-8 schools tend to be very small and don;t make a good statistical sample. Further, there's reasearch that shows that kids coming out of the K-8 model struggle in the much larger high school setting and there are performance drops that are similar to drops found in some studies of moving from K-6 to middle school. Thebottom line is that there is no general consensus on what the best grade make up is for these 'tweener' years. It's more important what's being taught and how it's being taught that matters and, over the years, I don;t think there's been good leadership administratively and via the school committee to hold people accountable to high standards. Look at the demographic info from the Winman/Tollgate feeder district and compare it to EG. They're very similar and yet EG vastly outperforms that feeder district so I wouldn't put as much weight on parental intelligence level as i think you would. Lastly, if we move to middle school and do it right, except for todsay junior high's we don;t have buildings at 50% capacity. But my point is we casn take the junior highs and put the 6th graders in and the capacities go to 80% or so for a long time. Because this opens up a lot of room in the elementaries and you could easily close one, maybe more but all day K would have to be considered too. High schools can be addressed separately from elem/middle school. it can be done but it would be hard work.

davebarry, check your last tax bill, the schools/city split is 55/45. Ten years ago it was 60/40. Schools are the lions share of every community's tax bill.

Wow I feel bad for details 172. I wish they had the anti-bullying campaign back then like they do now. Poor guy

The argument to keep the junior high schools open is a strong one if it means we are going to move forward with a Middle School (6-8) Model. I support that and so do many people. What I wonder is...If we do keep Gorton open what is going to be cut? WPS will not be getting any money from the City and there are large expenses looming on the horizon. Technology, professional development, books, buses, security, fire code requirements are expensive and are the people who are fighting to keep Gorton open going to accept cuts in programs or accept the idea of closing more elementary schools? It is inevitable that something somebody cares about is going to be eliminated. Last year the big outrage was the possibility of ALAP being cut. Parents packed the Admin building because a beloved program was on the chopping block..a beloved program that is only available to 200 students. It is a costly program..approximately $300,000.00 per year and only reaches a finite amount of students and the material taught should be taught to every student, every day. There are other things that cost the school dept. more money than is necessary but that's an argument for another day..the bottom line is no one wants to give anything up! Nothing at all. The Administrators don't want to give anything up, the Teacher's Union doesn't want to give anything up, the WISE Union doesn't want to give anything up and most of all the Parents don't want to give anything up. If we really want to embrace the Middle School Model, then let's do it. If we are keeping the half empty schools open for the sake of sentimentality then don't expect any real improvements down the line. Warwick is slow to change...but change it must in order to be competitive with other districts.

Dave: Thanks so much for reinforcing my point when you observe: "...there is no general consensus on what the best grade make up is for these 'tweener' years." Indeed, those who promote a "middle school model" as a panacea are chasing the latest fad for which empirical support simply does not exist. Much like HeadStart. The EG - TG comparison does not take into account the hundreds of Warwick students who attend private and Catholic high schools. Just ask the admissions offices at Hendricken, LaSalle, BayView, and Prout. As to holding educrats to "high standards", I'm assuming that you write such things with a straight face. High schools would be "hard work"?? This just in: Coaches at Tollgate and Vets have already been told to withhold any requests for capital improvements until "consolidation" has been approved.

If the school committee doesn't vote to close Gorton then they will have to make more cuts to programs to cut $3.8 million from the budget. The city is right to say no more money because of the decling enrollment. How will the school committee balance it's budget? Sue the city (the taxpayers)? Wouldn't be the first time.

John,

I agree with you on Head Start as any benefits from it are pretty much lost by the third grade. With respect to the TG-EG comparison, i think it still holds. Is your assumption that only the poorest of the TG feeder kids attend the public schools? Look, i'm not implying at all that middle school is a panacea but it can and does work but it's only as good as those who operate within it. I have three kids in schools, one at each level, and the large majority of their teachers have been very good.. But my wife and I are involved in their education and stay on top of them and what they're doing. As far as high standards go, holding people to them can be done. Just because past school committees and Administrations didn't do it does not mean that it can't be done. I just don't buy that. I don;t think the school committe fully understands its duties and responsibilities - they operate (and have operated over the years) deferentially. I feel the same way about Admin but they work for the school committee. With respect to the high schools I use the term hard work because I would also expand the Career & Tech center to make it a home school, allow more Warwick kids in beginning in 9th grade, and allow more tuition-paying out of district kids in. There's a growing demand for CTC education and not many communities are going to build their own CTC. We have one, a good one, that's just too small.

Gordian Knot, the 'declining enrollment - therefore no more money' argument is kind of funny. The city lost triple the amount of population than the schools did over the last 10 years or so but the city side of the legder has grown dramatically during that period. Wouldn't it stand to reason that the City budget be held even like that of the schools? Look, I'm not suggesting that the schools deserve $3.8 million. All budgeting is a kabuki dance and the real numbers are rarely part of the proposed budget. Lastly, this Gorton issue has taken on the appearance of a fire drill that has to be done now. Closing it for Sept poses real problems. If we do that and the state mandates all day K (which most people agree is coming) there is not enough classsroom space in the current elemtary schools too house it for several years. So when that happens, the same critics will come out and start asking 'why is this so?' 'Where was your plan?'.

So there is a hue and cry now about closing Gorton, but deafening silence from the School Committee in explaining the reckless spending and lack of accountability in keeping 3 Jr. High Schools open for year after fiscal year with 50% capacity? Do you have any wonder why 55%+ of the City budget goes to education( 90%+ for wages, salaries and benefits) and less than 10 cents on the dollar is used for discretionary spending on things like books, computer software and other classroom staples? Close Gorton, sell the property and get it back on the tax rolls. This place is a looney bin.

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