I am always trying to think of innovative ways we can improve our education system here in Warwick while maximizing our resources. It seems as though every time we turn around, there is some issue concerning how we need to fix our schools. This is not a political issue. This is a concerned citizen issue of a shared, sacred foundation in our city.
I am not going to make any friends from any camp, but the only way to be excellent is to hold everyone in the education system more accountable. Students should be held most accountable. It is their performance in the classroom, in the communities, and on the athletic fields that determine their own fates.
Growing up homeless and in foster care in other school systems, I would affirm that Warwick is a fine public school system for any young man or woman who makes the choice to apply himself or herself in order to succeed.
School administrators can delegate responsibility, but not accountability for the overall performance of the entire administration. A dear friend of mine, the late Dr. Robert Shapiro would tell me that the pride that the community takes in its public school system is a sign of its investment in the future of all of us.
This needs to be a team effort. Parents need to enforce the lessons of good character and civility at home and instill a moral foundation in their children. Teachers need to be become exemplary role models and community leaders whom our kids look up to for guidance, support, and advice beyond the classroom. I think everyone truly wants to step up and embrace these roles. We need to reward and recognize these examples when we see them.
If I were ever in the position to do so, I would encourage us to instill some new, inexpensive, and efficient interventions for our high school students:
-Some people say we should not take things personally in life. In this ordeal, this is very personal since the combination of DCYF and The Warwick Public Schools saved my life. We all need to take our school system seriously and personally.
-Character assessments and moral development starting in Junior High. We need our children to be good citizens of high ethical standards first before we can teach them calculus or AP physics. We need people who will be good stewards of the information being taught. Character development and resilience are traits sorely needed so that we can stamp out any sense of entitlement and do more and have the intrinsic motivation to do so.
-School uniforms- a uniform board/council should be convened and approve the designs and wear of these uniforms. Board members will be appointed by the Supt. and co-chaired by both of the High Schools assistant principals. This relatively inexpensive intervention will level the playing field in terms of distractions among students. They would also serve as a tool to instill school pride. As a homeless kid who never had nice clothes like my fellow students, an internal sense of inferiority set in for me around 10th grade since everyone was able to tell who us Oakland Beach kids were...the school uniforms would keep students on task and everyone focused on the greater goals.
-Mandatory Advisory Board meetings with the Supt. for any high school student who has:
1) Not taken the PSAT by completion of 10th grade. This includes special needs students. The administration should know all of our special needs students by name and their unique situation. IEP's will be encouraged, funded, matched with the right person, at the right place, at the right time. They will be strictly adhered to by all parties.
2) Has either verbally or in writing expressed a desire to drop out of school or not pursue Community or 4-year college.
College might not be in every student's plan, but it is our job to put them on a course within our community to succeed. The posture of the school system in these types of meetings would lean towards parent and teacher involvement to do everything possible to keep the child enrolled.
-Internships with local businesses and colleges throughout the summer. I would fight to find innovative ways to integrate highly motivated students into local organizations for a few weeks during the summer so that they may get a first-hand account of the world they will enter after graduating. Instead of the ineffective senior project, allow the students to use part of their summers to reflect on these experiences within the community. The senior project only takes away from valuable study time and time in ECA's and sports during the year. Ideally this community involvement would continue during the school year.
-Warwick's population is north of 80,000, and as such, we have gone to 2 high schools. With the amount of students at Toll Gate and Pilgrim, there ought to be individual attention to our students at the highest level. We will deliver that. Any student who has below a 2.0 GPA would meet with the Mayor for individualized counseling and, with the assistance of parents, selected teachers, principals, and guidance counselors, we would come up with an individualized plan for each student, signed by the Mayor. This would serve as a contract between student and administration that we all agree on the plan of action moving forward. The Mayor's office would receive this list no later than 1 week after each marking period. Individual principals would be able to schedule these meetings with the Mayor at any point in time, as scheduling allows. Any student choosing to drop out of school is absolutely the business of public officials and demands at least an interview.
-On the flip side, honors and AP Students with a GPA over 5.0 would have the opportunity to be recognized by the Mayor, have individualized attention, and give unsolicited feedback to the Mayor and Supt. Outstanding performance deserves recognition, and those students who are doing well can provide insight to how well we are doing as a unit, and where we can make improvements... "But Brandon, the Supt. and Mayor are too busy, for these interventions..." Let me tell you there are not many more important things that I could think of than the performance and futures of our children in school. They are the ones who will write history and change the world.
We really can do more. All of us can. Our youth is our most precious investment- we should strive to selflessly set a high quality example so that they may lead future generations to excellence in our community, their citizenship, and government.
Brandon Pearson is product of Providence, Cranston, and Warwick Public Schools and of DCYF for 10 years of his youth, attending 18 schools and living in 7 foster homes. He is a resident of Warwick and an active duty Navy Lieutenant currently stationed in Newport, RI. He is a 2006 graduate of Warwick Vets, a 2010 graduate of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis with a B.S. in History, a 2015 graduate of George Washington University with an M.A. with the LEAD Fellow's Cohort in Leadership Education and Development. He is also a recent graduate of the Naval War College's Command and Staff College in 2017. He is committed excellence in youth development, education, and leadership in uniform and out.