Concerns over student loss to private schools
It is no surprise enrollment throughout Warwick’s public schools is in decline. Classes are getting smaller; in the last few years the School Committee closed four schools and considered closing Aldrich and Gorton and re-purpose Vets as a middle school.
The declining numbers are only worsened as parents seek “better” educations for their children at private or charter schools.
Joanne Pelletier, principal at Winman Junior High, emailed several parents who plan to send their children onto private high schools. She asked about their reasons for leaving public schools. Pelletier wanted feedback from the parents on how Toll Gate could improve because she didn’t want Toll Gate to miss out on “bright and talented students.”
Rob Cote, one of the parents sending his daughter to a private high school, Prout, responded with numerous reasons he prefers to send his two daughters to a private school despite the $28,000 cost.
Cote’s email said, “I pay attention to what is taking place in the city and I understand how the fiscal decisions in the city will affect my family in the future. As you are aware, the schools have been level funded for several years. That will not change in the near future, we all know that.”
Cote said that with the continual lack of school funding “there will never be any more money for Warwick Schools to enhance the education experience.”
He acknowledged that his issues with the school system are not with the teachers nor administrators and he even commended Pelletier on her outstanding character. Cote noted that with outdated textbooks and equipment, as well as the deteriorating buildings, there is only so much teachers can do with what they are given.
“Frankly, the teachers and the students deserve better,” he said. “We loved Mrs. Pelletier and her staff. They deserve a whole new building, all new technology, and all new text books, but with the city’s irresponsible spending, we will never get that for our teachers.”
Cote works in Massachusetts helping to build “state-of-the-art buildings” for the local school systems. He said every community is investing in the new educational buildings and Cote questions why Warwick and all of Rhode Island aren’t doing the same.
He mentioned how many of the schools are not up to fire code and the crumbling Winman steps require caution tape around them.
“How embarrassing is it when that is the image we show for prospective residents? We see right away education is not the top priority for Warwick, but we can spend $800,000 on bonuses, but our kids go to school in dangerous decrepit buildings,” Cote said.
He wrote in his email to Pelletier, “Currently, of all new tax dollars collected in Warwick since 2004, 51.3 percent goes to retirees, 45.8 percent to active employee benefits, and only 2.9 percent to every other program and expense. These are facts taken from city budget documents.”
Cote said that kids get one opportunity to go through high school and he wants his children to have the best opportunities and best education throughout that experience and unfortunately he cannot see it happening in the Warwick Public Schools.
Cote says he has spoken with many other parents who feel the same way about the public school system.
Superintendent Richard D’Agostino, doesn’t deny that the schools have been level funded, but he still regrets students leaving for private schools.
He said, “As the chief cheerleader for Warwick schools, it saddens me that parents think they can find a better education elsewhere at a private school.”
D’Agostino mentioned that there are many causes for decline in enrollment, such as economic hardship that has had many leave the state for better financial circumstances, but the school system still serves over 9,000 students.
“I challenge any private school to show the performance we do with so many students. Go to one of the three high schools for graduation or an honors night. So many students are being inducted to the State or National Honor Society, receiving awards and scholarships for their academic achievements.”
Even with the level funding, D’Agostino assures that the students receive a quality education in Warwick schools.
“Yes, it would be nice to teach 21st century learning with 21st century technology and we would love to have a one-to-one student to electronic devices, but we have means through which to make sure our students become more efficient,” he said.
D’Agostino said with blended learning efforts and an online access for parents, the school is doing the best they can with the funds they receive.
He also said parents may not enroll their kids in private schools because some additional Warwick schools will offer full-day kindergarten, due to the small class numbers. Private schools will no longer be the only option for parents seeking the extra care for their young child first entering school.
“It may entice parents to return to the public system. If they start here, they are more likely to stay here,” D’Agostino said.
Although there was no definite number to how many students will be leaving for private schools in the fall, it is obvious that for the Warwick Public School system, enrollment is continuing to decline because of the lack of funding received from the city.