School closing hearings set
It was announced late yesterday afternoon that the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee will present its recommendation to re-purpose Warwick Veterans Memorial High School as a junior high at a special School Committee meeting on Monday, Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m.
The public hearing process will begin immediately following the presentation on Dec. 2, and will continue the next night, Tuesday, Dec. 3, also at 6:30 p.m.
Both meetings will take place at the Robert J. Shapiro Cultural Arts Center at Toll Gate. All those who wish to speak must have signed up by 8:30 p.m. on the day of the meeting, and will be given three minutes to share their thoughts.
Both meetings are scheduled to end at 9:30 p.m. Speakers who signed up for the Dec. 2 hearing but were not able to speak will be allowed to go first at the Dec. 3 hearing. If all those who signed up to speak have not had a chance to do so by 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 3, the committee may vote to extend the meeting no later than 10:30 p.m.
All registered speakers are only allowed to speak once.
These public hearings will come two weeks after the Long Term Committee gathered to approve their final report on Friday, Nov. 15. More than 100 Vets supporters attended that meeting, where public comment was not allowed, standing in hallways and outside the administration building to make their feelings known. Many held up signs reading “Save Our School,” while others chanted to be let inside the already packed meeting room.
Following that meeting, Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said the Long Term Committee was united in their belief that they are doing what is best for the school; he also said he expected many, if not all, of the committee members to speak during the presentation to share their reasoning behind supporting the re-purposing of Vets as a junior high and resulting closings of Aldrich and Gorton Junior Highs.
The committee has been meeting since June to come up with a recommendation for the school facilities in the city at the request of the School Committee.
After going over the data of student population decline, touring the schools, and looking at how feasible consolidation would be in terms of student population, scheduling, transportation and finances, the decision was made to recommend that Vets be closed in June 2014, renovated and re-opened as a new junior high for the start of the 2015-2016 school year, and Aldrich and Gorton, the district’s two oldest buildings, be closed as of June 2015. Current Vets High School students would attend either Toll Gate or Pilgrim High School, depending on where they live. Aldrich and Gorton students would move to the new Vets Junior High or Winman Junior High, also based on where they live.
Those exact populations would not be determined until the School Committee approves the recommendation.
Once the recommendation was announced, Vets students, faculty, alumni and parents jumped into action, organizing a rally at the high school the following week and the demonstration outside the last committee meeting.
The movement also has its own Twitter account, Warwick Vets, with the handle @savevets. The page has been sending out tweets encouraging followers to attend meetings and contact each of the five members of the School Committee to tell them to stop the plan.
Regarding the official announcement of hearing dates, the account sent out the following tweet yesterday afternoon: “December 2nd & 3rd Toll Gate 6pm come out and voice your opposition to the plan to close Aldrich, Gorton & Vets. STOP this plan! RETWEET.”
Following the last committee meeting, D’Agostino acknowledged that the decision to close a school always leads to an emotional response from people with connections to this school. He pointed out that a few of the people on his committee have connections to the school, but they are trying to look at the facts.
“It’s based on fact; it’s not based on emotion,” said the superintendent, citing continuous declining enrollment over the past decade, and the need for better technology, programming and maintenance in all buildings as just a few of the reasons behind the recommendation to consolidate. D’Agostino said the district is facing limited funds with excess capacity, so consolidation is a feasible option.
A copy of the committee’s presentation and final report can be found on the School Department’s website, on the School Committee page, under Meeting Agenda Documents in the “December 2nd and 3rd 2013 Special SC Meetings” folder.