It isn’t easy to say goodbye to something you’ve grown to cherish. Unfortunately, many people are experiencing this feeling as three elementary schools in Warwick close their doors this summer, two of which will never reopen to students and one of which will only service Pre-K children.
Consolidation of schools has been coming for a while now, as enrollment and state aid have been declining while the rising costs of education have not helped the matter. Whether you agree with it or not, the city is contributing budgetary appropriations in line with funding from nearly 10 years ago, meaning the schools have been unable to do much besides stay afloat from year to year.
While there is no easy solution to a problem that stems from not having enough students or money to service them, it is therapeutic and necessary, at least for a while, to mourn temporarily what has been lost in Wickes, Randall Holden and John Brown Francis Elementary Schools.
Although the days of kids only having to walk a block or two down to the local schoolyard is largely a relic of the past, these schools still captured that feeling to an extent. Parents and teachers alike fought hard in the hopes that they could somehow alter the freight train of reality bearing down on their beloved neighborhood schools. Alas, it was not meant to be.
The argument that good education has never been more important is one that seems facile in nature; it’s a statement that could be made any day of the week at any point in history, and there would probably be some truth to it. However, we would contend that education, particularly among the youth in this country, has truly never been more important in recent times than right now.
We are entering an era where the availability of information around us has finally caught up with our collective human nature. We have found out that, as much as we may be able to use the infinite amount of knowledge readily available at our fingertips to teach, inspire and learn on our own, other more malevolent forces will use that widespread availability of information to lie and spread their own versions of what is true.
Unfortunately, having more information available than ever before also means that people are more susceptible to propaganda and outright lies than ever before.
The only way to combat coordinated attempts to subvert our populace with lies and agenda-driven propaganda is to educate a generation or two of smart, introspective and skeptical critical thinkers – kids who are taught from a young age that they should be able to look past their own biases and knee-jerk intuition and actually research what is true, and what is folly.
Schools like JBF, Wickes and Randall Holden are staffed by teachers who care and are guided by administrators who, believe it or not, also care about the quality of students we produce. When class sizes go up, the ability for teachers to take time with individual students goes down, the ability for a few noisy kids to negatively impact the education of those thirsty for knowledge increases and the stress on the teacher amplifies to a point where they will be far less effective than with a smaller group.
We understand the plight of the school committee, the administrators and we understand the fear, sadness and frustration of the teachers, parents and students of the schools that we are losing. Regardless of how often these issues become divisive, we must be able to step back and see the loss of these schools as a true loss for all in Warwick, for generations past and future.
We need to take this reality as an impetus to figure out how to bring new blood to the city. Hotels and commercial properties may bring in travelers and revenue, but single-family house sales have plummeted from last year and nobody need be reminded of our new ranking as the third most populous city in Rhode Island – and don’t deflect by bringing up the ACI either. The population trend lines are clearly established in opposite directions and Cranston is not the one trending downwards.
We can all agree that schools closing is bad for us all, so let’s work together and figure out how to get enrollment numbers back up for the benefit of everyone.