posted May 31, 2016, 3:23 PM by Ryan Mullen   [ updated May 31, 2016, 3:26 PM ]

Posted Thursday, April 28, 2016 12:54 pm | 813 views
By Kelcy Dolan

With the consolidation of the high and middle schools in Warwick underway the administration is looking to elementary school consolidation for the fall of 2017.

Superintendent Philip Thornton explained that SMMA (Symmes, Maini & Mckee Associates of Cambridge), in their evaluation of the district, said Warwick should close between four and six elementary schools.

“They made a recommendation of how to consolidate on the secondary level, but stopped short of making any real suggestions about elementary school,” Thornton said. “Now it’s up to us to take a good hard look at all 16 schools and see what would be best moving forward.”

The 15-member Elementary Consolidation Committee, made up of teachers, administration and community members, is looking at the age and condition of facilities, proximity to other elementary schools, enrollment, bus routes and more to decide which schools would be the best to close. So far, the committee has held two working sessions.

Lynn Dambruch, director of elementary education, said on average Warwick’s elementary schools are losing 100 students a year, and in fall of 2017, when 6th grade moves to the middle school, each school will lose around 45 students. Right now, in kindergarten through 6th grade, Warwick has 4,726 students, with many schools running at only 50 to 60 percent capacity.

Although SMMA suggested the district could close four to six schools, the committee is looking to recommend the closure of three elementary schools by the start of the 2017-18 academic year.

Dambruch said, “We want to act conservatively. We aren’t closing the four to six schools because we believe that would leave us too tight. We are looking to run at 85 percent capacity, leaving us with room to make up for any enrollment shifts.”

Although prepared for enrollment shifts, Thornton said Warwick would most likely continue to see a decline in student population.

Currently, Warwick is hovering around 9,000 students across the district, down by more than 2,500 since 2005. The New England School Development Council (NESDEC), which provides districts with population projections, predicts that although the decline in student enrollment will slow down, by 2025 Warwick’s school population will decline by just under 2,000 students.

Thornton said it is necessary to “optimize space” as well as make sure funds are being appropriately used. He and Dambruch believe that it’s a waste to keep making repairs to a building, half of which may not even be in use, when there is plenty of space in other schools.

“We understand there is a lot of sentiment around elementary schools,” Dambruch said. “No one wants it to be their school, but this needs to happen. We need to be responsible; it’s nothing personal against any neighborhoods.”

In closing schools, just like the district will see with secondary consolidation, money will be saved, which can be re-purposed to better enrich students’ educational experience.

Thornton pointed out that although the schools may be level funded with consolidation, next year Warwick will be able to make upgrades to buildings and language labs and the junior high schools will be able to go one to one with Chromebooks, among other improvements.

“A lot of good is coming out of this, just as it will with the elementary schools. When we are more efficient with our funding we can re-purpose money to benefit our students,” Thornton said. “We need to have a system that represents our population, and it doesn’t right now.”

With the savings from elementary consolidation, Dambruch would like to see the science curriculum fleshed out, facility repairs, additional literacy and math intervention teachers, improvements to playgrounds and auditoriums as well as increased technology.

Although the committee has not reached any recommendations, one thing that is sure to happen is that Drum Rock Early Childhood Center will be moved to one of the schools that eventually closes.

Under new regulations by the Department of Education, the space is not big enough as an early childhood center for the best overall Bright Stars rating, used for rating preschools. When the center is moved, the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center will be taking over the space.

Without any solidified plan as of yet, and the uncertainty of which and how many schools are closed, Dambruch and Thornton said it is difficult to project how many positions would be lost in the consolidation.

Thornton did say that consolidation of the secondary schools was a “much bigger undertaking, and between positions added there was a net of 51 jobs lost. The consolidation committee is still weighing all the different factors. It is expected to make a recommendation to the School Committee in June and then plans to hold several public discussions.

“This needs to happen,” Thornton said. “Looking at all these factors and making a recommendation is an art and a science. We want to make sure we get this right and give ourselves plenty of time to do so.”

The School Committee will have the final say on whether or not to modify the plan and carry it forward.