Column: East Providence Middle school redistricting is the first step in the process

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EAST PROVIDENCE — The following is a commentary written by East Providence School Committee Chairman Joel Monteiro for the May 1 edition of The Post:

When I decided to run for a seat on the East Providence School Committee, I did so knowing full well that it would require tough decisions. These tough decisions must be partnered with improved communication. With that in mind, I would like to answer some questions that might exist regarding the redistricting plans for the middle schools.

Joel Monteiro

School Committee Chairman Joel Monteiro

On April 14, the School Committee voted to redistrict the middle school neighborhoods. This plan will serve two purposes:

This plan will bring Hennessey Elementary back to Martin Middle and eliminate the practice of dividing the 5th grade classes at Silver Spring and Kent Heights Elementary Schools. For the past few years the children at these schools have spent their 5th grade year worrying about entering a new middle school, often without the comfort of their friends that they have forged bonds with, some since kindergarten.

This transition is stressful enough for these students. Now they will make that move, as they always should have, with their friends by their side. Having Martin Middle School situated in the middle of the city means that some Silver Spring students will travel further to Riverside Middle School than if they went to Martin Middle. I understand this may seem odd. However, Silver Spring is the 3rd closest school to Riverside Middle, and it was important that we maintain a population level there to foster student interaction and activities.

This plan also begins the process of eliminating split teacher teams at both middle schools. Everyone agrees that split teams are not ideal, and it was important to find a way to move away from them. Starting 2014-15 school year, split teams will be eliminated at each grade level of Martin Middle School, and at the 6th grade level for Riverside Middle School.

The 7th and 8th grades at Riverside Middle will have some combination of split teams, fully eliminating them by the end of the 2015-16 school year. The reason for this phased roll-out is to allow students that currently attend Riverside Middle, and their siblings no more than two years behind them, to finish out at Riverside Middle. The same courtesy was given to Martin Middle students, but the numbers were insignificant in that regard. The alternative would be to force these students to their new assigned schools, and that would not be fair to the students.

I completely understand the concern of parents who may feel that their child at Riverside Middle School is not getting the same education as a student at Martin Middle School. I would have to disagree. The teachers at both schools have been working with split teams for some time now, and had we not voted, would continue to do so.

They have creatively worked around the challenges so that all students received quality instruction. I have no doubt that the grades still working in split teams for another year or two will continue to perform as they have to this point. The School Committee added the condition of complete elimination of split teams by the end of the 2015-16 school year. Again, had it not passed, all existing split teams would continue with no end in sight.

The other valid concern was the class size. I have seen two possible configurations for Riverside Middle School. One plan puts the 8th grade classes at or near their maximum of 28, while another has them around 25. Martin Middle 8th grade shows around 20.

The variance is again due to the student population that is being allowed to finish through at Riverside Middle, instead of forcing them to switch mid-way through middle school. While the Martin Middle number seems low, it does not include students from the Bradley Partnership, or ELL students (English Language Learners). These students require additional attention and supports, and are mixed into the general education classrooms. I think it is fair to say that each school has its own unique challenges, but also has skilled professionals to manage them, all while delivering quality instruction to our children.

As I said at the beginning, many difficult decisions must be made. Rarely can you turn things around without a transition period. The important thing is to insulate the students from the noise and extra work that goes into that transition. We do this extra work for the benefit of the students. In the end (no more than 2 yrs.) this plan will have eliminated the splitting of two of our elementary school neighborhoods, and eliminated split teacher teams in both middle schools.

We are correcting a known problem in a way that achieves the desired goal as quickly as possible, without disrupting our children’s bonds and routines.

I’m very grateful for all that will play a role in every step we take to improve our school district. If you have any questions, I can be reached at joelmonteiro@epschoolsri.com.

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