EAST PROVIDENCE — Though fully supporting the notion of ridding the system of split academic teams, teachers at Riverside Middle School nonetheless have significant concerns with the proposal presented by administrators to the School Committee Tuesday, April 8, in an attempt to rectify the situation.
Speaking on behalf of his membership, RMS Social Studies teacher and East Providence Education Association Building Representative Bob Hanlon voiced the worries expressed by his peers on the topic during an interview Thursday, April 10.
Mr. Hanlon stressed the RMS staff backed completely the idea of replacing the current split team set-up, which has teachers dividing their instruction between students in different grades as opposed to a full team with teachers mentoring pupils in single grades.
It is the contention of the RMS teachers, however, that the plan proposed by Superintendent Kim Mercer and Assistant Superintendent Julie Motta, while possibly working well in the long term, does significant short-term harm to students at their school, specifically those who will enter eighth grade in the fall. Riverside’s eighth grade enrollment in 2014-15 is expected to average 28 students per class while at Martin Middle School it will only be 20 pupils per class.
“We feel the plan as suggested doesn’t address our concerns, and that it actually creates more problems than it solves,” Mr. Hanlon said. “We’re going to lose teachers. It’s going to create overcrowding. And it will limit any flexibility we have to place students based on performance. They say it’s only for one or two years, but that’s a big difference in the life of a 12 or 13-year-old kid. It makes a significant impact to their educational experience.”
Under the administrators’ proposal to gradually phase out split teams over the next two years, Mr. Hanlon said RMS would lose one of its two current split squads, a total of seven teachers, leaving the building with three other full teams for a total of four at the start of the ’14-15 term.
In contrast, the number of teams at Martin would grow to six full groups, an improvement from its current three full and two split format, though the enrollment at both schools (570 at RMS and 585 at MMS) remains relatively the same. The difference in eighth grades students next fall (199 at MMS and 196 at RMS) is also marginal.
Mrs. Mercer and Mrs. Motta, though, pointed to enrollment projections in the coming years, that will see the population of Martin grow by over 100 students per year while Riverside’s decreases, as one reason behind their proposal. Redistricting students back to Martin, a change in a cost-saving measure implemented by the former school leadership in accordance with a plan formulated by the advisory firm of Bacon and Edge some five years ago, also accounts for some of the anticipated increase.
The administrators stressed that barring the immediate redistricting of students from Riverside back to their rightful seats at Martin or a significant investment in new staff, the only way to accomplish their aim is to keep the split team format for the time being and gradually reintroduce pupils to their proper location.
Mr. Hanlon countered, saying not only will the day-to-day learning of students at Riverside be compromised, but so, too, will their access to after-school instruction and extra-curricular activities. In addition, he said the administrators have yet to produce a specific resolution to either replacing or fully staffing so-called “enrichment periods” at the school, which often leave teachers and students without proper learning tools or structure.
The conclusion of the RMS teachers, ultimately, is the building is understaffed as is the rest of the city’s school system while also being underfunded as a whole. Until those two issues are addressed, problems will continue to linger.
“What you’re doing is slaughtering one school to support another. Riverside is being used as the solution to problems that exist at Martin,” Mr. Hanlon added. “We agree with the administration. We don’t think split teams are a good idea. We think there is a better way to go about it. We’re going to be overwhelmed here. It’s not the best use of our resources. For Martin, it’s a great thing, but unfortunately it’s being done at the expense of Riverside.”