To the editor:
My wife and I bought our home in Riverside seven years ago. We have made our life here ever since, raising our two children – 3 and 5 – and trying our best to become part of the community. We knew our community involvement would increase when our daughter started Kindergarten at the new Oldham School last week. I looked forward to volunteering in the school, getting to know the other parents, and attending school committee meetings. I spent a good part of the summer trying to contact the school so I could visit and meet the faculty before my daughter’s first day. That wasn’t possible until the day before the school opened.
We took our daughter to Oldham (formerly Meadowcrest) that afternoon hoping to be impressed. What we found was a construction site. I knew the district was working on the building to prepare it for its new role, but I had no idea my daughter’s first experience with her new school would be a half-finished, unfurnished, filthy building with missing windows and an unfinished playground. Not that the playground matters much, since I was told she would have only 15 minutes of recess each day. (Legitimate experts in pediatrics and education agree that recess is as important as classroom time.)
I was impressed by my daughter’s teacher until I found out she was seeing the school for the first time as well. Her first day in her classroom was the day before classes began. I asked if there was anything I could do to help. She suggested I buy sanitary wipes for the classroom. (I did.) The toys in the bins were dirty. No paper towels in the washroom. No furniture. And 28 kids in the class. 28 kids to one teacher. That’s not just infuriating, it’s illegal. They get around it by having a “floating” TA for the entire school.
Complain about NECAP tests and Commissioner Gist all you want, but there is absolutely no reason why those kids and their parents had to see a broken school. It was a slap in the face. The message from the school district was clear: “We don’t care enough about your kids to finish a project on time.”
To the credit of the crew working on Oldham, the school was almost completely transformed for the official first day. It was an incredible effort and I applaud them for getting it done. If all it took was one more day to get it finished, why not postpone the first day of school?
But that’s just a building. The real problems can’t be painted over. 28 kids in a classroom is indefensible. Having only 15 minutes of recess is cruel and stupid.
That afternoon my wife and I called every private school we could. Our daughter deserves better, and she’s getting it now at a private school in another town. It’s a financial burden we will carry because it’s the right thing to do. I only wish I could carry that burden for the 27 other kids stuck in that school. It is shameful. I may not be a Townie – I wasn’t born here – but I wanted my kids to be Townies. I wanted them to believe in Townie Pride and the power of public schools. Their future, however, will not be entrusted to a system that has such disdain for its students that it allows these conditions.
Victor Paul Alvarez