Bristol Warren plans to educate grades 5-8 at middle school

Guiteras Elementary would also be closed as part of $200M bond plans

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 10/17/23

While the construction of a proposed $165 million new high school has understandably dominated the discussion regarding a $200 million bond referendum, two other planned elements have flown under the radar.

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Bristol Warren plans to educate grades 5-8 at middle school

Guiteras Elementary would also be closed as part of $200M bond plans


While the construction of a proposed $165 million new high school has understandably dominated the discussion regarding a $200 million bond referendum going to voters in just a couple weeks, the scope of work also includes two elements worthy of discussion that have flown somewhat under the radar.

If the bond is approved, two crucial components of the district’s reorganization would include reconfiguring Kickemuit Middle School into a grade 5-8 school, with two academies (one for 5th and 6th graders on the first floor, and another for 7th and 8th graders on the second floor), and phasing out Guiteras Elementary School entirely for students in Bristol.

We will attempt to best summarize the reasoning and implications regarding these proposed decisions, following a recent interview with Superintendent Ana Riley.

A new middle school model
Built in 1958, Kickemuit Middle School would remain the district’s lone middle school if the bond passes.

The school is earmarked for just shy of $14 million of that $200 million pie to conduct a wide range of updates, including repairs to the roof, HVAC system, electrical, and a redesigning and re-striping of the school’s large parking lot.

But money would also go towards a reconfiguration of the interior space to allow for the phasing in of 5th graders, who would join 6th graders on the first floor for a grade 5-6 “academy”, as Riley called it. Upstairs, a separate grade 7-8 academy would be set up. Each academy would have its own library, but would share common spaces such as the gym, auditorium, and cafeteria on the first floor.

Riley said that feedback from parents wary of 5th graders interacting in the same spaces at more mature 8th graders convinced the district to ensure a fair degree of separation between the younger kids and the older kids in this environment.

“One of the physical alterations we're making to the building is creating an entrance once you get into the school that leads to the seventh and eighth grade academy, and an entrance that leads to the fifth and sixth grade academy,” she said. “So as soon as kids get off the bus and step into the building, they separate into their academies.”

All students would ride the same buses together, however, which Riley said she did not anticipate to be an issue.

“Having been here almost two years now, I rarely even see a bus writeup, but when I do it’s not typically older kids picking on little kids. It’s peers interacting with each other,” she said, adding that during her stint in Portsmouth, the middle school used to be grades 4-8 before she transitioned to the 5-8 model. “It’s not unique to have multi-age groups on a bus. We have great kids and we typically don’t have issues on the bus.”

A middle school model with grades 5-8 is not the majority model in Rhode Island, but it also isn’t unheard of. A browse of RIDE’s data showed that was the approach in Central Falls, Chariho, Narragansett, Newport, North Smithfield, Portsmouth, Tiverton, West Warwick, and Westerly. South Kingstown is the lone public district identified that has two schools, one for grades 5-6 and one for grades 7-8.

Riley said that academic research has demonstrated clear benefits to grouping students in grades 5 and 6 together, and grades 7 and 8 together.

“Kids struggle most when they go to kindergarten, you know, when they leave home and then go to school full time. Then when they go from elementary to middle, and then again when they go from middle to high school. So those transition years are always places where we try to target extra support,” she said. “One of the benefits of having a fifth and sixth grade academy is we're able to provide more support to those fifth and sixth graders. We can give them some transition time before they shift to that junior high mentality where some of the work that you're doing now in seventh and eighth grade can actually count towards your high school transcript.”

Declining enrollment is a key factor
Riley said that another reason to transition fifth grade into KMS became apparent when looking at the utilization of the school as it currently stands, and lining that up with enrollment projections going forward five and 10 years.

The current enrollment of all students in the district is at 2,733, but that is projected to decrease to 2,452 by 2027 and then flatten out around that number for the foreseeable future, according to two separate demographic studies conducted by the district and their project management team.

With those numbers in mind, Riley anticipates needing only 8 to 10 classrooms to fit all the fifth grades from all district schools in Warren and Bristol at KMS. The school, which currently has 12 empty classrooms according to Riley, has more than enough space to accommodate the influx.

As a result, the district would be able to also utilize the space that would become freed up at Hugh Cole Elementary School to create or refresh special programming that they haven’t had space for, in the hopes to bring back some additional students who have sought out-of-district placement.

Guiteras will go goodbye
When looking at how to reorganize and re-optimize space in the district in a world where a new high school exists, and the middle school now houses fifth graders, Riley said that it became clear very quickly that Guiteras Elementary in Bristol was going to be the odd one out.

“Guiteras is in the worst shape,” she said. “It needs the most work, it isn’t the most effective design for a K-5 building because it’s three stories, it has very narrow, steep stairwells, a basement cafeteria, a library on the third floor. It was just never meant to house a K-5.”

Also not helping its case is the fact that Guiteras resides in a a flood zone, which Riley said in a previous interview necessitates expensive flood insurance and results in a water-related issues at the school throughout the year.

Enrollment projections also played a key factor in the decision to phase students out of Guiteras and, eventually, turn the building back over to the Town of Bristol.

“We are shrinking at the elementary level,” she said. “This year our numbers for kindergarten actually dropped so low that in the Bristol schools, we only opened five [kindergarten classes] instead of six. So there were two at Rockwell, two at Colt Andrews, and only one at Guiteras.”

Riley said that moving students together in a larger group at Colt Andrews will result in more peer-to-peer interactions for students and more collaborative work for teachers; both of which benefit educational outcomes.

“There will be three sets of teachers who work together at Colt Andrews versus one set of teachers working alone at Guiteras,” she said. “And also the interaction for kids. We want kids to have other kids at their grade level to interact with at recess, at lunch, in electives like chorus. If you’re in a one-unit school, it makes it really hard to have all of the peer interaction that you have at the other schools.”

Riley said that the phase-out of students at Guiteras would happen gradually, but could not say exactly when because she wanted to link it with anticipated bond-funded construction work at Colt Andrews, which is where a majority of the students from Guiteras would wind up due to its amount of unused capacity, compared to Rockwell.

“Because we’ll be doing work simultaneously, I’d like to move them when the work at Colt Andrews is done,” she said. “I don’t have a good timeline for that, but I would anticipate that being in the next three to four years.”

She said because of the staging happening over time, she did not anticipate having to lay off teachers from Guiteras, many of who will be able to transition over to Colt Andrews with the transfer of students.

“Because we’re staging it over time, we’re anticipating it will be taken care of through attrition,” she said.

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