Great schools, led by outstanding teachers, filled with high-performing students, have been the heart of this community for several generations. So why is the topic of “schools” so …
Great schools, led by outstanding teachers, filled with high-performing students, have been the heart of this community for several generations. So why is the topic of “schools” so chronically disruptive of late?
From start times to honors programs to bus zones to vaccine policies, the school district seems to bounce from one boiling controversy to another. The newest might be the biggest, as the district rolls toward a dramatic change for the future of all K to 5 education in town.
Months ago, we were critical of the district for rushing forward with plans to vault the elementary schools into a new era of design and construction at breakneck speed. To its credit, the district listened, slowed down, backtracked, held numerous meetings, and invited the public along for the ride. It followed a much healthier process.
Yet in the end, it still emerged with a highly controversial outcome. The plan is to dismantle the educational model that has been in place for decades, shutter a beloved neighborhood school, turn another beloved neighborhood school into an early learning center (thus ending Nayatt School’s lengthy tenure as the highest-performing public elementary school in all of Rhode Island), and tear down and rebuild two new buildings — all for a price tag that is certainly north of $100 million.
As the plan takes shape, most people are still perplexed, still confused, still wondering … Why?
And here’s the biggest failure in the process. The district failed to lead with “why,” or at least the right “why.”
If the district led with, “We’ve studied the data, we’ve learned from our small K-3 and large 4-5 model, and here’s why we feel the best way to educate the next generation of children is …” this would all feel so much more palatable.
For this district, the model should shape the buildings. The buildings should not shape the model.
Hopefully the district can recover and explain itself to families and taxpayers. Here’s a path forward:
1. Explain why large Pre-K/K and Grade 1-5 groupings are the best model for this district (if there is data or experience to explain this).
2. Explain how the four current elementary school buildings can or cannot become exceptional 21st-century facilities through renovation.
If it can do these things, and bring parents and taxpayers to a level of understanding, and perhaps acceptance, then it may have a chance of success. If it cannot, then it risks dragging the community toward a vote that no one wants.
Can we really envision widespread support for a $100 million-plus project if no one can answer “why,” if the Hampden Meadows neighborhood feels deflated, and if the Nayatt neighborhood feels betrayed? At present, this proposal seems dead on arrival.