This update is from Cranston School Committee member Steve Stycos:
The Cranston Middle School Study Committee is considering whether to move the sixth grade back to elementary schools. The committee has met about six times, but no decisions have been made. The administration, which proposed moving the sixth grade to elementary schools, has examined classroom space and scheduling changes that would result from the move.
According to their proposal, all current elementary schools could house the sixth grade except Barrows, Waterman, Woodridge and Gladstone. By utilizing empty classrooms and converting rooms now used exclusively for art and music, the sixth grade would fit. For this plan to work, according to the administration, two portable classrooms would be moved to Arlington to accommodate all the kindergarten students who would normally attend Gladstone. When those children are ready for first grade, they would move to Gladstone. In the same way, Waterman kindergartners would attend Garden City and then go to Waterman until sixth grade. Due to its small size, Barrows indergartners and first graders would have to attend Edgewood Highland before going to Barrows. In addition, a portable classroom would be added at Woodridge to handle the sixth grade.
The study committee includes three school committee members (Deb Greifer (Ward 2), Andrea Iannazzi (Ward 5) and me (Ward 1)), three parents (Barbara Gordon, Anne Marie Simeone and Tammy Donley), two administrators (assistant superintendent Peter Nero and Park View principal Jay DeCristofaro), two teachers’ union representatives (union vice president Liz Larkin and Park View technology teacher Ken Bowling) and one parent alternate (Mike Stanton). School committee chairman Mike Traficante has also attended most of the meetings.
The committee will be meeting November 13, 20 & 27 at 7 PM in the Briggs Building conference room. All meetings are open to the public. We hope to make a recommendation to the school committee at its December 12 meeting. No school committee vote would be taken, however, until the December 17 meeting. We will certainly have public comment at the December 17 meeting and perhaps December 12 also.
Most likely, I will support the administration’s plan because I think smaller schools work better than larger schools. Middle school enrollment has declined slightly in recent years, but currently stands at 781 at Park View, 711 at Bain and 1128 at Western Hills.
I also worry that without a shift of students to the elementary schools there will be financial pressure to close more elementary schools and spend millions to expand our middle schools. Elementary schools are key links in neighborhoods that should be preserved. Finally, I think many elementary school students, perhaps most, would be better served by spending another year in smaller more personal elementary schools.
The administration supports the shift to sixth grade to save money. We have yet to receive any details, however. At a minimum, we would be able to eliminate one assistant principal at each middle school, saving more than $300,000 a year. The teachers’ union representatives are critical of the proposed shift of sixth grade. Their primary concerned appears to be possible job losses.
I am concerned about a number of aspects of the plan:
1) Barrows children going to Edgewood Highland for kindergarten and first grade: Barrows unfortunately has a lot of small rooms which are too small for classrooms. I have asked the administration to look at the possibility of moving some walls to create another class room. If this is possible, then only the kindergarten would need to go to Edgewood and the Head Start program could stay at Edgewood. If not, Head Start may have to move to Bain.
2) Population projections: At my request, the administration has asked the planning department to make population projections. Ignoring these projections can be very expensive. In 2001, the school committee and superintendent Catherine Ciarlo refused to scale back the Orchard Farms design, despite population projections that such a monstrous school was not needed. Today the school has six classrooms that are empty or used for other things. Hope Highlands, the overcrowded school that caused
Orchard Farms to be built, now also has six available classrooms. The administration’s plan may work for the next few years, but we need to be sure there is not a population increase coming that will make the plan unworkable in the longer term.
3) Teacher training. The committee has yet to discuss how middle school teachers who are transferred to elementary schools will be retrained.
4) Middle school curriculum: Previously, the school committee voted to approve Superintendent Rick Scherza’s recommendation that middle school students study a foreign language four days a week. This issue is not directly related to the sixth grade issue, but also needs to be watched. A four day a week middle school language program will be a tremendous and long overdue improvement. (The current program is two days a week and as a result children learn next to no foreign language as a result.)
I urged the administration, however, to look at allowing children other options in seventh and eighth grades. Some children may want to take a language, others may be better served by taking more art, music, technology or family and consumer science classes. The administration plans to offer a supplemental reading class to children who are two grade levels behind in reading (approximately ten to fifteen percent of all students at Bain and Park View), but no decision has been made on other options.
5) Tracking and underrepresented groups: Once we finish with the sixth grade issue, the committee will examine secondary school groupings and the low number of boys and minorities in the high classes. Last year, for example, Cranston East was 8 percent black, 19 percent Hispanic and 49 percent male. Of the 174 students taking Honors English, however, only one was black and seven were Hispanic. Only 30 percent were males. At
West, which has a small minority population, only 22 percent of the Honors English students were male. Numbers are similar for others honors class. I have asked the administration for more information so we can discuss the issue in the future.
There has been no talk of “detracking” middle school classes like the administration attempted this spring.
This issue has been discussed on an email list for the elementary school PTO that my daughter attends. People are worried about possible overcrowding at our school, although we have more space than some other schools. I am glad the administration is attempting to do population projections, as difficult as it might be. One note: as I looked at my daughter’s third grade class picture, I could only find a handful of children whom she had shared other grades with. The population of our area changes quickly, I think partly because there are a lot of duplex rentals. But also, people of every background and income level move in and out of the community. So the idea that you want your child to be in one school for the entirety of their elementary education so that they have the consistency of the same classmates is a bit illusory. In all likelihood they will have mostly different peers each year, plus the remixing of the rooms between the two or three teachers in every grade. The consistency that will make their education quality does not come from the building they are in — it can be provided by a good team of educators in one place one year and another place the next and the education can still maintain its quality and consistency.
But I appreciate how difficult it might be for parents who are facing this decision directly this coming year, and I invite you to comment below in order to try to move toward solutions that protect the quality of education for our children.