Providence School Closings: Consequence of Decisions Past

The Providence School Board elected to close 5 schools last night. Parents were angry. Kids were used as props. I’ve seen it before. Similar circumstances occurred in Warwick a couple years ago, where a total of 4 schools were closed in two years (and everyone survived, believe it or not). My thoughts from 2009 are just as applicable to Providence now as it was to Warwick back then.

The entire problem was forged in a crucible of [Providence]’s own creation. The consequences of apathy often hit when the iron is hot, indeed.
Too many people simply don’t pay attention unless they believe they will be directly affected. So the parents who are upset now need to recognize that they need to be involved in their children’s education–whether in the PTO, School Committee meetings or other programs–all of the time. There’s a chance that the budget shortfall could have been reduced, mitigated or avoided if more parents had attended School Committee meetings and advocated for their kids and schools by pointing out that every dollar spent on personnel costs…was one less dollar available for students. Perhaps that would have given the district more time to study and prepare for the inevitable downsizing without the added pressure they were under during this process.
So now we have kids who are going to have to adjust to new schools. I understand the anger and anguish felt by students and their parents. Perhaps there was more justification for closing other schools, but, as hard as it is to do, it’s time to move on. Change happens whether we like it or not, whether we deserve it or not, whether it’s right or wrong. Time for the grown-ups to remember that the kids are watching us. Instead of framing it as a loss, try to turn it into a new adventure. It’s a life lesson, after all. Show them that it’s OK to roll with the changes and hopefully they’ll discover that change makes us stronger and, just maybe, even a little better.

To that I’d only add a couple additional observations. First, that, while this phenomena is not particular to Rhode Island, it seems that the geographic insularity characteristic of this state and its residents make the thought of closing a “neighborhood school” all the more intense and explosive. Second, I wonder how much easier such change would be if the students leaving the old school were going to an honest-to-goodness new school. As in, newly constructed, updated, latest bells-and-whistles. But that doesn’t happen around here, either. Where the heck would we get the money, right?

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