WRNI's Elizabeth Harrison has (separately) interviewed Mayor Taveras and Matt Gabor and Michael Udris from the West Side Public Education Coalition. Both are worth a listen to deepen understanding about the arguments about whether, how, and when to close public schools in Providence.
Gabor and Udris' argue that the proposed school closings will leave the West Side with no middle school. The same is true for Windmill Street Elementary School; its closing leaves the Charles Street area/the northern part of Providence with no elementary option. That the West Side's Bridgham Middle School and Windmill (not to single them out - the rest of this sentence applies many or most other PPSD schools) have ample room for improvement is obvious, and they will be able to build on their respective recent successes and recently galvanized neighborhood energy to continue to do so. However, to say that there should be no elementary or middle school options at all in various neighborhoods is ludicrous, as is suggesting that mileage alone determines that a school is a "neighborhood" option.
This is particularly true given Providence's actual policies and current rhetorical focus on neighborhood schools. We need neighborhood task forces to bring local understanding to bear on what is reasonably walkable. Our children cannot cross highways, walk through dangerous streets with poorly understood potential for gang-related violence, or be forced to negotiate dangerous intersections. And winter isn't yet a distant memory; just a few weeks ago, we were all picking our way through unshoveled sidewalks, icy intersection, and poorly plowed streets.We may well want walkable, neighborhood schools but even from a infrastructure-only point of view, we're not yet ready for them.
Had Nathan Bishop have remained closed in 2007, the greater East Side would not have had a middle school option. At that time, that seems inequitable and unfair, and that spurred me into action as an involved parent. I started attending ESPEC meetings, witnessed and assisted the process of working through the politics of reopening the school, and along with other parents, eventually joined PPSD's Nathan Bishop Task Force as a parent/involved citizen to collaborate with the city to plan Bishop's reopening.
Many speakers at last night's School Board meeting acknowledged that we may well need to close schools and make significant changes but that doing so now, with such haste and so many remaining known unknowns, would be wrong. Those changes, many of them said, should be done with significant, substantial input from neighborhood residents within a more reasonable timeframe to allow us to create a more workable plan.
Though I acknowledge the financial pressures that are compelling the school closings and reduction in teacher force that will result, I too want to find a way to do so with clearer answers and more adequate preparation. Along with many others, I am eager to seize our collective energy and assets to identify and implement community-based, locally-driven ways not only to save existing schools when reasonable to do so but also to improve teaching and learning all of our schools and the system itself.