A group of about 50 community stakeholders, including teachers and students, favor upgrading and revising Warwick’s two high schools but not building a single new Warwick high school.
That was one of a series of findings from two days of workshops conducted by Educational Planner Frank Locker to weigh possible options to the two high schools. Tuesday night, he shared his results at the School Committee meeting.
The stakeholders, Locker said, included teachers, administrators, students, parents and other community leaders. Locker mixed these individuals to have representation in each of the eight breakout groups, where he then asked participants to rank options for Warwick schools.
For the future of education in Warwick Public Schools, stakeholders valued student engagement, 21st century skills and competencies (collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity) and STEM/STEAM/Engineering. These items were deemed the three most important by stakeholders in order.
“We’re concerned about what happens when our students graduate and how prepared they are,” Locker said.
For a high school model, Locker asked participants which organizational model would be most useful. The current model of Warwick Public Schools – a departmental model for all – ranked last in the results.
School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said that in the early 20th century, students were just seen as vessels for pouring facts into. It’s a practice Bachus wants to move away from.
“I’m trying to do education a lot differently,” Bachus said. “We know that’s not the best way to educate [students] today.”
It seems clear that a lot of what worked in the past isn’t what stakeholders want for the future. Locker asked stakeholders to choose a building configuration and Warwick’s set-up of two schools with a separate Career-Tech Center (C-TC) at Toll Gate ranked fifth out of six options. Ranking highest was two stand-alone high schools with an integrated C-TC at both schools. The second most favored option, coming just one point short of a tie for first, was one high school operating in two buildings with an integrated C-TC at both locations.
The study at this point does not address costs.
During the presentation on Tuesday, Locker showed an image of a renovation to Forest Avenue Elementary School in Middletown. He noted that the building’s new layout is conducive to learning, which is something he said schools in Warwick could benefit from. He also mentioned that the facilities staff in Middletown helped in construction of the upgrades, minimizing the cost of help from an outside contractor.
The next step in the planning process was a community meeting scheduled for Wednesday night. That is to be followed by a second public session on April 2.
Locker is slated to present his findings and offer a suggestion to the School Committee later in April. Then the committee will vote on a proposal that could come before the City Council.
One of the most important notes from Locker was that updates to the high schools should look to the future of education, or “Next Practices,” not the past. He also said that a lot of concerns and hesitations for upgrading the schools comes from individuals who feel the current system worked for them, so it should work for present and future students.
“Everything in the world is changing,” Locker said. “We want to make facilities that are going to anticipate changes in education as they align with the changing world outside.”