To the Editor: Warwick schools have been much in the news of late with the departure of the Superintendent, the discussion of the 2022 budget, and the weighing of options for the renovation of the high school buildings. What might have been lost in the
To the Editor:
Warwick schools have been much in the news of late with the departure of the Superintendent, the discussion of the 2022 budget, and the weighing of options for the renovation of the high school buildings. What might have been lost in the wave of school news is the recently released (27 April 2021) U.S. News ranking of 18,000 public high schools across the country. Rankings are based upon multiple factors, including graduation rates, results of state-mandated tests, and preparation for college. There is always room to quibble with the methodology and results of such rankings; nevertheless, U.S. News does provide a useful tool for benchmarking school and district performance.
In the overall ranking, our city’s high schools ranked from average to mediocre: Pilgrim ranked in the 46th percentile and Toll Gate in the 35th percentile. In terms of math and reading proficiency, Pilgrim was in the 53rd percentile and Toll Gate fell in at the mid-point (50th percentile). US News also provides a “performance” rank. This considers the proportion of underserved students (as measured by the proportion of Black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students). This performance adjustment drops Warwick precipitously in the rankings for math and reading performance: Pilgrim at the 12th percentile and Toll Gate at the fourth percentile (after rounding up). This suggests that when compared to other districts and schools facing very significant environmental challenges, Warwick severely underperforms against the expected outcomes.
City Council President McAllister, in discussions of future plans for the high schools, notes a school population decline of 10 percent over the last four years. Even more significantly, current high school population projections for 2030 have declined 18-20 percent compared to those same projections made only two years ago (2019). Mayor Picozzi correctly states the need to better understand these projections (something less than 2000 students by 2030) before committing to a particular plan.
Creating a shared vision for the future of our high schools (and K-12, generally) will be challenging work; to be done effectively, however, this work must include a very frank assessment of our current state. The organizational consultant and writer Peter Senge writes of the creative tension that is developed by rigorous and open discussions of a current state while envisioning a future state. It is the tension between the two poles that creates a momentum towards the desired vision. Without a root cause analysis of the deeply concerning performance of our high schools and the projected (and undoubtedly related) decline in the student population, we are certain to fail to realize any vision ... we simply will not generate the necessary energy and resources to initiate and maintain movement towards the goal. As Michael DiBiase argued in his opinion piece in this paper (29 April 2021), student outcomes must be the overwhelming focus of any discussions on the management of our schools. Expecting that school renovations or new construction will, themselves, improve our students’ outcomes is magical thinking.