A commitment to rural education

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Published: 10/21/2019 8:28:25 AM

When we say, “This will be the first in Massachusetts” we are talking about the conversion elementary charter school proposal by Warwick’s Selectboard, an idea developed with hundreds of hours of time by at least 25 people, all committed to rural education. I had proposed a Horace Mann II school three years ago. It didn’t fix our funding problem because it didn’t strip-mine public school districts for tuition. It still doesn’t and the shock that a regional agreement committed to elementary education in our member towns (an agreement in place at least since the 1950s) was being put aside by a School Committee where half the members are new with no regional commitment history demanded a response. Warwick owns its school building and land and it is not going to suddenly put its youngest children on long and sometimes dangerous bus drives to another town.

Our discussion evolved to redesigning our school for continued top-notch education and new financial efficiency. Much research, writing, and editing later we have designed and reconfigured Warwick’s rural school to create a more innovative and financially sustainable, small-sized, Warwick-governed PreK-6 school. We are using a charter school model mostly unknown and never used. The model is a conversion, staying in-district and has teachers staying in their union. There is no charter school tuition and students from other schools still participate through school choice. We do not plan to grow the school with students from outside districts and to not necessarily grow our school at all. The school’s budget will continue as part of the regional district budget. Our budget will be based on the per pupil expense of the district. We will be based on unit cost. This basis will end the spiraling increased cost of education amid declining enrollments. Our school’s budget will expand, and contract based on the number of students. The town is also proposing taking over some Warwick school occupancy costs currently in the regional budget.

A board of trustees and advisory committee are ready to step in. Warwick’s reinvented school promises to use distance learning, individualized curriculum, and a redesigned school yard. Advancement will have the same priority as remedial education. Colleges have committed to working with us. If the conversion in-district charter school is chartered, the minimum start-up grant of $500,000 will provide support putting our new school vision and plan in motion. Our state does not have any small charter schools, so our rural districts have no right-sized models. So, while rural towns struggle with large charter schools required to recruit our students (which contributes to the declining enrollment problems) none of the federal funding for charter school innovation reaches rural towns and their children.

Our application says, “Small entrepreneurial schools can bring attention to promising new practices and provide needed inspiration for other rural towns and schools.” We support cost-effective school administration services provided by a shared superintendent’s office. Although Warwick is a small, rural town, our school’s stability under a five-year, state-approved charter would be an anchor of stability in this sector of the county where all the towns are trying to figure out how their school systems move forward.

We are getting an education in school law, policy, and governance, meeting weekly, studying contracts, and developing the proposal. We will be ready to open in September with more training than most school committees ever have thanks to our outstanding consultant.

Warwick intends to submit the first redesign and conversion of a district school. Imagine if some of the struggling schools here could bring in $500,000 to $700,000 to redesign its school and address declining enrollment with a governing board just focused on the success of that one school. Our Selectboard chairman wrote recently “not all charter schools are the enemy.” Our plan will benefit many other schools in rural Western Mass., because it would be the first time our rural schools have access to innovative federal charter school funding that has an unknown provision allowing district schools to redesign for the future. We invite contact from other districts, parents, and taxpayers who support our initiative.

David Young is a resident of Warwick.


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