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Future is now for school district


From traffic patterns to technology, it appears that everything is on the table as the Westerly School Committee’s School Redesign Advisory panel starts to dig into its mission to determine what the educational landscape should be like around here in the next decade and beyond.

The advisory committee started its work late last month by touring the district’s schools to help in determining a starting point with regard to existing conditions and improvement needs. The mission sounds similar to that of the Vision 2020 project — which dates to a 2001 report — and which resulted in a new middle school and major renovations to the high school, the most significant school improvements in decades to that point. The earlier report called for renovation of the elementary schools between 2005 and 2010.

This latest edition of a top to bottom look at our schools will focus on the four elementary schools, given their advanced ages and deteriorating conditions, though the high and middle schools will be included in the review as will the Tower Street Community Center, a former elementary school shuttered in June 2009 as a result of enrollment projections, building conditions, its location at a dangerous intersection and other factors.

Part of the mission of the panel is to tour other schools around the state and in Connecticut. Based on comments from School Committee members in response to the subcommittee’s request for some guidance in its mission, the full committee is willing to look at a number of concepts before starting on the ultimate district redesign effort.

Among some of the more intriguing responses from School Committee members were those of Mary Raftery, who said she is hoping to hear of “interesting and exciting options. This is about educational innovation, not about a building front.” And committee member Gina Fuller requested that the group keep an eye out for options to include “outdoor play-based learning” concepts. Fuller was joined by fellow board member Mario Celico in calling for a safer traffic pattern around the elementary schools where students are dropped off and picked up. New uses for technology, of course, were on the list as well.

The overriding question will be just how many elementary schools will be needed in the coming years. The School Committee spent most of 2013 debating the closure of Bradford School, the district’s smallest with slightly more than 100 elementary students this year, before voting 4-3 in December to keep it open. District leaders say enrollments are trending downward for the foreseeable future and reducing the number of schools appears to be an option many support. The redesign panel is charged with reporting back to the full committee by the end of the year.

The group will meet twice a month for much of this year, creating several opportunities for students’ parents and taxpayers in general to take part in this far-reaching discussion. We urge participation at this important time in the history of the school district.



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