Westerly School Committee votes to oppose expansion of West Greenwich charter school

Westerly School Committee votes to oppose expansion of West Greenwich charter school

Record-Journal
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WESTERLY — Citing the superior performance record of Washington County’s public schools, the Westerly School Committee approved a resolution Wednesday opposing the expansion of The Greene School, a charter high school located in West Greenwich.

In a 5-2 vote, committee members Christine Misto and Gina Fuller cast the two “no” ballots.

In December 2014, The Greene School’s board submitted an expansion request to the Department of Education to serve 360 students. The school’s charter as an environmental high school serving 210 students in grades 9 through 12, was approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education in May 2010, and opened with 84 students in grades 9 and 10 in September 2010. The school’s first class graduated in 2013 and its first 4-year class in 2014. The school also received an unconditional, 5-year renewal from the state Board of Education in September 2015.

The Westerly committee’s resolution stated that many of Washington County’s school communities “significantly outperform The Greene School in academic performance.” The charter school’s ratios are also poor in comparison “sending communities from Washington County,” which all have a proven record for performing at a high level, the document stated.

The resolution also questioned whether it was appropriate for local school districts to “be saddled with the high expense of sending students to a school with inferior academic performance.”

“The issue of the necessity to have this publicly-funded charter option is dubious to begin with,” the document stated. “For the Board of Regents to grant The Greene School permission to expand by taking in students from higher-performing district[s] would be irresponsible.”

Urging the state leadership to “look at the whole picture when authorizing and expanding charter schools,” the resolution also stated the Washington County public schools need the state’s support.

Chairwoman Diane C. Bowdy and clerk Marianne Nardone were the two signees of the document.

Superintendent Mark Garceau did not take a firm position on the issue, other than saying the charter schools “come at a cost to the district” and noting the Chariho and North Kingstown districts have opposed the charter school expansion.

“My task is to make the Westerly Public Schools district the school of choice,” he said.

Without further discussion, the committee quickly voted on the issue.

After the meeting, Misto said she was “absolutely” for choice in schools and that “everybody should have a choice about where they go.”

“To me it’s all about the child; it’s not about the finances, it’s not about the resources, we’ve had surpluses in this community for several years so we’re not starving for those resources,” she said. “I believe that competition was a healthy thing in education and I think it fosters people to step up their game and I’m all for it.”

Member Gina Fuller echoed Misto’s thoughts.

“I believe all children in Westerly are our responsibility and their parents’ tax dollars pay for their education and those parents should have the opportunity to send their children to any public school they want,” she said. “Not every student is well-suited for Westerly, and they should have the opportunity to find the school that best suits them.”

The School Committee’s role is to act as a proponent of the public schools, said committee member Patricia Panciera.

“We promote the public schools and everything that is good for the public schools,” she said. “We feel that The Greene School is not really that established in their goals and we feel we produce a better student.”

chewitt@thewesterlysun.com


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