Imagine a small town in which 52 children in a school system of just under 3,000 students are homeless. Or a small town in which 38 percent of the police calls to domestic violence scenes involve children. Or a tourist destination town that boasts a five-star resort and wealthy shoreline communities in which 900 of those students — or one-third of the school population — are living below the poverty level.
The figures come from a recent report of the Kids Count Data Center that provides national demographic information available by county and school district, and is one source of data, along with the Washington County Coalition for Children, that the local district uses to gain insight into its families. The data shows that 103 Westerly students were homeless in 2011 and 97 in 2013.
Superintendent Roy Seitsinger shared the figures during a Rotary Club meeting on Monday night. More than a few of the Rotarians were surprised by the numbers, shaking their heads in disbelief.
Seitsinger didn’t touch on the school budget, though he’s in the midst of a battle to justify the $57 million request that was the subject of public hearings Tuesday and Thursday. He noted at the start that he had promised to share more of the information he had mentioned in casual conversations with the Rotarians in the past, and Monday was the night. There was no talk about the acrimony that has developed between the School Committee and Board of Finance over the budget, and Seitsinger made no plugs for the spending plan.
Instead he talked about societal changes in recent decades and the challenges students and teachers face because of those changes, and the rapid advances in technology that can magnify those challenges. His concerns as a teen were far different from those of the teens walking his hallways today.
Included in this year’s education budget is funding for a behavior specialist, a position Stonington educators are requesting as well. In a story we published in February regarding educators’ claims of increased need for such positions, we included information from a report funded by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that indicated nearly 62 percent of teachers across the country who have been teaching in the same school for five or more years say behavior issues that interfere with teaching and learning have notably worsened.
We read more and more headlines about dangerous behavior that leads to violence and we hear experts chime in to say such behavior needs to be caught early. These two districts are trying to catch it and correct it early and these requests deserve support.