Letter: WMS project addresses a need that town leaders ignore

Letter: WMS project addresses a need that town leaders ignore

Unfortunately, last week’s school committee and superintendent’s rejection of Westerly Middle School teacher Rob Gouvin’s winter assistance project showed more than just a rejection of a school project.

It reaffirmed something that has been ignored for years. It is a topic that many in town have discussed and lamented only to have fail to come to fruition.

Stonington, with a similar population of about 18,000, (Westerly has 22,000), has one governmental entity to help their over 10 percent impoverished population and it is a huge asset to the town. It is under the Human Services Department and includes senior services; case management; energy assistance programs; eviction prevention/budgeting workshops; budget coaching; home visits for homebound residents; insurance and state program applications; job coaching; paperwork assistance; and the state of Connecticut Renter’s Rebate program.

Westerly has needed a similar department for some time, as it is the eighth most impoverished community in Rhode Island according to the Department of Human Services data. Yet, for reasons that can’t be explained other than an ignorance of who the population of Westerly is and our “image,” we do not seem to have one.

Does anyone know that Newport has one, and they are the 10th most impoverished community in R.I.?

Instead, other groups like the Jonnycake Center, the WARM Center, the YMCA and others need to be involved and have stepped up to help with this great need in our community.

This has come up again in the recent uproar regarding Rob Gouvin’s project. For the last 19 years, Rob Gouvin has been leading a most important civics and math-based project with his seventh and eighth grade students. Conducted the last school week of December, the students raise money, shop for canned goods, assemble food boxes and deliver them to the WARM Center in Westerly. The baskets are then distributed to Westerly families in need. During the week, students have a math contest to raise money and learn to budget their funds while on a shopping trip to Stop & Shop.

Sadly, Mr. Gouvin’s project is a response to poor governing and ignorance in taking care of our citizenry’s social service impoverishment here in Westerly. The project has become a casualty and should not be a whipping boy for poor government.

It is not the responsibility of the Westerly School Committee to pass judgment on that and make a statement about it by shutting down projects like this, unless, as they and Superintendent Garceau say, it takes away from instructional time. And let’s see if that is truly the case. I think Mr. Gouvin would tell you otherwise!

According to Chris Righter’s Saturday, Oct. 14, letter to the editor in the Westerly Sun, in Superintendent Garceau’s statement at the school committee meeting, “He cited (among other things) district-wide proficiency scores and “losing” a week of learning the last days before holiday vacation. However, he didn’t mention this tidbit from our phone call: He told me there is too much charity. That’s right, he said there is too much charity!”

What people do not see is that test scores and rankings for Westerly Middle School have declined over 21 percent in the last nine school years. Hmm, I did not hear that from the school committee, nor Superintendent Garceau. It seems like more instructional time in place of this project would only be a drop in the bucket considering the change that apparently needs to happen, and again Mr. Gouvin’s project becomes the whipping boy.

As you can see by comments on the Westerly Sun website about the article, ‘Cancellation of school charitable exercise draws complaints from parents, students,’ even the impoverished are wanting to help and love this project. So really, this is not about Mr. Gouvin’s program. It was approved by the administration for the last 19 years albeit mind you by the same 2012-2013 curriculum leaders, who we pay very highly and are part of Superintendent Garceau’s administration. They approved it, they did not think it was not working, because it was; they did not think it was not credit/task worthy, because it was.

Let’s look at governmental solutions before elected officials look to cut great programs that are trying to fill a void that elected officials are ignoring. Let’s have the school committee and Superintendent Garceau really know what they are cutting by experiencing it before they pass judgment and move forward in a direction we do not know.

Elected Westerly officials, your citizenry is calling and asking for help. It is time for the Westerly School Committee to create a resolution calling for the Westerly Town Council to create social service assistance in our community. It is time for the town council to create a social services structure and leadership that can keep all of the “fundraisers” out of the schools, if they really mean it that way.

It is only then you, our elected officials, will really be doing the people’s bidding!

Kevin Plunkett
, Westerly


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