High and low: History was made last week when the Stonington Board of Education voted 5-1 to close Pawcatuck Middle School and consolidate all students at Mystic Middle School. The plan is scheduled to take effect in September 2019. Declining enrollment and more-uniform offerings for all middle school students were the primary reasons for the move, along with $800,000 in savings. Opponents were angry about losing a local school, village identity and longer rides to and from school and extracurricular events. This move joins two divergent sections of town earlier than usual, but everyone needs to keep in mind they do join eventually at the high school. This move will simply force that transition sooner. We’re sold on improved and more consistent offerings for all middle-schoolers in the district, but we sympathize with those mourning the loss of what is essentially a neighborhood middle school.
High: What a great concept by the Westerly Peace and Justice Group last week to enlist community members in a reading of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written in April 1963. Pam McDonald of Pawcatuck, a key organizer of the event, said such events are vital not just for young people but for adults as well. “We are not dealing with a race problem, it’s a history problem,” she said. “We don’t know the history because it has been sanitized. If we are curious about the facts of our shared history and face them together, we can begin to heal our nation.”
High: School and recreation officials in Westerly have come together to make the community safer by adding automatic external defibrillators to athletic and recreation fields across the town. In addition to bringing more units to town, they have agreed to fund protective housings that allow the units to be placed outside rather than inside at these facilities. This of course makes them far more accessible, including at times when no official activities are going on at the fields but when the public is simply using the sites for exercise or recreation. The driving force behind this project has been David Hiltz, who initiated the HEARTSafe program in town years ago. With additional units and more of them far more accessible, Westerly is far more a HEARTSafe town now than it was when it earned that designation years ago. Good work all around.
High: The long-awaited dredging of Winnapaug Pond started last week. The project was scaled down considerably for a variety of reasons related to funding. Instead of 32,500 cubic yards of sand and other deposits brought into the pond through the Weekapaug Breachway, largely from storms, particularly Superstorm Sandy, the work will now pull just 8,000 cubic yards of material out. The material will be used to build up the town’s Wuskenau Beach across Atlantic Avenue. Residents who live around the pond will hopefully regain some navigable areas for boating and other forms of recreation.
Low: The battle in Hopkinton between the Town Council and Ashaway Ambulance Association can only be seen as a low. The state had pulled some of the association’s permits for certain services because standards weren’t being met. And town leaders said the association’s staffing problem and inability to respond to calls on a consistent basis posed a threat to the safety of residents. In addition, they were angered by the lack of proper financial accountability. In an effort to right this ship, the town has withheld its quarterly payments initially budgeted for the association. That certainly got some attention. It’s tough to get volunteers, especially skilled volunteers, to staff a 24/7 operation. This is a bad situation for all concerned.