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Vision 2020 — a plan to upgrade and improve all of the educational facilities in the town of Westerly. The community supported the building of a new middle school. The community supported significant renovations to Westerly High School. Now the time has come to complete the Vision 2020 goals and address the needs of our elementary schools. It is the education provided to our younger students that lays a solid foundation for success in the middle and high school years.

The Rhode Island Department of Education is placing an emphasis on newer and fewer school buildings. These newer and fewer buildings are anticipated to be more energy efficient and ultimately more cost efficient. Yes, Westerly’s proposed plan is costly. But we need to look beyond the impact of these specific costs and include in our assessment the ultimate potential savings on maintenance and operating costs.

I was the principal of State Street School during the years of 1977-81 and 1987-93. In the intervening years of 1981-87, State Street was closed and reverted to the management and control of the town. During those years I served as principal of Tower Street School, which functioned as a pre-K through Grade 2 school. During this interim, changes in student enrollment and program needs resulted in the added use of classrooms in the Babcock building for kindergarten instruction. We needed some step stools in the bathrooms to accommodate 5-year-olds attempting to use the facilities designed for junior high students. Then the season changed to when these classes, along with the preschool program, were relocated to the State Street building, where we cohabitated with the Senior Center and the Adult Day Care Center along with other community programs. Yes, it was a season of transition.

One of the challenges for building administrators across multiple locations was the scheduling of specialist subjects when the service providers were assigned to more than a single building. Our school nurse teacher always had at least one other building to cover and sometimes two. In the nurse’s absence, a medical need had to be covered by the building principal, or perhaps the secretary. Time that might have been spent assessing or developing instructional programs was addressed to maintaining first aid certification. And then there was the challenge of removing the child-proof cap from a student’s medication container. As an elder person in our community, I now request non-safety caps at my local pharmacy.

My classroom teaching experience prior to relocating to Rhode Island encompassed a span of teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in New Hampshire, where I was the only teacher for eight grades, to being one of eight first-grade teachers in an urban Massachusetts school. Prior to starting my stint with the Westerly Public Schools, I served as a classroom teacher and then as a reading specialist/supervisor in a neighboring district. Each of these settings, along with all of those in between, provided its rewards as well as challenges. I learned early on the importance of seeing the whole child and not just the academic performance. Education is far more than just teaching the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. It includes providing a safe and healthy academic learning environment in which today’s children are prepared to successfully live and work in the 21st century.

As a building principal, I reframed the traditional “3 Rs” to represent “Respect, Responsibility, and Resourcefulness.” A poster with this emphasis was located near the school entrance. Classroom teachers were encouraged to model as well as provide instruction encompassing these attributes. This focus, for me, is as vitally important as the development of literacy and numeracy skills. It provides the framework within which effective education takes place. The foundation for a successful learning experience is established at the early childhood level. This is then built on in an integrated elementary program that prepares our children for their middle and high school academic years.

As Oct. 10 approaches on our community calendar, I would invite all to show respect for one another, without regard for another’s stance on the school bond issue. Let us all exercise our responsibility as voters by being resourceful in examining the issues, and cast our ballots. Let us help fulfill Vision 2020 and do what is best for all the students of Westerly.

Joyce B. Duerr


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