By Justin Cahir
I am a Rhode Islander, born and raised, and a product of the Providence public school system. As a graduate of Classical High School, I’m still proud to call it my alma mater. As my wife and I started a family and had the means to choose where we would like to raise them, we did what many new families do, research. What did we find? Barrington and East Greenwich had the two top school districts in the state. Besides the great education system, we have the restaurants on Main Street and are minutes from the water. We made the sensible choice to move to East Greenwich, right?
Many do not realize that East Greenwich residents pay the sixth highest property tax rate in the state at $23.43 per $1,000 assessed value, just over a percent behind the highest paying Providence (see the chart HERE). In 2020, our town spent $35M+ on the school budget. For a top-notch education, this might seem well worth it. Just a few short years ago, Cole Middle School was ranked #1 in the state according to U.S. News and World Report. Our hard-earned tax dollars were working and proving the decision many made to move to EG was correct. Along with the great schools, we experienced skyrocketing home values, nearly a 20 percent increase in the last year alone! Nothing to be concerned about, right?
High taxes have been a sacrifice many are willing to incur, that is, until the quality of our education began to decline.
Cole is no longer ranked #1 in the state; it is not second or third, either. According to U.S. News and World Report, Cole has plummeted to 22nd place replaced by Barrington, Wickford, Chariho and Tiverton, to name a few. In addition, only one of our elementary schools broke the top 20. East Greenwich High School is still ranked #2, but this will ultimately change for the worse if our elementary and middle schools are not adequately preparing our young people for the road ahead.
Some may say this drop in performance is COVID-related and that the problem reflects a nationwide trend. They might argue that communities need to expect less in the wake of a life-altering pandemic. However, these rankings are based on 2018-19 math and reading assessment data from the U.S. Dept. of Education EDFacts initiative. Rhode Island submitted their data in August of 2020 for the 2018-19 school year which reflects how well our students were performing in reading and math before the disaster that was remote learning.
One might think, even if our education system is slipping, we still have our high home values. Don’t retire just yet. According to many sources, such as The Wall Street Journal (“Good Schools, Bad Real Estate,” 2010) and The Brookings Institute (“Housing Costs, Zoning, and Access to High-Scoring Schools,” 2012), there is a direct correlation between school rankings and property value. On average, buyers are willing to pay $50 more per square foot for homes in top-rated school districts, compared with homes served by average-rated schools. For a 2500 square foot home, that is a $125,000 difference in home value. Right now, the market is highly competitive and home values are booming, but that will not last forever. Historically, we have relied on our school system to help keep East Greenwich as a destination for new families. A few cursory conversations with successful realtors in the area highlighted that neighboring North Kingstown, with its lesser real estate tax bills on average and “2021 National Blue Ribbon” high school, has garnered more of their buyers this past year than they have seen in the past. While East Greenwich real estate remains very strong for sure, a return to verifiable educational achievement rather than assumptions and reputation is critical for both our community’s children and our wallets.
Whether one has school-age children or not, we all have a personal stake in the future of our school system. Shouldn’t we be holding our elected school committee members accountable for a strategy bringing our schools back to a place of excellence? The EGSD 2021-2024 Strategic Plan was recently finalized but in comparison to the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, there is a stark difference between the specific, actionable items laid out in the prior plan compared to the vague generalizations in the new one. It makes it difficult to determine exactly how the plan is to provide the necessary remediation. I encourage everyone to compare the two. East Greenwich’s long-held excellent reputation will only last for so long. We need to get our schools back on track before it is too late. Let’s make sure our future graduates are always proud to call East Greenwich their alma mater.
Justin Cahir lives in East Greenwich and has one child in EG public schools and one in preschool.
The fact that this was allowed to be written and posted shows the irrelevance of this publication. The bottom line is that East Greenwich has a safe, high standard of education. Leadership has done everything possible during Covidcto continue to provide excellent education. The entitled parents in this community are the ones to blame for fighting Covid mandates just so they don’t have to take care of their own kids. This newsletter needs to be cancelled to allow this onto a platform.
Despite your assertions that, somehow, COVID has any bearing on this opinion piece, that is not the story. I also find it more than disconcerting that your answer to the author’s request that we read the plans published by the EGSD itself is to censor a public forum. The level of intolerance you display does nothing to help our kids. If our schools emulate your approach to discourse, they will be simply teaching our kids what to think, not HOW to think. What a shame.
Wow. Someone had too much coffee.
“The fact that this was allowed to be written and posted shows the irrelevance of this publication.” Just exactly who allows things be written? I think I’ve been sending requests to the wrong ministry. You prefer all opinion pieces to be vetted to conform to your viewpoint, I see. Why even read them then, you already know what they will say. Amusingly, you felt it necessary to comment on an opinion piece in an irrelevant publication, and just for good measure insult the community as spoiled, absentee parents.
I hope our Town Council and School Committee are willing to respond to how they intend to work together to address the downward trend.
School has a philosophy “leave no kids behind” which essentially drags not only talented but most kids far below what they could achieve nowadays.
Hard work and good rate are not encouraged since it will hurt other kid’s feeling.
This is not what it was 20 years ago.
The rankings on the US World & News Report for elementary and middle schools are based solely on the scores for TWO tests. I don’t know about you, but I don’t base any decisions of value on the results of two tests. As a parent of 2 students in East Greenwich schools, I am pleased with the education that my children receive in East Greenwich and grateful that East Greenwich teachers do not teach to the test, but focus on skills that my children will need in the world that cannot be measured on a standardized test. Critical thinking, information literacy, communication, team work, and resilience — these are what matters in East Greenwich.
East Greenwich schools have been on the decline for years. The schools themselves are literally falling apart. That is what happens when school committees push off maintenance on these facilities for decades at a time.
No ac in schools, no real plan to replace the turf field at EGHS, no big fix for Eldredge crumbling – the list goes on
However the teachers get their raises every year like clockwork.
STOP USING OUR CHILDREN AS PROFIT CENTERS
Being ranked high not just shows students got high test score, but also shows that the whole community including students, teachers, parents and administrators, care about education and the quality of the education.
The schools have actually been on the incline.
The schools are old and out dated.
The teachers do not get raises every year like clockwork.
Your comment is uninformed.
Please don’t start falling into this old rhetoric.
Most schools don’t have AC, that sounds a bit privileged, don’t you think?
Turf field, another privilege.
Eldridge needs to be converted to serve another purpose. The school dept. should sell the property and use the funds to build a new school.
The schools do not use children as profit centers. That is just ridiculous statement.
It is almost impossible to teach to the test for math, reading and writing skills. RICAS is a basic skill test.
Take a look at administrative turnover in the past decade. Why are principals, vice principals, and school admin leaving? Where are they going and why? You will see a lot of moving pieces and need to ask yourself, why are people jumping ship and what can we do to prevent that? We have lost many affective administrators to other districts.
Actually I believe the turnover in the administration at cole is for the best. We should see an increase in test scores at that school. As for the other schools admins leaving (eggs and meadowbrook) they are actually moving up to the district level, so hopefully that will make a positive difference at the top.
I’m a long time resident of East Greenwich, and my 3 children went through the public school system. We moved here for specifically for the high performing schools. In the beginning, we were very pleased with the education our children received, but then we saw a shift. The School Committee caved to public pressure to eliminate the Creative & Productive Thinking Program which some parents felt was not inclusive to enough students. Many parents urged that the program be expanded, not cut. Sadly under the guise of budgetary constraints the program was cut. The then School Committee promised that programming for high performing students would be addressed. To my knowledge, a new program was not implemented. Providing a program to excite and engage these students must be just as important as those programs in place to bring up the lower performing students. I also believe that placement in the Advanced Placement courses at the high school needs to be evaluated. There seemed to be a tendency (at least when my children attended) to almost discourage students who were on the cusp of entrance requirements into these courses to take these classes. While I don’t think we should set kids up to fail, I believe more encouragement should be given to these kids to step out of their comfort zone if the interest is there.
As a past student of the school system, I really appreciate this point of view. I think it is an interesting conversation we must be having as we move out of COVID into the future of the school system. I often feel there is a focus on guiding concepts (which is good and valuable in its own right), but this sometimes eliminates action items or actual steps that can be taken toward meeting those goals. I actually served on the committee for the Strategic Plan and I found a similar concept present. I am very appreciative of the school system and have nothing but good things to say, but I do think there should be a push toward action to continue the strength of reputation of the school system.