School Officials Stress Educational Priorities During Public Forum

by | Mar 21, 2023

Audience members ask about high school, keeping Eldredge, demographics

After two hours of presentations that covered everything from the state funding process and tax ramifications to 21st century educational needs and the three different school building proposals, school and town officials heard comments and took questions from several residents who attended the first school construction community public forum Tuesday night at Cole Middle School.

Supt. Brian Ricca made the case for updating educational spaces that have gone largely unchanged for 100 years – classrooms full of desks in neat rows where students face a teacher who tells the students what they need to know. In today’s world, Ricca said, students (like everyone else) carry a worldful of knowledge in the phone in their pocket. They need to be able to work collaboratively and creatively. 

Ricca acknowledged, however, that there was a limit to what East Greenwich could afford, a point echoed by Town Manager Andy Nota in his presentation (on the basic financing and tax implications). So, instead of proposing to build five or six brand new schools, officials presented three different options (previously covered HERE), with one or two new elementary schools and renovations at other schools. Under all three plans, Eldredge would cease being used as a school building; one plan would also shutter Meadowbrook.

Following the lengthy presentations, there was a 15-minute break where residents could talk one-on-one with officials. If the idea was to answer a lot of the questions during that break, there were still plenty of questions/comments once the forum reconvened.

Community Engagement  

During the public comment segment, community members voiced concerns ranging from students being shuffled to different schools, fields being taken offline, and homes being negatively impacted during the construction process.

A major criticism was the idea of eliminating Eldredge as a school altogether.

“I love being able to walk to a school,” said EG resident Mary Casperson of Eldredge. “I understand the school needs work, I’m not going to dismiss that. But I am struggling with eliminating the school altogether.”

Officials addressed the expensive cost of renovating Eldredge, the overcrowding issues the school faces, and maintaining Eldredge as a school even if renovations weren’t done.

“The educational strategy would tell you that grade realignment to go through 1-5 is the most important thing we can do in terms of education and pedagogy, and that’s immutable,” said School Committee member Tim Munoz. He stated that he was speaking only for himself when he said, “Keeping Eldredge is off-strategy. Eldredge cannot work as a 1-5 school. We’ve shown you tonight it doesn’t work as a Pre-K and K school. It doesn’t work.”

Another aspect that didn’t sit well with some in the audience was that only $20 million was being allocated to renovate East Greenwich High School.

“I am a little concerned that more funds aren’t going to the high school,” said community member Jennifer Bailek. “I don’t think $20 million is going to scratch the surface there.” She added, “I feel like we’ll be back here in five years asking for more without the state backing.”

Both Supt. Ricca and consultant Derek Osterman said while the high school did need upgrading, the overcrowded elementary schools were the catalyst for this phase of the construction planning. This prompted more than one audience member to point out that many EG residents pull their children from the town school system after they graduate from Cole.

Several people questioned whether the plans would accommodate what they worried would be a continued increase in enrollment. Officials said the plans did account for more students than the district has now but that another concern would be to overbuild. School Committee member Gene Quinn noted that most of the housing currently under construction or in the planning stages in EG were not single family homes – traditionally the main source of school-age children.

Two Announcements

In addition to the two-hour presentation and addressing questions from residents, the committee made two announcements regarding ongoing community engagement.

The first is a series of guided tours of each school building that is proposed to be renovated.

The second is a new town website, to be unveiled soon, where the committee will provide updates on the proposed plans and allow community members to provide feedback and ask questions, according to Town Manager Nota, who offered a preview of the website. 

Another public forum-style meeting will take place at Cole Middle School next week on Thursday, March 30. 

Written with Elizabeth McNamara.

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Lillian picchione
Lillian picchione
March 22, 2023 7:05 pm

Thank you for this important coverage.

March 23, 2023 2:46 pm

A break is not needed for these public forums. People do have questions but more people are probably wanting to know the same things.

Everyone should be able to hear everyones questions and everyones answers should be heard by all. It seems as though the committee wanted to lose people in the break. These forums are running long because there is so much to cover so making it last longer for a break should not be an option.

I also would like to know what the committee defines as a “single family” home? Is it by how many rooms a home has? What is the exact definition that they are using to draw up the numbers. I can tell you from what I am seeing that there is a lot of turnover happening in houses with new families moving into houses that did not have kids before.

Has the committee thought of any plans to rebuild or build a new high school? This seems like this should be another option that the taxpayers in town wants to see.

A new or improved high school is something that every single kid in the district would benefit from. At the meeting I went to, Dr. Ricca himself said that the high school is in pretty bad shape and needs so much more attention than the current plans are going to give to it. So why are we not looking at a new high school? Again, every single kid in the district would benefit from this, retain more kids in our district and would attract more families to move to EG.

Renu Englehart
Renu Englehart
March 24, 2023 11:37 am

Hi Heather – A single family home means a single detached unit of housing that you own along with the property it sits on. The houses in Signal Ridge or High Hawk are an example. While there is a lot of turnover in single family homes, in my experience not every family whose children graduate from high school automatically move out of EG . There has been and continues to be a much higher percentage of people without children (either at home or in the schools) living in East Greenwich. Only about 35% of homes in EG have children. The population that is growing fastest in EG is actually older. They are moving into the attached housing and condos by a much greater factor than families. A big part of the building boom of the past few years has been in condos and attached homes. Attached is the demographic report from Milone and McBroom. It can also be seen in the US Census data between 2010 and 2020.

As far as the high school goes, Bob Wilmarth, head of EGSD facilities, has said that the current high school still has potential to grow and accommodate the population by being reconfigured and the greatest need is in the elementary schools. Town Manager Andy Nota’s summary of 3/13/2023 pointed out that the elementary schools have not had any investment in them in over 54 years.
I hope this answers some questions.


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