Parents and Community members have the following questions about the proposed closing of Wakefield Elementary School:
1) Is Wakefield Elementary School (WES) at risk of closing?
Yes. The School Committee, with the support of Superintendent Stringfellow, voted 5-2 to close Wakefield Elementary (Option B). The School Committee and Superintendent cite district-wide declining enrollment, which they claim will soon result in excessive school facility capacity. The severity of the problem remains under debate.
2) Is this decision final?
No. here are still many ways to prevent this vote from becoming a reality.
3) Are we doomed to low enrollment?
No. There are solutions we can leverage to reverse this trend. Millennial families want to move into neighborhoods with walkable amenities and schools. The Town Council is working to expand affordable housing for these young families. If we close an elementary we are more likely to lose students who would opt for a private or charter school which could lead us to a path where we end up downsizing to a 2 elementary school model.
4) If we keep WES open are we maintaining the “status quo”?
No. Two SK school closures (South Road & CCMS) remove enough school building capacity to address the projected declines in student enrollments. In fact, the best evidence suggests that if we shut down three SK schools, then we risk overcrowding by RIDE’s own standards.
5) Could WES close while my kids are enrolled?
Depending on decisions made by the planning committee, WES could be closed as early as September 2019.
6) Does moving to 3 elementary schools mean a better education for South Kingstown students?
No. It means more classes at contractual maximums. Educational benefits were never given by school committee members during the decision to close Wakefield. Keeping WES open gives us the opportunity to offer lower elementary class sizes throughout the district and the flexibility to grow our enrollment.
7) Will closing WES mean more money will be put towards high school upgrades?
No, the Legacy Plan allocated the same amount of funding for the high school in Option A (the plan that keeps all 4 elementary schools open).
8) Will the closure of WES bring money to the school district?
No. Money is not going back into school for programing or staffing. This is a common misconception. The town council has stated that operational savings will be used to pay for the building costs (to be bonded).
9) Will closing WES solve the problem of uneven class sizes in the District?
No. That problem will be solved by redistricting, which was part of all legacy plan options and will be done regardless of how many elementary schools we have.
10) Is WES an asset to the entire district? Is it worth the investment?
Yes. All South Kingstown elementary schools are successful. The 4 elementary model with unique villages in SK should be celebrated and promoted for their successes. WES in particular has many assets including proximity to much of the Town's history, Saugatucket River, and its Arts District. These attributes can be leveraged as curriculum assets to increase the district enrollment. Why eliminate a school that is successful for no educational benefit? The money saved will not return to the schools. Let’s invest and grow what is working!
11) What will happen to the Wakefield building?
There is no plan at present. It could become a vacant building in the center of town, this has been the fate of neighboring Wickford. If it is repurposed, the district will need to continue to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the building. The Nancy Brown playground and Sari’s Sanctuary would likely suffer the same fate as the Matty Siravo playground next to the high school, which is now in ruins.
12) How will this impact the busing problems that already exist?
We are the largest geographic district in the state. Many of our students are already on the bus for 30-50 minutes. Moving the most walkable elementary school offline means transportation could easily result in higher costs and/or longer bus rides.
13) Does the Town Council support closing WES?
A majority publicly stated that they are not in favor of closing Wakefield. This support is unsurprising because small businesses in town will suffer and closing Wakefield will lead to higher town bonding cost. We need to press the town councilors for their official stance. All Town Council seats are up for re-election in the fall.
14) Do the local businesses support closing WES?
No. Many local businesses rely on the traffic from the schools and value its place in the community.
15) Do all school committee members support closing Wakefield?
No. Alycia Collins and Emily Cummisky voted against the closure. Five school committee seats are up for re-election this fall.
16) Do teachers want Wakefield to close?
Eliminating WES is not good for any SK elementary teacher. If we move to three schools for efficiency, that mean we will get more students in every clas, resulting in higher class sizes. It will also result in more teacher layoffs at all elementary school.
17) Does the community support closing WES?
No! During three school committee meetings South Kingstown Residents spoke for hours opposing the closure of Wakefield. The school committee reported an enormous volume of email and letters urging them to vote for Option A, or an alternative which keeps Wakefield open. Friends of Wakefield [FOWES] is a community driven group that has united and organized in opposition of closing Wakefield Elementary.
18) Was the public process of deciding whether or not to close (WES) fair and transparent?
No! The Committee chair introduced new arguments, documents and self-generated population projections immediately before the vote with no opportunity for public scrutiny. These dubious claims were matched with a dated, unreliable and inappropriate school capacity measure that ignored the RI Department of Education best practice capacity measure (how many students ideally fit in the schools). Combined these unvetted choices had the effect of making the projected student population decline look like a crisis so large that three SK schools needed to be closed.
19) Why should the whole community be invested in preserving Wakefield Elementary?
WES not only serves an important role in our Town's history, it is an essential part of our downtown commercial ecosystem and village culture. It supports community ties, sense of place, and a walkable/bikeable environment for our children, parents, and teachers. Main Street businesses acknowledge the positive financial impact of increased foot traffic from a nearby school. WES increases the value of homes within walking distance of the school also resulting in better property tax revenues back to the town.