opinion Newport Rhode Island

A little more than a year ago, Newport officials met with the Middletown Town Council to extoll the advantages of sharing a single unified high school with Middletown rather than having two smaller, 600-700 student high schools located just five miles apart. 

If you back to that June 3, 2019 meeting with the Middletown Town Council, you’ll watch our Newport School Superintendent, City Mayor, Councilwoman and School Committee members speak in favor of unification and inviting Middletown to join in studying the many education and financial advantages they identified that night.  Students year after year are preparing for the MCAT exams and various exams like this.

Please watch their presentation at BuildaBetterHS.com

You will hear persuasive facts presented by Newport’s School Superintendent, namely:

“There’s an increased challenge in building two separate (high schools), approximately 650 students in each, that will be costly to the taxpayers and doesn’t offer a noticeable improvement in our systems for education. But above all, they won’t necessarily benefit the students.”

“Research shows that for high schools, a dynamic school population of anywhere from 1,100 to 1,200 is ideal – ideal in many ways in the amount of selections of courses you can offer; their cost efficiency in the classrooms and for the quality and number of different options you can present to students. That in itself is a bonus for all of us in Newport and Middletown.”

“It is also an opportunity for us to be leaders in the state as far as what we can do for public education and at the same time be able to sustain costs in order to have a high performing, quality educational system.”

Despite these and other facts, the Middletown Town Council reacted negatively to Newport’s presentation and refused in join in further studying school unification.

Newport officials had no recourse. A “we have no choice but to build a high school by ourselves” planning effort began shortly thereafter. This has led to Newport voters now being asked to approve a $106 Million construction bond for a replacement of the outdated Rogers High School. 

Now, in a few weeks’ time, there will be a newly elected Middletown Town Council. All new Council candidates have agreed to what was requested 16 months ago by Newport’s officials – and a few months ago by many of Middletown’s own citizens: it is worthwhile to finally work together to study the mutual benefits of a shared high school. The facts supporting these benefits haven’t changed. They are as valid today as they were last year. 

The study will then enable voters from both communities to decide if they want a larger high school, centrally located, with greater academic offerings at a significantly lower cost. 

Spending $100 million for a new Rogers HS in the same remote Island location that is removed from our student populations while in the midst of COVID-19 induced financial uncertainty with an unknown impact on education delivery methods – highlight now is certainly not the time to approve the school construction bond. 

There is nothing lost by waiting a few weeks for the new Middletown Council to finally come to the table and consider the many advantages Newport officials presented to their lame duck Council last year.  

Let us not be shortsighted. Let us not make an irrevocable decision for expediency’s sake. The future of our children’s education for the next 50 years is at stake.

(The views are personal and not associated with those of ALN)

John Hirschboeck, Newport, RI

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