2014-05-15 / Opinion

GUEST EDITORIAL

A Regional School Experience

A ttending a regional school district was a progressive step in my educational growth. In the spring of 2004, I graduated from Chariho High School. When I arrived as a freshman at college in the fall of that year, I had to explain to my out-of-state classmates that Chariho was not a town in Rhode Island, but rather an acronym for the three towns that made up the small high school. Since 1960, Chariho has opened its doors to residents of Charlestown, Richmond, and Hopkinton. Prior to that, students from those towns attended schools in nearby Westerly and South Kingstown.

Regionalizing the districts became necessary for the same reasons that Newport and Middletown are discussing unification. The towns need a way to save money, and with decreasing population in both school systems, regionalizing seems like a clear option. But now, as then, residents from both towns are cautious about the change.

When I attended Chariho 40 years after its opening, Charlestown residents were still talking about their children’s long commute and possibly leaving the system to start their own school. Even in Newport County, Jamestown students survive the nearly seven-mile ride crossing the bridge to attend North Kingstown High School and Little Compton students travel to Portsmouth High School.

There are 36 school districts in Rhode Island, only four of which are regional or operate with more than one municipality: Foster-Glocester, Bristol-Warren, Exeter-West Greenwich, and Chariho.

The opportunities that regionalizing Chariho afforded the students, residents, and towns were numerous. Learning in a community with individuals from diverse backgrounds taught me to keep an open mind. While shouldering my way through Chariho High’s packed hallways, I walked past farmers from Richmond, Native Americans from the Narragansett Reservation in Charlestown, fishermen who dropped their lines off the bridges in Hope Valley, and Career and Tech commuters from nearby towns. Diversity among students created an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance.

One common objection to unification is the loss of rivalry in sports. But only six years after the first students entered the doors of the consolidated Chariho, the baseball team won the statewide championship. Granted, positions may become more competitive and athletes who once had a spot on the team may lose it due to merging teams.

The real winner is expanding education for the students. If Newport and Middletown’s proposed merger is similar to Chariho’s, channeling efforts to one school could sharpen the educational focus. Chariho High School serves around 1,200 students from grades 9-12, with above-average scores in math and reading in 2014. Scores for the high schools in Newport and Middletown were similar to Chariho’s, while both served fewer students. In 2014, the Rogers High School population was only 599 students, while Middletown’s was 688.

The belief is that with only one school to focus on, the quality of the staff will improve, and therefore, the learning quality will, too. In my time at Chariho, I learned that an invested teacher could motivate students to learn. The location of the school or the distance students traveled to get there was not as important as the curriculum and staff. With more to gain and not much to lose, my experience as a regional high school student taught me that it’s quality, not quantity, that matters in educational systems. – Jacquelyn Moorehead May 2014 URI graduate and new NTW contributer

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