Regionalization, merger, unification or administrative reorganization? What should we be calling the current discussions involving our schools in Newport and Middletown?
The state and the consultants are labeling it regionalization. Many parents and residents have protested, saying it’s not “true regionalization.” Meanwhile, there are concerns the entire process is being rushed, and people wonder why Newport and Middletown can’t have one unified high school.
It goes without saying that whatever term we give this movement, the goal should be to provide better educational opportunities for the youth in both communities. So, let’s get past just the brick-andmortar of the buildings and think more of the future quality of education.
Thus far, most of the discussion has focused on the financial aspect and the administrative reorganization, which could perhaps someday lead to a unified high school, or at least a more fluid enrollment in two high schools based on student interest and curriculum offerings.
There has been debate on this topic for decades. In 2020, nearly 1,200 Middletown voters signed a petition to explore talks for a unified high school, but it was rejected on a legal technicality.
The bottom line is the state is controlling the timetable and the funding. The state identified structural deficiencies in schools across the state in 2017 when it unveiled the Jacobs Engineering study, known as the State of Rhode Island Schoolhouses Report.
The state has set benchmarks for reimbursements. In November, Middletown and Newport residents will be asked to vote on a ballot question regarding regionalization. In our opinion, the vote is really on the administrative reorganization and making sure the new schools being built take advantage of all the available state reimbursements and financial incentives.
As we celebrate the ribbon-cutting of the Pell Elementary School expansion this week, we need to remember that a building is just a building. It can be expanded; its purpose can change.
Several of Newport’s former elementary schools have been converted into private condominiums and affordable housing for seniors. The wealthy King family donated their 1845 Italianate mansion to the city in 1912, and it was used as the city library until 1968. It now serves as the senior citizens center. In Middletown, Gaudet Middle School was originally designed to be the high school, while the town library was built to be a preschool.
In this issue, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. When the neighborhood need arose for a youth activity center, they utilized the Quaker Friends Meeting House built in 1699. In 1967, the Newport Community Center moved to the Armed Services USO recreation building, where dozens of programs and multiple hunger services assist tens of thousands of island residents yearly.
Meanwhile, the Gateway Visitors Center is being repurposed to house the Newport Community School, an adult learning center, while construction plans are underway for a new Save the Bay aquarium to occupy the space.
So, a building is just a building. It’s up to us to reimagine or reinvent how it is used.
As the two communities consider the upcoming vote and the construction of two high schools, let’s remember what the possibilities could be in 10 or 20 years if we allow ourselves to think beyond the buildings and let the future play out.