To the Editor:
As a former teacher still vitally interested in all levels and aspects of education, I have been following the ongoing discussions about the future of Rogers High School.
As such, the current picture provides no easy solutions for longterm success, especially given the changing demographics and resulting shrinkage of the high school population. For me, there are several key questions: Can a new high school in its present location with its relatively smaller size have sufficient scale to realistically provide a first class, competitive liberal arts/ science and vocational curriculum? What are the student enrollment percentages for the three wards, and would a new Rogers make more sense logistically in the North End if suitable land could be found?
And just as critical, what can be done to radically improve the negatively perceived culture of truancy, disruptive class environments, degrees of teacher intimidation caused by troublemaking students, and related pervasive parental apathy and disengagement?
Certainly, there are excellent teachers at Rogers and many, but not enough, students have succeeded in spite of the negative culture. Yet the embarrassing statewide academic statistics and ratings for Rogers are undeniably serious continuing problems.
New buildings alone cannot provide the necessary uplift desperately needed for a truly productive educational environment. Many schools throughout New England succeed academically in older buildings not allowed to fall into disrepair and obsolescence. Whatever the future course, the next Rogers deserves better guardianship.
Ideally, Rogers should become a part of an Aquidneck regional high school with the greater economy of scale necessary for success; but thus far, Middletown’s reluctance to accommodate Rogers with its problems precludes the optimal outcome. Ultimately, what is the best fallback plan for an invigorated learning atmosphere for all students and teachers alike? Leadership from the top must set the course for renewal and establish the positive cultural tone essential for sustained improvement.
Most importantly, underlying systemic problems should be identified and acknowledged honestly by school officials with a specific plan to combat them before we commit millions of taxpayer dollars for bricks and mortar with only vague, undefined expectations. Simply throwing money at a problem without a carefully thought out long-range plan is a recipe for failure, and the Newport citizenry should understand this.
We all want and need the best educational opportunities for our students, while also fostering a sustainably healthy, vibrant community. This is a long-neglected call for intelligent action.
Robert S. Walker