School board votes to close five public schools

Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2011

The Providence School Board voted last night to close five schools — Asa Messer Elementary School, Asa Messer Annex, Windmill Street Elementary School, Edmund W. Flynn Elementary School and West Broadway Elementary School. Samuel W. Bridgham Middle School will be reopened as an elementary school.

The vote followed over two hours of emotionally charged public comment from teachers, parents, students and community members. Providence Public School Department Chief Operating Officer Carleton Jones then presented a five-minute update on the school closure recommendation he presented to the board Monday. His presentation was interrupted several times by protesters in the audience.

The board first voted 5-2 in favor of transitioning Bridgham Middle School into an elementary school. As board members voted in favor of the closures of Asa Messer Elementary and Asa Messer Annex, cries of “coward” and “puppet” erupted from the audience. The board’s vote for the closure of Windmill Elementary School prompted audience members to stand and turn their backs to the stage.

After the 6-1 vote to close Flynn Elementary, Councilman Nicholas Narducci, Jr. seized a microphone near the stage and declared, “Tomorrow morning, I will put a resolution in asking for the resignation for every board member.” Chants of “Whose schools? Our schools!” and “Fire the school board!” drowned out the vote for the closure of West Broadway Elementary School.

“I can’t believe they actually sat down and listened to all these people, listened to the emotional testimony, and they came up with this vote,” said Valerie Rangrn-Brown, a teacher at a public school that will remain open. “There is no way they can say they care about the kids.”

“All these school board members are under Angel Taveras’ spell,” said a teacher’s assistant at Windmill Elementary School who did not give her name due to professional concerns. She criticized board members for not understanding the plight of teachers on the West Side. “They don’t know. None of these people are teachers.”

When Frank Almeida, equipment mechanic for the Department of Facilities, sends his daughter Pilar to a new school next year, she will have to “walk a mile through South Providence, across two busy streets,” Almeida said. “It’s like sending a kid to prison,” he added, referring to the physical appearance of his daughter’s new school.

“I don’t know how you will ever repair the damage you have done,” Julie Latessa, a teacher, told the board.

One of the most dejected audience members was Jonah Jehar, a student at Alfred Lima, Sr. Elementary School. Though Lima Elementary will not close, Jones’ recommendation indicates that it will receive over 100 new students from West Broadway Elementary, Windmill Elementary and Flynn Elementary.

Jehar told the board, “If Bridgham gets changed, 80 percent of kids will be late — those who walk.” He said he feared students would stop attending school if forced to travel further. “Those 19 to 20 percent with other transportation will be the only ones going to the changed Bridgham,” he said.

Following the vote, Jehar was one of the last of the disappointed audience members security asked to leave the auditorium. “You wasted our time for this?” he shouted over and over at the empty stage. “We need a proper education. Without a proper education we can’t have a proper future.”



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