A redesigned and energy-efficient Nathan Bishop Middle School will re-open next fall. A ceremony Thursday kicked off a $35 million restoration effort for the public school, which will feature architectural improvements and incorporate higher level classes in the curriculum.
Nathan Bishop, which has stood across the street from Brown Stadium since 1929, closed temporarily in June 2006 in part due to low test scores, dwindling enrollment and student suspensions. Efforts to revive and improve the school were spearheaded by the East Side Public Education Coalition - a group of East Side parents and residents.
Thursday's ceremony featured such speakers as Providence Mayor David Cicilline '83, new Providence Public School District Superintendent Tom Brady and other city and state officials.
When it reopens, Bishop will be the East Side's only public middle school and will feature a 20,000 gallon rainwater collection system, high-efficiency mechanical and electrical systems, two 3,000-square-foot gymnasiums and a two-story library and media building, among other technological improvements, according to a press release from the mayor's office.
Nathan Bishop's restoration and renovation come when Providence public schools are struggling with particularly low test scores.
Of the city's seven middle schools, six issue progress reports on student performance. For these schools, the percentage of students performing at or above expected "grade level" for math is 26.5 percent, with 19.5 percent for writing and 32.3 percent for reading, according to the school department's Web site.
The two elementary schools from which Nathan Bishop will receive most of its incoming students scored far higher on science testing than most Providence schools, the Providence Journal reported last month. Forty-one percent of Vartan Gregorian Elementary School fourth graders and 26 percent of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School students scored proficiently in science, while only nine percent of fourth-graders were proficient in Providence overall.
Thursday afternoon, Cicilline, surrounded by a fidgety and excited crowd of local children, attributed the success of the project to a partnership between the community and the city.
Reviving Nathan Bishop was "not just about another building or one school," but about providing a better education to children throughout Providence, Cicilline said.
House Majority Leader Rep. Gordon Fox, a Nathan Bishop alum, said decades ago, the school was a "dark, dank, uninviting place."
"This is a new dawning on public education in Providence," he told the crowd.
Councilman Cliff Wood, a Democrat from Ward 2, said Providence residents must take advantage of the opportunity to improve a middle-school system saddled with low test scores.
Wood, who later told The Herald he "lives and breathes to demonstrate middle schools can work in Providence," said the broad goal of the new Nathan Bishop will be to "do this right, learn new lessons and spread that to the other seven middle schools" in the city.
Tom Schmeling, a coalition member who teaches political science at Rhode Island College, said a thriving Nathan Bishop was more than just an East Side project.
"When we got organized in the beginning, it was around the sense that people in town had abandoned the public schools and gone to private school," Schmeling said. "When (residents) move to Barrington or head out to private schools, the children and parents who are left behind may be less able to place high demands on the public school system."
The more students a school system has, the more likely it is to improve, Schmeling added.
Wood, a father of two elementary school children, said many did not want to leave cities just to find good schools.
"Contrary to what many believe, an awful lot of people - my constituents - have the means to send their kids to private school, but like the notion of public school," Wood said. "A larger group of us, like me, don't have the means but want to be here in the city."
Strengthening Nathan Bishop and the city's public education is important for adults as well as children, Schmeling said. For example, a poor public school system deters potential business-owners from moving to Providence.
"A lot of people think all (businesses) care about is tax rates," he said. "Education is a very high priority for their kids and their manager's kids. Failure in public education is economic failure."