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City schools re-evaluate facilities

Providence Public Schools recently finished the first round of community meetings to update their Facilities Master Plan, drawing on comments from parents and community members to craft a set of recommendations to improve the school system's facilities.

According to Chief Operating Officer Carleton Jones, the school system hired the Virginia-based consulting and architectural firm Fanning Howey to update a full facility condition assessment last done in 2006. Fanning Howey looked at building conditions and utilization, among other factors, Jones said.

In addition, Fanning Howey facilitated a series of open community meetings "to assess where the schools are in terms of meeting the desires of the community," Jones said.

After a first round of community meetings in June, a second round consisted of 12 meetings in October. The third round, which Jones said he expects to begin in late November, will have six meetings. The previous  meetings averaged 25 to 30 attendees, Jones said.

Fanning Howey is expected to present recommendations to the school board by late December or early January, he said.

Members of Brown's Urban Education Policy program and the service program City Year also attended to provide community support. Jones said meetings would be broken up into smaller groups during the second half, during which members of both programs would facilitate discussion and ask prepared questions.

Miriam Joelson '11, one of the student facilitators, got involved through a departmental e-mail sent by Kenneth Wong, department of education chair. Joelson said she was disappointed by the relatively low turnout at the meetings, but that those who did attend addressed a number of issues.

"The criticisms raised seemed helpful to the planning process," Joelson wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. "They addressed the difficulty of communication brought forth by the language barrier (many parents speak only Spanish), as well as the lack of adequate arts, science and gym facilities. They also demonstrated concern for the safety of their children, as one school building does not open before morning classes start, leaving children standing outside for extended periods of time."

William Buchanan GS, who acted as a note-taker and facilitator at several meetings, was more critical of the meetings' methodology.

Buchanan criticized the meeting organizers for not asking participants negative questions and not allowing for negative answers to survey questions. He also expressed concern that an architectural firm was hired to conduct social science research at the meetings.


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