Warwick pursues conversion to Horace Mann II school

  • The Warwick Community School. Staff File Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 7/19/2019 12:54:51 PM
Modified: 7/19/2019 12:54:38 PM

WARWICK — The Selectboard is moving forward with its hopes of converting the Warwick Community School into a Horace Mann II Conversion School.

Last week, members of the Warwick Selectboard’s advisory committee read letters of intent for the school’s conversion before the Pioneer Valley Regional School District (PVRSD) School Committee. The letters were sent to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), as well as to its commissioner, Jeffrey C. Riley.

“We’re trying to be as upfront and transparent as possible,” said Adam Holloway, a member of the advisory committee. “We need to work with them on this.”

The letter states the “intent is to redesign Warwick Community School and create a district-affiliated, independently governed chartered public school with high standards for learning, innovative use of technology and curriculum, and lower per pupil cost.”

This proposal will need to gain support from Riley, and will “require a Memorandum of Understanding with the Pioneer Valley Regional District School Committee.”

“Our intent is to reduce costs in our redesign by the $150,000 to $200,000 the PVRSD asserts it will save if you act to close our school, as has been discussed by the PVRSD School Committee, although no action has been taken by vote,” the letter states.

If approved, the conversion would not affect the upcoming 2019 to 2020 school year; the changes would kick in for the 2020 to 2021 school year.

Next potential steps include submitting paperwork to DESE in mid-September, giving a high-level overview of what the Selectboard and Warwick Community School plan to do for the conversion. Then DESE will determine if the school is allowed to submit a full charter application.

“We have to iron out more details with the superintendent and School Committee, and write up a full charter design, assuming we are approved for it,” Holloway said.

If approved, Warwick Community School would be the first Horace Mann II Conversion School in Massachusetts. Warwick Selectboard members say this could potentially serve as a design model to replicate for other small towns that are dealing with financial issues and wish to make a similar conversion.

“Our hope is to sit down with the School Committee and answer some questions surrounding this,” Holloway said. “This is kind of a blend of what we normally have and a charter school. ... It’s a pretty cool concept, we can do a lot of things with it.”

The decision to pursue converting the school comes months after the school district discovered it had a financial debt, now known to be worth approximately $450,000. Both the School Committee and district administrators agreed that the deficit was the result of an unsustainable business model, due to declining enrollment.

A proposed way of saving money to make up the deficit was to close both Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School and the Warwick Community School. However, the Pioneer School Committee voted during two separate meetings not to close Warwick’s school, though it approved closing Pearl Rhodes.

Following the School Committee’s second vote, the Warwick Selectboard set up its advisory committee. The advisory committee is, more or less, a continuation of the Warwick Education Task Force, a residents-organized school advocacy group that came together last summer when talk of school closures originally began to surface.

The advisory committee has met three times since it’s development, and the Selectboard unanimously decided to pursue converting the Warwick Community School into a Horace Mann II Conversion School during its meeting on July 8.

The School Committee will hold a special meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. to discuss the fiscal year 2020 budget decrease. The Horace Mann II conversion may be discussed again during the School Committee’s next regular meeting on Thursday, Aug. 8.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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