“Focus on the schools we have now and fund the schools we have now before promoting other schools. We want Cranston schools to come first.”
Those were the words of Stephanie Culhane at the start of a rally in support of public schools in front of Cranston High School East on a sunny, breezy Wednesday night.
About 400 people gathered for the event, holding signs that said “I am Cranston Public Schools” and cheering a series of speakers that included former students, a principal and parents. Cars traveling along Park Avenue beeped as they passed the rally.
“I have learned an incredible amount,” said Daniel Ramirez, who graduated from Cranston East last year and will be attending the University of Chicago this fall. “It’s not only because of this wonderful education I feel I’ve grown, it’s the connection I’ve had with each of my teachers. . .every one of them cared about me and I cared about them too.”
Joe Rotz, principal of Park View Middle School, said his taxes have risen every year that he’s been a Cranston resident. Meanwhile his school gets hot around this time of year because the windows are screwed shut “so they don’t fall out.”
“This is the reality of our public schools,” Rotz said. “I speak on behalf of the taxpayers of Cranston that we do not want a penny of our tax dollars to go to opening any new schools when we have not taken care of the schools we already have.”
Rotz noted that all of Cranston’s middle schools met their annual yearly progress targets and all but one of the city’s 17 elementary schools did the same. For a large district with a diverse student population, that’s a major accomplishment.
The rally was organized by Stephanie Culhane and Janice Ruggeiri, both School Committee members. Culhane recently founded “I Am Cranston Public Schools,” a new group of parents, students and city officials who are lobbying on behalf of the district and trying to raise awareness of good things happening in Cranston schools.
Culhane told those gathered that the opposition to the mayoral academy has nothing to do with unions or teacher contracts.
“It’s a Cranston thing,” she said.
Speakers raised numerous examples of how the district is underfunded. Lisa Gargaro, PTO president at Western Hills Middle School, said middle schoolers don’t have sports beyond intramural sports, and those are paid for by the PTOs. And parents this week are getting lists from the schools of the classroom supplies teachers need.
It’s wrong for teachers in Cranston to not have the supplies they need while the mayor is proposing building a new school, Gargaro said.
Though the prevailing message was that great things are happening in Cranston schools, despite being underfunded, it was clear that opposition to the mayoral academy was on display.
Osiris Harrell, a Providence resident, said the community should be wary of “corporate people who come to our communities and talk about opening schools.”
Harrell said he doesn’t know what the “hidden agenda” is, but he knows that it’s not in the best interest of students.
“I’m not against charter schools,” Harrell said. “I’m against the corporate takeover of public schools.”