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Decisions made on education now will be felt for years to come

Sen. Lou DiPalma is to be commended for his recent Guest View urging action to address our state's broken public education system. His candid description validates why Aquidneck Island citizens - starting in 2012 - championed three different charter school proposals. Concerns, similar to those highlighted in the op-ed, prompted each independent charter school group to design innovative school models geared to address Rhode Island's achievement gaps, that manifest early in a child's schooling. Sadly, none of the charter school proposals were approved. Five years on, our state continues to leave too many youth poorly prepared.

For decades, our state's educational ecosystem has chiefly focused on deploying “just-in-time” measures at the high school level to fluff-up graduation rates. Costly efforts to mold under-performing teenagers into employable workers usually fall flat.

To change this flawed trajectory, transformative measures must start much earlier. For inexplicable reasons, we continue to gloss over the many systemic deficiencies crippling elementary and middle school performance.

Tip-toeing around the undeniable barriers, accepting disparities, fearing condemnation, have all become the Rhode Island norm. We grant the loudest voices their demands, leaving the path to excellence littered with excuses. Today's struggling Rhode Island students are often left by the wayside with their hope for a better future depleted.

Now it's 2018, hard not to see that the newest tactic will be to clamor for $500 million worth of school bricks and mortar. Many are already touting this oncein- a-lifetime investment as a salvation.

The new 21st century school building will impart the necessary 21st century skills, right? Will the building be adaptable to meet the needs of all students, today's and tomorrow's? Is the location optimal? Or, are we settling for more “old wine in new bottles”?

Let's hope many other state and local elected (and union) leaders join Sen. DiPalma and muster the personal courage to speak up on this highly charged challenge. The economic well-being of Rhode Island teeters on the ragged edge of a K-12 educational cliff. The effects of decisions made now will be felt for generations. Rigorous, prudent planning, guided by thoughtful, forthright leadership, in line with Sen. DiPalma's call to action, is fundamental to our state's economic success.

Mike Cullen, Newport

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