This is an article I wrote that appeared in the December issue of the New Uxbridge Times. Hope you enjoy it!
Why Voting No for the Uxbridge School Project Cannot be an Option
Political issues tend to be dynamic. Many of the issues that Massachusetts and the United States face today are not the same ones that confronted us 8 years ago. Uxbridge, however, has maintained its independence from this trend, with consequences that threaten to ruin everything the town is and has the potential to be. I am referencing, of course, the issue of whether or not to build a new high school. When looked at objectively, it is disgraceful that the building of a new school is an “issue” at all. Let’s look at the facts.
The NEASC committee that recently reaffirmed Uxbridge’s probationary status makes very clear the need for a new building in the very beginning. It blatantly states that the renovations, although useful over the past few years, are a “band-aid approach” and cannot continue forever. With a hint of surprise, NEASC comments that “students function at a high level given the facility restraints under which they have to learn. The students of Uxbridge deserve better.” Yes, they do. A common response to this is a blatant lie. Some argue that Uxbridge is on probation not because of its building, but because of its curriculum or, even more ludicrous, its teachers. Proponents of this claim should read the NEASC report, which states that the most critical challenges facing the school system are “accreditation status, school space needs, modern infrastructure (technology, equipment, etc.), loss of students and money due to school choice, and addressing issues related to residential property tax involved in funding the school budget.” Every one of these directly relates to the need for a new building.
There has also been quite a bit of discussion surrounding the costs. In 2005, 13% of eligible UHS students school-choiced to other public schools. We also lost an additional 406 students in the 2005-2006 year to private and vocational schools. Four hundred six young adults IN ADDITION to the original 13% who could have made all the valuable contributions they’ve made elsewhere HERE instead. And then we had the privilege of footing the bill of $1,136,316 to send them to other towns. It is true that in the short-term the school project will be more expensive. But have the opponents of this project even considered the long term? Pretend the school is voted down. What do they honestly think is going to happen when, not if, Uxbridge loses its accreditation? New families will stop moving here, many families will leave, and those that remain will school-choice their children elsewhere. You then have skyrocketing costs of paying for school choice in conjunction with plummeting property values when everyone leaves. A much shrunken population translates into a depleted revenue base, meaning that Uxbridge will have no choice but to raise taxes and cut services. Isn’t that what the opponents are fighting against?
I am also going to refute another argument which I have heard from people who are clearly ignorant of modern educational standards. Many elderly graduates of the high school have said, “Well I graduated from that building and I turned out fine, so they will too.” That was a long time ago. What was sufficient 50 years ago is far from adequate today. Education is undergoing a revolution; lectures are being replaced by project-based learning, teachers have become mentors, and the rigid corridors are becoming flexible laboratories. People say that the building has nothing to do with the teaching, but they are wrong. The current building does not permit the necessary changes in education to occur.
Let me also share with you certain things you might not know. It is dangerous for students to travel the central stairwell with a backpack on. Hence, additional time must be taken out of the day for students to get all their books for each class. Why is it dangerous? Because the students are confined so tightly that a simple bump from a backpack will send the student tumbling down the stairs. Mentors are told to instruct freshmen on their first day to NEVER wear a backpack. Over the summer, a wall collapsed and had to be completely redone. In late September, there was drywall that fell. And a few years ago the cabinets in a classroom fell on a student. Uxbridge High School isn’t just inadequate for learning; it is a danger to its students. A school should be a safe place where students go to learn, not just academic material, but how to grow into responsible citizens. And it MUST be safe. The facilities at Uxbridge High School do not fulfill their purpose.
I find the fact that I need to even bring up this point quite disturbing. However, at a meeting, one of our selectmen, Cari Robertson, brought up the question: “What value is accreditation and do we REALLY need it?” I would have thought the answer obvious, but apparently I am mistaken. Let me be very clear: without accreditation, many colleges will toss aside your application before even looking at it. Accreditation is a validation that you are receiving at least the state-required high school education and are adequately prepared for college. Another comment made by Mrs. Robertson, which for some reason did not spark as much outrage as Mrs. Pittman’s, was the suggestion that if you want to graduate from an accredited high school, then you should leave Uxbridge and attend another high school. I was, and still am, very offended when I heard this, and take this to be a personal affront to everything that Uxbridge High School and its inhabitants stand for. If there is a problem in the town, a selectman’s job is to fix it, not to give up and abandon one’s constituents to deal with whatever ensues from their lack of action.
A new high school must be built. It is the only option that will alleviate the space issues facing our school district. Even looking beyond the high school, the middle school is overcrowded by 120%. The new high school will allow a restructuring of where grades are located and solve all the problems. In addition, the MSBA has made it very clear that this is the final opportunity Uxbridge has to receive substantial reimbursement from the state. If the school fails this time, Uxbridge’s future is lost. For too long, this town has been split into two distinct sects: those in favor of the school and those opposed to it. Young vs. old. This is not right; it is not what this is all about. The time has come to end the decade of bickering, heal the scars that have torn our community in two, and make preparations for a bright future ahead. However, the ONLY way this is possible is for Uxbridge to unite. There will be dissenters; there always are. But the time has come for Uxbridge to realize that the new school is better for the community as a whole. It is cheaper in every sense of the word. Cheaper in terms of money, and cheaper in terms of the price that our town will pay for lost generations who go elsewhere.
So I am asking you, begging you, to vote YES for the new school. I am doing this as a 2009 graduate, who knows exactly how desperately we need this. I am doing it as a taxpayer, who does not wish to see his taxes skyrocket and property values fall through the floor. I am doing it as a former student who lived and breathed Uxbridge High School for four years of his life, witnessing firsthand the amazing people who are employed there and the passion they have for the high school- not the building, but the body of people. And that body is being severely restricted by the building. UHS made me who I am. The possibility that it could lose accreditation and the opportunity to change lives is apprehensible to me. I am also doing this as someone who wishes to someday return to Uxbridge, but with an unaccredited high school, that would not happen. Most of all, I am asking you as a citizen who has felt every up and every down of the last school project, and the one before that. A citizen who has seen Uxbridge torn apart, but knows in his heart that it can be put back together. The future of the youth of Uxbridge (and the health of your wallet) depend on a YES vote.
We are living in difficult times. No one denies that. But we have a choice before us again: we can allow difficult circumstances to be an excuse for failure, or we can mold the challenging times into a platform for greatness. We can be torn apart, or we can come together. We can be the generation that was defeated or the generation that provided hope for the entire future of Uxbridge. I challenge you all today to make a difficult choice. Make a choice that may hurt in the short run, but will hurt even worse should it not be made. Please vote YES at Town Meeting and again during the town elections in May.
This WILL be the year. Because we won’t let it not be.
UHS Students for a New High School
Class of 2009