Town Council agrees that more must be done to help those less well off in the community. Local leaders okay bringing in consultant ILO to help lay the groundwork for the Town's new Outreach Department.
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MIDDLETOWN CAN DO MORE FOR YOUTH, REPORT FINDS
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (NOVEMBER 1, 2021) – The Town of Middletown is a fortunate community and most people would acknowledge they’re doing pretty well.
But members of the Town Council generally agreed Monday night in Town Hall that’s not true for everybody. Saying there were more issues with homelessness, hunger and transportation than many realize and it was time for the Town to try to do more.
The item was before the council with a presentation from consultant Maryclaire Knight, who was asked to do an assessment of the community as part of a discussion to expand school and adult educational services led by Councilman Dennis Turano.
Later in the meeting, Turano proposed budgeting $250,000 a year for the Middletown Outreach Department to help connect those in need with the appropriate services. The proposal received general support from his colleagues, but more details were needed before that money could be set aside.
Instead, the council unanimously supported a motion from Councilman Christopher Logan to engage consultants ILO to help come up the mission, vision, value and charter for the Outreach Department. Turano said ILO has indicated they will do consulting work for the Town for no charge.
“We know we have a problem…” Logan said. “Let’s build the edges first before we attack the rest of the problem.”
“Our children in the schools need multiple options…We need to offer more services…” Turano said. “We have to get our students ready to fly when the get out of school.”
“I think it certainly opened our eyes to some of the things we don’t think about and probably where we need to concentrate on,” council President Paul M. Rodrigues said. “We can’t do it alone. We have partners in the room and the School Department as well. It’s not always about the dollar. Sometimes it’s about shared collaboration and direction and communication.”
According to Knight’s report, there is a high level of “commitment and belief” in the public school system. Based on her findings, 93 percent of the school aged children are enrolled in the Town’s public school system, not private schools.
“This high level of trust for the town, its leadership, and services reverberates through the interviews and responses with both residents and service providers operating in this community,” Knight wrote.
She noted that access to preschool education and afterschool enrichment activities were the most frequently cited need from those polled during data collection.
Knight also found that Middletown is more educated than other cities and towns. She wrote that 52 percent of the adult population has a bachelor’s degree or more advanced college degree.
This was important because she said the education within the community can help meet existing employers’ workforce needs.
She also said there was a universal desire for the community to do better with its schools.
“[T]here is great energy among the people I interviewed, everyone communicates the belief that Middletown can do better to serve its children and families,” Knight wrote. “There were many good ideas shared and a desire to be connected to the next stage in this process; a trust that Middletown is capable of engaging a wider community to create a plan for expanding access to more supports, services and improving the lives of all children while being consciously inclusive of those most in need.”
Going further, she said Middletown offered a good number of services, but there were gaps too. She said a number of needs cited consistently among the 30 plus people she interviewed, transportation among them.
“This was an interesting project and there’s lot of information that Maryclaire shared along the way that I hadn’t thought about...” Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said. “There’s a systematic problem that we need to focus on.”
“The number of people that said ‘I’m not worried about myself, I’m worried about those that have less,’” Knight responded. “And I’m willing to give more and do more.”
Councilwoman Barbara A. VonVillas said she’d like to see extra help with academics be a focus of whatever Middletown opts to do.
“I am most concerned about the academic portion,” VonVillas said. “If kids are academically successful, a lot of the social, emotional and all the other issues that you have don’t exist. I’m not saying this is across the board.”
“It’s not just the students and families in the School Department,” Councilwoman Terri Flynn said. “We’re going to help the teachers get done what they need to get because of the learning loss, but also it could be available for those English Language Learning classes for those adults that are now starting to fill in our population. Who know what else? It’s really to be reactive to the community so everyone can reach a higher quality of life.”