McGowan Off the Mark on Mt. Pleasant: An Update on Mt. Pleasant High School  

by David Salzillo Jr. '24 on November 9, 2023
Opinion Staff


For the full version of this article, please see my Substack, called “Salzillo’s Two Cents.”   

It is now Sept. 30, and still no word from the Providence School District on the future of Mount Pleasant High School. 

There is a word, however, from Boston Globereporter and columnist Dan McGowan. Just about a week ago, he published a column titled “Putting bricks before kids in Providence.” I can only hope that he is not acting as an unofficial spokesman/propagandist for the PSD.  

He seems to be promoting “talk of building a brand-new Mt. Pleasant High School on the other side of town,” (emphasis mine). Unfortunately, McGowan fails to ask even basic questions about such a proposal. McGowan couples this failure with criticism of the “tone-deaf” Providence Preservation Society. According to him, their desire to preserve a historically significant landmark is a “meltdown” that completely disregards “the students who learn in that deathtrap of a building,” (emphasis mine). 

“Deathtrap of a building”? If Mt. Pleasant is a deathtrap, then so are almost all the other Providence public school buildings—like I’ve said before, Classical High School is Exhibit A. McGowan at one point asks whether those in the “bricks-before-kids movement” “would be caught dead sending their children to Mt. Pleasant High School.” “[B]ut, boy,” he says, “it sure would make a great location for the preservation society’s annual winter bash, amirite?” 

What is this? Dan McGowan’s practice run for his new lounge club act? Would they rather send their kids to Classical where a whole ceiling tile fell and almost hit students on the head? Sure, Mt. Pleasant has “black fencing” surrounding the front of the school on the “chance of bricks [falling] on children and teachers before they make it to first period,” (emphasis mine). Yet at Classical, we did not deal in chances; we dealt in realities. 

Without minimizing Mt. Pleasant’s brick problem, it does not warrant wholesale demolition. It should instead compel education officials to fix the solvable structural problems they failed to correct for years. So, by McGowan’s interesting logic, why not take a wrecking ball to almost every single Providence public school building? 

McGowan does seemingly try to offer an answer to that question. He notes that “a report released by Providence school officials last year found that Mount Pleasant needs $151 million in basic repairs,” (emphasis mine), referring to the 2022 Downes Construction Report.The earlier 2017 Jacobs’ Report pegged costs at $31 million, not $151 million. 

Now, at the Mt. Pleasant community meetings, the PSD did attempt to explain away the difference. But their claim was that it was to ensure the building met “21st-century learning standards.” Mr. McGowan is incorrect, even by the PSD’s subpar transparency standards.   

Speaking of that, why Mr. McGowan never mentioned the PSD’s consistent history of obfuscation and lack of transparency is beyond me. As my previous article on Mt. Pleasant observes, that is the crux of the controversy. What happened to reporters seeking out “the whole story?” Wouldn’t the PSD have made a better and more appropriate target than the Providence Preservation Society?  

But I digress. Mr. McGowan finally points to a lack of Mt. Pleasant pride. Yet the “heartbreaking student outcomes” he mentions are all systemic problems. The neglect of buildings is part of a greater neglect. One could trace it to the Reagan era’s disparagement of public education, moneyed interest’s promotion of charter schools with questionable outcomes, the failure to pay public school teachers properly for the work they do, and the prioritization of public schools with higher test scores (like Classical) over other public schools (like Mt. Pleasant). 

That Mt. Pleasant is the target of demolition rumors and not Classical is no coincidence. It is the product of—not the solution to—these systemic problems. It is a product of its disregard for low-income public-school students, much like the district’s decision to close Alan Shawn Feinstein Elementary School without any community input or even basic transparency was. But why should our local politicians and educational leadership do the hard work of transforming our educational priorities when they can simply wash their hands of the matter altogether? 

It’s worked before. And with people like Mr. McGowan helping them, it might work again.