Friday, June 02, 2023


BOE Wants More Info Before Deciding District’s Future Face

By Jarret Liotta

The Westport Board of Education (BOE) remains far from deciding what changes — if any — regarding building utilization and redistricting it intends to approve following last September’s health-related closure of Coleytown Middle School (CMS). Image
Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said after Monday night’s meeting he is “definitely not” going to put his hat in for consideration for the superintendent of schools position. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for

Monday night the board unanimously sanctioned a list of general upgrades to CMS, which it hopes the CMS Building Committee can incorporate into its renovation project as the town works to get the school back in operation by August 2020.

The board remains stymied, however, over whether redistricting should take place to balance the elementary schools and/or the middle schools, or whether the CMS building might even best serve the town as a sixth grade “academy.”

With a new superintendent of schools officially needed by July 1 to replace Colleen Palmer — who is out indefinitely on a family leave — some BOE members said there were already enough issues facing them without having to implement an entirely new school configuration.

“I’m not sure it’s where our energies should be spent now,” said member Neil Phillips. He said his initial consideration of a sixth grade academy “was probably not in the best light,” but in reaction to the initial CMS crisis and closure.

“The redistricting seems to be, for me, more of import right now,” he said, particularly to help bring higher numbers to a six-eight CMS in order to make two teaching teams there more viable.

Other members specified that community response had largely spoken in favor of CMS remaining a six-eight school.

“I’ve certainly heard from the community what I think is a very strong interest in a six-eight middle school,” member Elaine Whitney said. Image
Don O’Day, chairman of the CMS Building Committee, addresses questions at the Board of Education meeting Monday night. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for

Yet whether it is even the right time for redistricting the elementary schools or, potentially, changing which elementary schools “feed” into which middle schools in order to balance the numbers, remains a question for some members.

“Is it even the right time to do the redistricting?” asked member Vik Muktavaram, also noting that even if a new superintendent is found quickly, he did not believe the six-eight model should be changed at this time.

Yet the conversation continues. The BOE intends to invite in the principal of the Glastonbury-based Gideon Welles School — a sixth grade academy that some Westport teachers, administrators and BOE member visited earlier this year — to talk and answer questions, along with Westport teachers who visited it, likely at the April 22 BOE meeting.

Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, reviewed some scenarios for CMS usage, including some redistricting concepts.

Buono explained that these various scenarios were conceptual and that the BOE could craft its own variations.

He said, however, that the consultants maintain that it was not possible to redistrict both for balance at the elementary and middle schools simultaneously.

At the BOE’s behest, however, Buono is going back to the consultant to see if a new, hybrid option is possible.

The consultant will likely be asked to appear at another meeting in order to answer more questions. Image
At Monday night’s meeting, an empty seat remained where outgoing Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer usually sat. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta or

BOE members also suggested it wanted more public feedback regarding CMS usage, and one member — Candice Savin — even suggested doing a BOE meeting that would consist only of public comment.

Member Karen Kleine noted that she did not like the idea of redistricting “around the edges,” with potentially small numbers of kids being sent to another elementary school.

“I think we have to be very cognizant of the amount of change that’s taking place,” Buono said in response to board questions about different options and where the district should draw the line for new things.

Buono said after the meeting that he was “definitely not” interested in being considered for the top spot in the district.

Don O’Day, chairman of the CMS Building Committee, told the BOE that, while he recognized the value and importance of the many upgrades it is requesting to CMS, they have to be prioritized in order to maintain the strict timeline to see the school reopened by August 2020.

“We will probably need additional architectural work to look at some of these things,” he said, which might push the timeline back.

“There shouldn’t be a single thing that we do on this list,” he said — which includes upgrades to the science labs and library — “that would put August of 2020 at risk, unless we absolutely have to have it.”

BOE members expressed concerns that the rejuvenated facility be as comparable to Bedford Middle School as possible, however, and urged the incorporation of as many items as possible.

“I would suggest that their agenda is already extremely full,” resident Elise Russi said, commending the committee on its work.

“We have always talked about a phased approach,” she said, noting the community felt it was most important to meet the deadline to see the school open on time.

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