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Public Pleads with BOE to Keep Focus on CMS

By Jarret Liotta

Parents expressed frustration at Monday night’s Board of Education (BOE) meeting with attempts to tie redistricting and building utilization issues to the Coleytown Middle School (CMS) crisis.

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Sandra Krenzer, co-president of the Long Lots School PTA, tells the Board of Education, “The community is exhausted.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

Some PTA representatives and parents urged the board to keep the focus on restoring what was.

Other issues, including the search for a new Superintendent of Schools, Staples High School principal, and investigating reported discontent among other school administrators, were also cited as things for the BOE to deal with before embarking on new items, related or not.

“The community is exhausted,” said Sandra Krenzer, PTA co-president at Long Lots School.

Comments followed both a presentation by staff of a successfully operating sixth-grade school in Glastonbury, and new redistricting scenarios presented by a school consultant.

“The time is not now,” Krenzer said. “Give our town, our friends, and our community time to heal.”

“You cannot make a rationale decision that is not tainted by emotional distress at this time,” she said.

“Believe it or not, I think we can do more than one thing at once,” said BOE member Candice Savin, who has spearheaded gathering information for the board on CMS utilization questions.

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Member Candice Savin defends the Board of Education’s process in looking into redistricting and building usage, asking the public to “get behind something, rather than just tearing it all down.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

While she concurred it does not have to be rushed if it is going to happen — and acknowledged that questions remained of how much the town was even going to be willing to fund to rejuvenate CMS — Savin still expressed some consternation over the response.

“I’d love it if people get behind something rather than just tearing it all down,” she said.

“CMS is still a big question mark,” said BOE member Neil Phillips, noting that his top priority was to get a new superintendent of schools in place, even for an interim year.

“I think it’s not wrong to have that conversation,” he said of redistricting, but noted finding a replacement for Colleen Palmer, the former superintendent, “needs to be where our focus is first and foremost.”

“We’ve waited for 18 years,” parent Robert Harrington said of redistricting. “Do you really need to get it done in the next two months?”

Several parents expressed concerns about the data being used by the consultant Milone & MacBroom to craft what are now 14 separate scenarios to level populations at the elementary and middle schools to help foster parity.

Following this second follow-up presentation to the BOE, consultants admitted they still could not give more details on long-term numbers as they would play out for certain scenarios without going more in-depth.

Consultant Mike Zuma said that to just get the 10-year projections for one of the scenarios they have presented would take three or four weeks.

“These are intended to just be conversation starters,” he said, noting the BOE should give them more “guiding criteria” in order for them to know which of the scenarios they should devote additional time to exploring.

“What I’m looking for is a redistricting model that will stand the test of time and at least keep two teams at each middle school,” Savin said. “It seems like that might not exist.”

“If we did not balance it correctly, we would end up with the same situation we’re trying to prevent,” said Anthony Buono, acting superintendent, given projected declining enrollment.

“I think those are the kinds of things we have to begin looking at more carefully,” he said.

BOE member Vik Muktavaram, who expressed confusion at the myriad variations in the scenarios, said the cart was being put before the horse in terms of what is best for the district.

“We’re letting the scenarios dictate our approach,” he said, instead of first deciding on what constraints they want to put in place.

“If the board is trying to be efficient … I think the most efficient model out there is a grade six academy,” he said.

Toward that end, six staff members of the Gideon Welles School shared their experiences and enthusiasm for a grade-six school model, including principal Kent Hurlburt.

“I feel like if you have the space … you should try it,” he said, recounting a range of social, emotional and even academic advantages that have come to Glastonbury by housing its entire 472-student grade six population in one dedicated building since the 1970s.

“We firmly believe that a sixth grader is different from any other,” he said, developmentally, and that not having competitive or psychological interference from grades seven and eight afford them many growth opportunities.

“It’s really a safe kind of place and time for our students,” said assistant principal Kim Herwerth, noting that a large percentage of students and parents alike describe the year as their best experience in the school system.

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