By Jarret Liotta
Potential redistricting models could help encourage the creation and development of a townwide “sixth grade academy” at Coleytown Middle School (CMS), the Board of Education (BOE) heard tonight.
Board of Education member Vik Muktavaram, who spoke in favor of creating a “grade six academy” at Coleytown Middle School, listens to consultants. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com
Over the next several weeks the BOE will conduct private and public research to determine if it wants to propose undertaking renovation work at now-shuttered CMS with that goal in mind.
“Determining the use of that building as part of the educational strategy is critical,” Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said.
Some possible redistricting options were heard at the BOE meeting based on the question of whether Westport’s eight school buildings — in particular the five elementary buildings — are adequate in relation to enrollment projections, or at least being used efficiently.
Milone & MacBroom, a Cheshire-based consulting firm that has done several projects for the district, drew up nine different scenarios regarding school space utilization in conjunction with its own enrollment projections for the next 10 years.
While Michael Zuba, associate director of planning, said there would be “slight growth” in the elementary grades in the next few years, overall the projections are “remarkably stable,” and will remain under 2,250 at the elementary grades for the next five years, just hitting 2,319 in 2028-29.
Current K-5 enrollment is 2,228.
Overall enrollment, currently at 5,369, will dip down to as low as 5,074 in 2026-27, however, before starting to rise again, he forecast.
“You have plenty of capacity to be able to operate,” Zuba said, He added that even at the status quo each of the elementary schools should have “sufficient capacity to operate as you’ve been operating.”
Likewise, he said, there was sufficient space at CMS to house a separate sixth grade school.
Bedford Middle School (BMS), which has an official capacity of 800, he said, would rise slightly at first with all of grades seven and eight placed there, but would then dip and maintain at about that number according to projections.
Consultant Pat Gallagher presented details on various scenarios for new space utilization, including closing either Coleytown Elementary School (CES) or Greens Farms School (GFS), but moving the Stepping Stones Preschool program to a separate dedicated building.
Among the most effective and viable scenarios, he said, to largely balance the five elementary schools in terms of population, was to move the preschool from CES to Long Lots School (LLS).
This option, which he called Scenario 8, would bring each elementary to between 82-86 percent capacity and require that only 7 percent of the students be redistricted, as opposed to other scenarios which included moving up to 25 percent of the student population in Westport.
“It seems like in Scenario 8 … it would make the systems at the elementary schools much more efficient in terms of space,” said BOE member Vik Muktavaram.
He added that the take-away from the research was that the district was “perhaps not using the buildings as efficiently as we can.”
“I see several advantages in going to a grade six academy,” he said, noting it would create parity, could augment curriculum goals, and might prove more flexible in terms of building usage in the future.
“I think there are strong incentives to move in that direction,” Muktavaram said, asking the consultant to come back with a hybrid option that would involve moving the preschool to LLS and creating a sixth grade school at CMS.
BOE member Candice Savin, meanwhile, on behalf of the BOE’s Teaching and Learning Committee, presented plans for some in-depth research that will help determine if that’s where Westport wants to go.
She shared details on what she said is a three-part plan to examine “how we might envision world-class middle school education in Westport,” she said.
Having already engaged an expert to give an upcoming presentation to the BOE on current educational research regarding middle school education, they will also be seeking extensive feedback from both Westport educators and parents.
“We are preparing a survey that will go out to parents,” Savin said, planned for next week.
She said it included the opportunity for them to detail their thoughts, and would ultimately be summarized in a report to the BOE.
Likewise, Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, will conduct “focus groups” among the middle school teachers and administrators, and summarize his findings in a report to the board.