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Several Rejected Options Resurface at School Advisory Committee Meeting

By Jarret Liotta

A closer examination of building options for next year gave the Board of Education’s (BOE) Community Advisory Committee (CAC) pause tonight to look closer at possible redistricting, as well as renewed consideration of a combined middle school at Bedford Middle School (BMS).

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CAC member Amie Peck (r) listens to co-subcommittee member Elena Caggiano talk about the reason that Option 6 — a townwide middle school — is back on the table. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

While it was withdrawn as an option at its last meeting, some CAC subcommittee members — who were looking into a staggered schedule at BMS for townwide grades 6-8 — brought to light a newly created nine-period schedule that would allow all 1,300 middle school students to attend simultaneously.

“It frees up the library and it frees up the auditorium,” said Elena Caggiano, with 41-minute periods — including 41-minute lunches — opening more classroom space for what would become a townwide middle school requiring no new construction.

As things currently stand with Coleytown Middle School (CMS) and BMS operating independently in the BMS building, some classes are very small, having as few as 12 students in them.

“They’re not evenly divided,” Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said. “What this does is smooth them out,” thus making better use of the space which by next year would include six portable classrooms as well.

Such a schedule was not originally implemented, as the relocation of CMS was thought to be temporary when it was moved to BMS, with the eighth grade currently housed at Staples High School.

Caggiano said BMS principal Adam Rosen, who was not at tonight’s meeting, noted it was viable to have the combined middle school, though he previously had not favored the option.

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Coleytown Elementary School PTA co-president Youn Su Chao shares that a specialized school solely for sixth grade students “is gaining a lot of traction among parents.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

“I think this is super cool and very interesting,” CAC member Lee Goldstein said, “but I think you left out a huge ‘con’ in that there’s 1,300 kids in this middle school,” along with more than 100 teachers.

One parent, Melissa Ligouri, described the scenario as “horrifying,” calling it “inhumane to ask students and teachers to function under those circumstances.”

Likewise, CAC member Liz Blasko, a former elementary school principal, was one of several people to question its wisdom.

“It’s one thing to be able to pragmatically schedule children … but is it the right thing to do?” she said.

“The one thing I hear from teachers is just that there’s too many kids,” she said. “It’s just too crowded at Bedford at this point.”

An anonymous survey of middle school teachers conducted by CAC member John Horrigan, co-president of the teachers’ union, found significant distress among middle school faculty members with the current situation, particularly due to lack of space, as well as abbreviated schedules.

CAC member Sue Calger shared thoughts on Option 9, which involved moving students from one elementary school into the other four, including using that opportunity to address redistricting at large.

“It hasn’t happened in 18 years and we have a huge imbalance in our elementary schools,” she said, noting the variance in class size, which could be corrected to bring parity.

“Maybe that’s the driver for doing something that’s so difficult to do,” said member Donald O’Day, calling Option 9 the most permanent solution.

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CAC member Sue Calger talks about the need to look seriously at redistricting as an option. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

“I think we should seize the day here, or consider seizing the day,” he said.

“Every option is redistricting,” said Goldstein, who noted it had been hard for her subcommittee to look closely at Option 8 — which involved renting a new facility for one or another grade level — because they had no information on any viable sites.

Blasko, who is retired from the New Canaan School District, said redistricting “was the most traumatic experience of my professional life,” though she noted the children handled it much better than the parents did.

“The parents struggle with it … The children are better,” she said, “but it’s very, very hard. It’s like being torn out of your family.”

Due to present to the BOE on Monday night, the CAC is hoping to meet beforehand to arrive at some consensus on one or more recommendations. They agreed that unanimous agreement would not be required for them to arrive as their recommendations.

“Our current schedule is for us hopefully to make our decision on the 10th,” said BOE Chairman Mark Mathias, noting that the CAC would be invited to return at the beginning of that meeting as well to add updates to its recommendations as more information becomes available.

“Ideally if you can rank all of the recommendations, that’s great,” said BOE member Vik Muktavaram.

“From my standpoint I don’t think you should feel pressured to come back with one recommendation,” he said.

“From a Board of Ed perspective, we’ll still have to consider a lot of other factors,” he said.

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