Superintendent Offers Update On Coleytown Middle School

This afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Colleen Palmer emailed the families of all Westport students. The topic: the current and future status of Coleytown Middle School, closed earlier this fall due to mold. She wrote:

Fourteen days into our new school year, I made the decision to relocate our students and staff from CMS to another facility for what I believed to be approximately a month. As events unfolded, that decision not to return to the CMS facility expanded to the entire school year.

Now, the district and town will be faced with the next steps in either remediating this school or choosing to invest differently in the future of this district.

There is nothing more sacred to any community than its school district; the quality of the educational process reflects the values of its citizens. Westport has never wavered from its commitment to a world-class system, and any next steps should encompass this belief as its foundational value.

As we move through the next steps of clarifying the future direction, it is imperative that all stakeholders feel assured that any process will be inclusive of our community. We could never have the best outcome for our children’s education if we did not work together to determine that pathway.

Coleytown Middle School

Below I have listed some key information to bring everyone up to date:

What do we know right now and what are the decisions ahead?

·       The District has made a formal application for the right to install 6 modular classrooms at BMS and 2 at SHS through the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).  Working with our middle school administration, and James D’Amico and AJ Scheetz, they have determined that we can work through this year and provide science access for the 8th grade students without adding modular classrooms at SHS.

When we go before the ZBA, we only request for the permission to add modulars to SHS as a back-up for future needs, but we will not order the modulars for SHS now. We expect the request to the ZBA to be for a period of 3 years – again, this is permission to put modular classrooms there, we don’t need to have them for 3 years or we may never need them at SHS. It is a complicated and costly process to go to ZBA, and asking for possible needs of the future makes sense now.

·       The 6 BMS modular classrooms (assuming we get all the Town approvals ASAP) should be installed in January 2019. All town officials have been working in every way possible to assist our efforts, which has been so very helpful to move the approval process along.

·        A revised schedule of classes was put in place this week for our middle schools to ensure no teacher has only a few minutes between classes to get to another school to start teaching again and to better use the classroom space.

·       New lockers for CMS students will be installed next week at BMS.

·       The town attorney provided an opinion to us that we cannot seek to have a cover installed over any of our athletic fields at BMS given the various agreements that are in place with neighbors of the school property. We will not pursue the cover for the field based on this information. The new schedule at BMS limits PE classes to 6 at any given time, which can be accommodated with current gym/fitness space and the cafeteria for low-impact activities (non-lunch times.)

·       The architectural firm will provide a comprehensive update of the CMS facility at the BoE meeting on Monday, November 5, at 7:30 p.m. We expect that they will provide a complete update of what it would take to remediate the school, as well as the cost to build a new one. Given the extensive problems already identified with the preliminary engineering reports posted on the CMS website, we anticipate hearing that we will be out of the CMS facility through all of next year as well, no matter if the BoE/Town opt to repair the school or go another direction.

Bedford Middle School

What does it mean if we find out we cannot use the CMS facility for the 2019-20 school year?

·       We will need to plan to house our students next year with our 7 facilities and perhaps some modulars and/or rented space.

·       We have a RFP out to identify a realtor in the next week or so to assist with our search for real estate that we could rent.

·       There are a multitude of ways that we could house our district next year, and each approach will be vetted for feasibility/effectiveness. As we review various ideas for housing students, we will consider the ability to deliver the educational program in the space provided, transportation, disruption to students/family/ district, cost, and any other relevant factors that impact how we serve our students and families.

·       There are plenty of rumors, but some of the approaches we are considering include renting space for the entire CMS school, renting space for part of CMS, moving grade 6 back to the elementary schools (in various configurations) with BMS holding all grade 7/8, renting space for preschool and kindergarten and using elementary for grades 1-6 with BMS 7/8.

As you can imagine, almost any way we can look at next year is being considered. While double sessions at BMS would be an option, there are numerous ways this would undermine the delivery of the educational program with a shortened day and there would be significant disruption to students and staff with the morning session from 7:00 a.m. to noon and the afternoon session from 12:40 p.m. to 5:40 p.m.

At this time, we do not have plans to house other students at SHS next year.  It is our goal to maintain SHS solely for 9-12, but we cannot guarantee at this time until the final plan for next year is completed.

Staples High School (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

·       We are in the midst of creating a budget for 2019-20, and I am responsible for a complete budget proposal to the BoE for 2019-20 in January 2019, about 9 weeks from now. Needing to build the budget for the Town approval process will put added pressure on the district to decide how we will structure ourselves next year as soon as possible.

We plan to bring forth the most promising proposals for next year in the next few weeks so the Board may weigh in on these as soon as possible. We will also create opportunities for families and staff to help give us feedback on options for next year as well before a decision is made by the BoE for 2019-2020.

Where are we going long-term, beyond 2019-2020?

·       Once the BoE/town officials have all the numbers of the cost of remediation, the decision needs to be made whether to repair or not. If the decision is made not to remediate, it would be appropriate that the district would contract to have all of its facilities assessed for future educational use in terms of the capacity of each school, educational use of the school, upgrades or repairs required, and other relevant facilities information on each structure.

We may not have an answer to any long-term direction of space usage right away if the district/town do not repair the school.  Most likely that would be require a period of months to determine, with opportunities for all parents and citizens to have a voice in the process.

What will be the process for inclusion of all stakeholders if the district/town determine CMS facility should not be remediated and other options should be considered?

·       The Board of Education and the administration have worked to be fully transparent in all decisions and work thus far as the district has grappled with the very unexpected closure of one of our middle schools in the midst of a school year. Key documents and reports have all been posted online, either at the CMS website or on the District website where all Board meetings agendas, minutes, and videos of meetings are maintained.

·       The Board of Education has made a public pledge to ensure an inclusive process with all stakeholders if the CMS facility is not remediated and next steps for the future of the District are on the table. Until that decision is made regarding the future of CMS, it has been premature to articulate a definitive planning approach for the future. If and when the decision would be made not to save CMS, the Board would act accordingly to invite the voices of all stakeholders.

What are the current conditions for our middle school students?

·       First and foremost, if you have any specific concerns regarding your own student, please contact the respective principal directly to discuss. Both Dr. Rosen and Ms. Szabo welcome hearing from parents to assist in any way. If it is just an issue related to a specific course, it is best to start the conversation at the teacher level.

However, if you have any concerns, let us know. Our team of professionals is eager to work with you to resolve any lingering issues from the shift in facilities this year. We take care of our students one child at a time, and will remain focused on concerns until they are resolved in the best interests of each child.

·       The instructional program remains of high quality to all students – teaching and learning are ongoing and our professionals are placing the needs of students as their top priority of their professional work.

·       Have there been some adjustments to space and time? Yes, but the integrity of the educational program continues.

·       Have there been some adjustments with clubs and activities? There have been a few adjustments, but not significant. Both Dr. Rosen and Ms. Szabo will participate in the update of our middle schools at the BoE meeting on November 5. They will personally speak to these issues and how they have creatively addressed some pressure points.

18 responses to “Superintendent Offers Update On Coleytown Middle School

  1. J.W. Kaempfer, Jr

    What is going on with the mold problem for God’s sake?????

  2. Anyone else read this as preparing the community for the possibility that CES may need to be rebuilt from the ground up?

  3. Why has the ZBA not expedited the hearing process for approving modular classrooms? That it has been two months since the closing of a major school and the district does not yet have even approval to order portable classroom space (let alone construct and get them ready for use before winter conditions make the process even more costly) says a lot about how the ZBA prioritizes children in our district. I hope the city can find ways to motivate the ZBA to expedite hearings and approvals. Five months is an unnecessarily long time when schoolchildren must be immediately and unexpectedly educated in alternative spaces, and I would expect better of Westport.

    • The ZBA and all of the town bodies have repeatedly expressed their willingness to expedite and support the needed processes. At this time, our school administrators are creating the required documents to present to the ZBA for their approval. This includes the specifications for the portable classrooms such as dimensions and placement, electrical connections, security and more. This requires the input of not only our administrators and staff but vendors, engineers and others, all of whom we have indicated the importance of this project and who are making good progress.

      Once we have a complete package for the ZBA to review, we will present it to them.

      In the meantime, we are concerning ourselves with the safe operation of our schools and ensuring that the students are receiving quality education.

      As Dr. Palmer indicated, we are also creating plans for the future that includes numerous options so we can move quickly as new information makes some options more attractive.

      We thank the community for their thoughtful comments and support of our students, staff and administrators.

      – Mark Mathias, Chair, Westport Public Schools Board of Education (and the father of a student at Bedford Middle School)

      • Mark, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I’m still surprised at the lengthy process, having compared it mentally to other districts who have faced overwhelming disaster such as fires and hurricanes. They have been able to do similar evaluations and approvals for placement, all while under extreme stress with a community-wide disaster, in shorter duration of time.

        I agree that Dr. Rosen and the CMS principal and the students at both schools are doing an incredible job with the unexpected turn of events thus school year. I am also the parent of a child at BMS, and the biggest kudos have to be given to the resiliency and kindness of the student bodies, along with the teachers and administrators who taught them these skills. It makes me proud to see most kids doing so well with what is a difficult year.

        I’m also someone who watched online as my former high school burned down in the 2017 Northern CA fires. And then celebrated as the school reopened weeks later with a field of modular classrooms. All while many teachers and administrators and students were trying to find their own temporary housing after losing their homes. Thus, it’s surprising to see our comparatively well-off district struggling to get even a plan for approvals before the next step of ordering and placement can begin. I have to think there must be a more expedited process.

        Thank you and the rest of the board for the countless hours you are putting in on a voluntary basis. I look forward to hearing ways in which parents and the community at large can assist with next steps.

      • Having a scientific background, I have to ask what degree of confidence do we have in long term remediation of mold growth?
        Do we understand the root cause of mold in this particular building?
        I am not convinced we have dug that deep!

      • Mark-thank you!! I will continue to hope that you move quickly on a major renovation or building of a new school. Having watched the debacle at Kings Highway where costs grew quickly, sometimes you just have to start all over.

        Thanks to you and to the Board. You volunteer for these roles and I am sure this is not easy.

        Bart

  4. Robert Harrington

    This are helpful and informative comments. I think the superindent has done a good job with a difficult hand. The issue of mold was here long before she came to town.

    It does seem the community is being prepared for a school that won’t reopen in Aug 2019 – and potentially much longer. The administration and BOE have their hands full.

    In early 2019 time the biggest industrial project in Westport in a generation is likely to start – the deforestation of the Aquarion Water site – and the construction of 2x 30ft plus high – and over 100ft wide water concrete tanks. Trucks / blasting / concrete pouring for 2 years plus right opposite an overcrowded school and an over crowded North Avenue.

    This is so much for BOE to take on. They work exceptionally hard. But it’s not premature to set up a town wide committee now. This must happen.

  5. AS A WESTPORT RESIDENT SINCE 1956 WHO HAS NEVER HAD A CHILD IN OUR SCHOOL SYSTEMS IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THE MOST EXPEDITIOUS SOLUTION IS TO TEAR DOWN THE CURRENT MOLDED STRUCTURE AND BUILD AN ENTIRELY NEW FACILITY. EXPEDITING SUCH A SOLUTION SHOULD RESULT IN A NEW FACILITY BEING AVAILABLE IN THE SPRING. IN THE INTERIM A SPECIAL MANDATE COULD BE ISSUED ALLOWING MODULA UNITS TO BE PLACED ON SPORTS FIELDS AND PARKING LOTS. WITH THE COMPLETION OF THE NEW BUILDING IN THE SPRING THE SPORTS FIELDS WILL RETURN TO USE. THE FUNDS FOR ALL OF THIS COULD BE MADE AVAILABLE VIA MUNICIPAL BOND AND NOTE. I AM NOT FAMILIAR WITH AVAILABILITY OF STATE AND FEDERAL FUNDS. WOULD BE INTERESTED IN YOUR RESPONSES. THANK YOU.

    • First please stop SHOUTING. Second, how do you possibly think the structure could be knocked down and rebuilt in a few months?! Holy moly.

      • Caryl is not shouting. She has vision problems. Capital letters make it easier for her to see what she’s typed.

      • SORRY FOR SHOUTING. I HAVE VERY POOR VISION. THAT’S WHY I USE CAPITALS. I’LL TRY LOWER CASE BOLD. Lower case bold. Doesn’t work. Sorry. RE TIME TO TEAR DOWN AND REBUILD, IF ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE EMPLOYED I THINK 5-6 MONTHS IS VIABLE . . . YOU REALLY THINK I’M BEATING A DEAD HORSE?

        • Perhaps if funding was secured, plans were already drawn up, everything agreed, materials on order, labor secured, and demolition starting right now, it might be possible. After all skyscrapers go up quick now. But the problem is funding is not secured, plans aren’t drawn up, nothing is agreed, materials aren’t ordered, labor is not secured, and demolition is not starting.a

    • Yea the Spring of 202X?

  6. My sympathy goes out to the CMS students, teachers and parents caught up in this mess. I’ve had three kids go through the Westport school system and two of them attended CMS back in the day. And while indeed much worse things happen to schools in this world today, this still sounds pretty awful. It upsets me just hearing about it, and if my kids were still there, I’d be furious. In fairness to Dr. Palmer, the root of the problem does obviously predate her arrival, and it’s hard to imagine a relatively new superintendent suddenly having to cope with anything much worse.

    Nonetheless, I find this letter painful to read. I don’t mean this as a criticism of her so much as an expression of frustration with bureaucracies in general and the difficulty their representatives often have in speaking directly about issues. Complex problems never have simple solutions, but circumlocution impedes forward progress.

    There has to have been something wrong with either the construction of this building or the inspection protocols. Either way, as someone already said, it seems that a community as well-off as our own should be doing better.

  7. Dear Superintendent, How was mold found in the school? Have all of our Westport schools been checked for mold? Thank you.Joel Freedman  Westport resident

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