Last fall, Coleytown Middle School was closed due to mold. Those 6th and 7th graders were moved to Bedford Middle School, and 8th graders to Staples High, for the remainder of the school year.
In December the Board of Education endorsed a plan for all 6th grade students to be educated in Westport’s elementary schools, starting with the 2019-20 academic year. The plan included placing 14 modular classrooms at those 5 elementary schools. To implement this “K-6 plan,” the BOE requested $4 million from the town.
On February 7 the Board of Finance voted 7-0 to authorize $1 million, to place 6 temporary modular classrooms at Bedford Middle School. All Westport 6th to 8th grade students would be educated there, on an interim basis (the “6-8 plan”). The following night, the Representative Town Meeting voted 28-3 to confirm the Board of Finance’s $1 million appropriation recommendation.
In the wake of the RTM vote, the Board of Ed sent a letter to all Westport families. They pledged to move forward, reiterating their commitment to “continuing to deliver the high quality education that our students and community deserve.”
The Board of Ed thanked “the many community members who participated in this process for their engagement and insights, and to the members of the funding bodies and boards for their time and diligence. We could not have done this without our superintendent, school administrators, teachers and staff who will continue to deliver the superb academic programs that are a hallmark of Westport schools.”
Some residents favored the K-6 plan. Others supported the 6-8 plan. Some issues remain unresolved, such as whether Coleytown Middle School can be reopened, and if so when. Passions are high on all sides.
“06880” reader Gery Grove writes:
I grew up in Washington, D.C., surrounded by politics. Yet in my 6 years in Westport, which began when my oldest daughter was ready to enter kindergarten, I did not take much time to follow our local political process. As for so many, this changed drastically when our schools faced a crisis.
Accidentally and very hesitantly, I became many people’s “poster girl for K-6.” Make no mistake: I never wanted anything for my 5th grade daughter other than for her to move to Coleytown Middle School. She was excited to say goodbye to elementary school and spread her wings; to try new classes and be in the school play. Like any parent observing the changes in their oldest child, I wanted that just as much as anyone here in this town did. And then the school closed.
My support of the 6th grade staying in the elementary school has been in lockstep with the Board of Ed’s suggestion that it is the emotionally safest place for them to be in a crisis. I am a pediatric RN who has worked in this town, and in many schools with many children and families. If your child is 7 now, there is a chance I gave him or her their earliest vaccinations. I have been looking out for them and seeking to do no harm since I arrived here.
The ages of 10-14 are some of the most sacred and precarious ages. I believe kids need a protected experience during that time to properly learn and flourish. Yes, they need independence, but in a safe and nurturing learning space.
From my personal point of view, this gigantic school we just created for them will struggle to do that. The mission of the parents going into that school must find ways to support those who will surely need it. “Kids are resilient” was stated over and over again by members of our town funding bodies. Indeed, some kids are resilient. And some struggle to kick to the surface.
The political process that unfurled in front of all of us, and much of the behind- the-scenes posturing and tribalism, has made us “a town divided.” In any crisis where 2 paths unfold and you don’t know which leads you to the greatest peril, there will be a difference of opinion.
But respect for each side’s point of view helps people navigate that path together. Heartbreakingly for many of us, that is not what happened here. How in the world did people allow the future of their neighbors’ and friends’ children to become an opportunity for brinksmanship? And how in the world did members of our funding bodies allow themselves to fall into the trap of choosing sides?
I received a respectful and thoughtful call from a member of the RTM in a neighboring district this weekend. She took time to explain the votes of the funding bodies to me in incredible detail, including the way precedent had been set here in town, and how the 4-3 BOE vote set the wheels of doubt in motion.
I explained to her that if the members of the BOF had taken the time to present their position differently – not about what is best for anyone else’s 6th grade child as so many did, but what is operationally most feasible for the town to execute, and the most sensible way to allocate funds – then surely the pitchforks would have been lowered.
We all liked a 6th grade academy. But when a rational argument was placed before us about why it was not feasible, we swallowed the bitter pill that our options were reduced yet again.
Now many of us have to enter this school. We are concerned for our kids. We feel like it is an experiment with a very uncertain outcome. We are wary of the way this has come together and what culture it will create for them, on top of the stresses of middle school.
There is a rough undercurrent created when people in town, including elected officials, look at this experience as having winners and losers. In the end, the only people who stand to lose out with that idea are the children. I hope that between now and August, the administration, the BOE and the funding bodies can work together to make sure that school is emotionally and socially safe for the children inside it.
There is still work to do. Like so many, I can only hope that the waves that have been made during this school year can reduce themselves to the gentle swells of everyday life again.
Let us learn from our mistakes as a community, as we decide what to do next with Coleytown Middle School.