[OPINION] Danielle Dobin: A Vision For Westport Middle School Education

Danielle Dobin is the mother of a Staples High School 9th grader and a Bedford Middle School 6th grader, and vice chair of Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission. Like many Westporters, she has followed the debate over the future of our middle schools — begun a year ago, when mold caused the closure of Coleytown — with great interest.

School district officials, the Boards of Education and Finance, and a special committee are moving ahead with plans to renovate CMS, and reopen it next fall. However, Dobin says, that may not be the right move. She writes:

While the closure of Coleytown Middle School has been a challenge for our community, we can turn it into an opportunity. We can create a modern and innovative middle school that delivers excellent education to all students.

Right now, we are on a path to spend $32 million (minimum) to renovate CMS.  But many in town question that path. They wonder about the wisdom of revamping a building designed by the standards of 1965. They are beginning to see the demographic challenges of running 2 middle schools with declining enrollment. Most importantly, they are beginning to question the rush to get back into CMS without carefully considering all options.

Coleytown Middle School is closed due to mold. Right now, it is set to reopen next fall.

It’s time to pause, and review all the new data and information at our disposal.  It is time to finally have the kind of community conversation a decision of this importance demands.

I want to be clear for those who are only now engaged in this process: When CMS closed, there was no thoughtful discussion — much less a town-wide debate — about what kind of middle school structure would best serve the needs of 21st century education in Westport.

Other important matters like the Downtown Plan and Saugatuck Transit-Oriented Development involved meaningful public outreach and various charettes, surveys and meetings to gauge public opinion. There was nothing like that last year.

Timing (“get CMS back as quickly as possible”) was prioritized over thoughtful consideration of all options available to us. The Board of Education did begin a process to explore options, but this was quickly circumvented. As a result, we did not plan for the future. We simply opted to re-create the past.

So what has changed?

First, let’s recognize that we have time to develop a thoughtful solution. Middle school at Bedford is working well. With the improvements of additional teaching and office spaces, a 9-period day and a merged student population, students are thriving.

We are no longer in the time crunch we thought we were in. We have the flexibility to take the time necessary to decide the best path forward in terms of design, budget and vision.

Bedford Middle School currently houses every 6th, 7th and 8th grader in town.

Second, as is becoming increasingly obvious, our demographics no longer easily support the choice to maintain 2 middle schools. Moreover, the work of the Board of Ed and the many maps circulated by their demographer make clear that while some redistricting plans may create parity in the middle schools in terms of balanced enrollment, it comes at great cost to our elementary schools.

At the elementary school level, these plans create immense disruption. They lead to dramatic under- and over-utilization of various schools. No simple re-balancing solution on the table achieves all of the criteria set forth by the Board of Education.

This was not understood by most residents — or even many elected officials — until quite recently.

Third, the CMS Taskforce under the strong leadership of Don O’Day has done a fine job of researching the cost to repair CMS and managing a complicated process. My call to rethink our path is in no way a criticism of their important work.

In fact, they can concurrently continue their process while as a town we mull whether we want to actually repair CMS.

Construction has not yet begun at CMS, so sunk costs are minimal. Before we decide as a town that we want to spend millions of dollars repairing a circa-1965 building, let’s confirm that the cost will be limited to $32 million.

Let’s also figure out our tipping point. What if the cost to repair is $35 million. What if it’s $45 million?

I propose we take advantage of all the new information, and reconsider the path we are taking. Let’s take a thoughtful look at all the options: continuing on the current path, building a new state-of-the-art middle school, or creating one spectacular unified middle school for the entire district.

One unified middle school campus — with an addition designed in concert with our educators and administrators — has many advantages:

1. Every middle school student will be educated in a modern space, thoughtfully designed for the team-teaching method and reflective of our needs in 2020 and beyond.

2. A unified middle school will drive all our resources to a centralized campus, where our talented educators can collaborate and innovate across grade cohorts and areas of study.

3. A unified middle school will resolve our demographic issues for a long time, without a disruptive redistricting to achieve the optimal balance.

4. We can look as a community to the current CMS site to create a resource for all our schools: a modern computer lab to provide for coding and programming classes, a science lab for our Science Olympians, and indoor fields for our athletes.  We can dream big.

The Planning & Zoning Commission invites every stakeholder to a special planning session to discuss this important topic on October 22 (7 p.m., Town Hall).

Public comment from all Westport residents is welcome and encouraged. If you want to leave a written comment, please comment here — in the sunlight where everyone can see — and not on private Facebook groups that have segmented us into elementary school parents, middle school parents and everyone else. (Click “Comments” below — and use full, real names.)

The P&Z staff will ensure that every comment left on this public forum is included in the public record. Whether you favor a unified middle school, a newly built state-of-the-art CMS or a rehabbed CMS, please voice your thoughts.

The CMS Taskforce has not yet begun to spend the full $32 million. It’s time to be deliberative, not impulsive. There is a lot of new information to consider regarding demographics, redistricting and the benefits of a unified middle school.

This is a huge expenditure for our town. It will impact everyone’s taxes.

Let’s be sure it reflects how the public envisions our middle school institutions over the next 3 decades.

142 responses to “[OPINION] Danielle Dobin: A Vision For Westport Middle School Education

  1. Zsoka McDonald

    Danielle, I have children in 9th and 6th grades too and I wholeheartedly agree with you. What you propose is the rational thing to do in the face of the facts. It is the right thing to do for our children and our town.

    • Born and raised here. Staples grad. I don’t have a solution to what seems like a complicated and emotional issue. But I know Danielle well. She has good intentions and by all means we should debate the merits. But I’ve seen comments that speak more about her and her family rather than the underlying issues. We are a community. We can debate, even vociferously, but we can’t lose the sense of community that is essential to our town. Let’s keep the discourse as to the merits where it belongs. At the end of the day we are all neighbors and the strength of our community is best demonstrated in how we treat each other in difficult situations.

      • Monika Lazaro

        Definitely good intentions, but this issue was debated for hundreds if not thousands of hours at BOE, BOF, RTM, PTA and all other meetings I can think of, over the past 13 months! Why reopen the wound now? The redistricting discussion is not new. The data has been out for months if not years. I cannot see what, exactly, is so new and breaking news, that we didn’t take into account over the past year.

  2. Adam Goldberg

    As someone with 2 kids in the Coleytown system, I could not agree more!

  3. Mary Jennings

    Would love to see the town save $32M and good to hear the one middle school is working!

    • Monika Lazaro

      I don’t believe that the intent is to simply save $32 but to look into possible other uses of the CMS site. If it were for a brand new school, the cost would be obviously much higher, if it was to recreate the space for town wide activities, computer labs or athletic centers, there would be a cost involved as well. And if one middle school were to be the final option, additional costs would be incurred to make this year’s temporary solution, permanent. So, I doubt the town can just save $32 M and incur no other costs elsewhere!

  4. So thoughtful and clear! Thanks for taking the time to lay out the details.

  5. With all due respect, where was Danielle last year when this was all debated at lengths? Not sure why this is being published right now. Highly irresponsible in my opinion.
    Danielle moved her kids out of coleytown to be closer to the train. Now she wants to take our middle school away? she’s overstepping as an elected town official.

    • Robert Harrington

      Netta – could not agree more with you.

    • Netta, I believe the answer to your question is located within Danielle’s commentary: the evidence simply wasn’t available last year.
      With respect to her personal decision to move her family, that is a matter of private — not public — concern.
      Moreover, I do not think that your comment about “tak[ing] our middle school away” is a fair one. Your — and the collective our — middle school now is Bedford. If remaining as one larger pan-Westport school serves our children’s and the town’s best interests, well then we as a town, together with our our elected leaders, should consider that option. That suggestion is at the heart of Danielle’s letter. Do you disagree with the propriety of that proposal?

  6. Rebecca Martin

    To say that “Middle School at Bedford is working” is to make one more leap in logic in this long painful process without any data. We are only 4 weeks in. There is no evidence, reporting or data yet that this large school works for middle schoolers. Let’s hear from our professional educators (not the planning and zoning commission) about what environment is best for the social and emotional well-being of our students, as well as learning. Let’s see what absenteeism looks like during cold and flu season.

    • Nicole Dodge

      Thank you!

      Absolutely zero evidence that it is working well for our teachers or our learners.

    • Colleen Coffey

      Agree Rebecca Martin. Thank you!

    • Amy Unikewicz

      As a parent of a current 7th grader, I agree with Rebecca, as well. Four weeks in the current situation is not evidence of success. My husband and I cringe knowing that BOF and P&Z officials are driving the educational decisions in Westport.

    • Could not agree with you more, Becky. This idea has not arisen from educational data nor has it considered the opinions of our teachers, administration or acting Superintendent. Our P&Z commissioners were not elected to consider or decide educational direction of this town.

  7. Ideas are fantastic. But at some point as a town we will need to discuss the abuse of power from the Planning and Zoning Commission and its willingness to step entirely outside of its own mandate to drive educational policy, disrupt a thoroughly supported public process and unanimous vote at the BOF and RTM, and the real reasons and players behind this push, including current candidates who cast those votes.

    • Nicole Dodge

      Thank you!

    • Colleen Coffey

      Agree Gery Grove. Thank you

    • Colleen Coffey

      Agree. We had a process in place where this was discussed publicly and debated for a year. Am shocked by the irresponsibility of putting this out there after all that has been done.

      • Louise Tolmie

        But what has come to light in the interim, is the decision to redistrict a great deal of the elementary school population, often creating scenarios that make scant logistical sense.

        Danielle is right: let’s solidify the idea of what a modern middle school education looks like. Only from that established position can the town even begin to entertain the idea of redistricting at the elementary school level.

    • Robert Harrington

      Couldn’t agree more Gery

    • To this point, I would like to hear from the Town attorneys on whether this is within the P&Z’s right to call such a meeting – effectively attempting to relitigate the public process of the BOE, BOF and RTM who already voted on this. It is one thing for Danielle to comment as a private citizen; it is entirely another for her to use her elected position on an unrelated Board to push this issue with more weight than available to any other community member.

    • Nancy Mahmoud

      Yes! Thank you, Gery! This is yet another attempt at delaying the process to reopen CMS

  8. Christine Kurpiel

    While school administrators are doing their best to make things work this year, there are definite disadvantages that are not highlighted in this article. A few examples are that the 8th grade has been splintered into two different lunch waves because they are too big to fit into the cafeteria at the same time. They also will most likely not be able to “graduate” together since Bedford does not have a space large enough to hold them at the same time. They cannot logistically use their lockers since the lockers are no where near their classes, and there is not enough time to get to and from, so they carry around enormously heavy backpacks all day long, made heavier by being the only grade having to carry chromebooks rather than being able to use what’s available at school. I’m sure there are other trade-offs in the other grades, but these are some of the ones I’m directly aware of. I’d be interested to hear from the staff about the challenges of having one gigantic middle school. At Back to School Night, all the teachers commented that the best way to get a hold of them is to email since their phone lines do not go to an actual phone that is near them. They use to be able to have a classroom to stay in throughout the day, with a phone, and where kids could find them anytime for quick questions. There is little chance a student can pop in during lunch for a last minute question now. Is the school working this year? Yes. Is it what we want for our middle schoolers in Westport? As a parent of a graduated Staples student who went to CMS, my answer is no. CMS was a special experience. My student had a close relationship with the teachers and especially the school counselor, who was always there for him. That made a huge difference in his school career. A large middle school, while keeping costs down, would not create a close-knit student community. It’s basically another high school.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. A thoughtful evaluation of pros/cons and costs of all options is what this town deserves. dreaming big about the use of our facilities will be important for attracting new residents and supporting property values

  10. Matthew Grove

    The path forward has been thoroughly debated by the relevant town bodies – the boe, bof and rtm – for a year. The decision to move forward was based on extensive dialogue and fact finding, conducted weekly in public meetings open to all. Moving forward with a 2 school model is the right thing to do, and it is unclear why the planning and zoning commission would try to insert itself into a well-vetted decision long after the public process has played out and the decision has been made.

  11. Ali Cammeyer

    I agree that this is the approach we should be taking. As a community we need to come together to consider what is best for our schools, not just now, but in the future. As a CES parent of a 4th and 6th grader, I am seeing first hand that our current middle school experience can work. It might not be perfect right now, but it is possible to make the necessary changes so it is. Why not explore making this permanent where our middle school students can be united in one location with the same exact experience. Where our middle school teachers and administrators can collaborate together. Why not take the money we are allocating to fixing an old school, to make a great school even better than it already is. I realize that our two school model worked in the past, but we are being presented with an opportunity and should consider our alternatives. I believe keeping our children together while we figure this out, outweighs the need to disrupt much of our town with redistricting. I am not effected by the redistricting, but I can see how this can be upsetting to families who are. Let’s pause and not feel pressured that August 2020 is our deadline. Westport has a lifetime of students to think about and we owe it to them to consider all our options!

  12. Nicole Dodge

    I wasn’t aware that P & Z had any more jurisdiction in implementing our educational planning and policy than I do as a private citizen.

    What is the new information? Even if there was a comprehensive survey given to teachers and administrators from which we could analyze real data and sentiment, at this juncture, four weeks into school, it would be premature to make any declaration of its success. Even if our report cards were out and we had some sense of how the curriculum was being absorbed by our kids, at this juncture, four weeks into school, it would be premature.

  13. Karen Kramer

    Refreshing . Certainly worth considering.
    We have a remarkable team working on the Coleytown revival. But, as Danielle has kids on ground zero, I have to believe that her concept is worth looking at.
    Quickly and closely

    • Christine Kurpiel

      I would appreciate Danielle’s clarification, but I believe her 9th grader was part of the “Staples 8th Grade Academy,” so never at BMS, and the 6th grade is the most insulated of the grades this year, meaning that they are being kept to a very small area of the school most of the day and have the most adults watching and helping them. This will not be the case when they move to 7th. My point is that the statement “she has kids at ground zero” is not entirely accurate. We are very early in the year. I don’t think one month of no major problems is the time to declare victory.

    • Rebecca Martin

      So base our decision-making on the experience of one parent in a short window?

    • Monika Lazaro

      I have kids in the same ‘ground zero’ grades as Danielle. Four weeks into the school year it is premature to say that 1,300 children are all thriving and therefore, that it should be the new model for the next five years (at least!) until a brand new CMS were built and open. Four weeks!

  14. Arline Gertzoff

    I find it rather late to change directions.The age of a building does not determine its quality to deliver a good education .Our elementary schools are housed in even older/renovated buildings and the families all have a great sense of community.Long Ago the town created two junior highs/ middle schools to continue the idea of community.CMS can and should be renovated.It is true there will be a need for some redistricting but this can also be done sensiblely.A mega school on North Avenue is not the answer coupled with a high school and up coming water tank projects.
    Arline P Gertzoff
    RTM3

  15. I debate the use of “well” to describe this year’s progress. Yes, my 6th grader is happy in her protective cocoon and the red carpet was rolled out for her. She doesn’t understand the cultural programming and extras she’s missing because you can’t miss what you never had. My 8th grader, however, knows. All day she carries a backpack so heavy it makes me wince, has no access to her locker, and as pointed out, is separated from half of her friends at lunch. (Note to above: ALL grades are split in half for lunch.) At last week’s back to school night her teachers used phrases including “under the circumstances”, “we’re trying out hardest”, “in a normal year here’s what I would have done” and “we’re giving it our best shot for the sake of the kids.” As noted above, parents were asked not to ever call because “I don’t have a permanent classroom and I don’t know where my phone is.” They are committed and they are driven but it was clear to me, those teachers are stressed. Yes, my kids are experiencing 1% problems and yes, I understand it’s still leagues above what our neighbors in Bridgeport are experiencing, but it still stings. Sometime last year Westport adopted “fine” as the bar of success. “Your kids will be fine” has become our battle cry. With all due respect, I didn’t move to Westport for fine. This isn’t a sustainable model for indefinite use pending ANOTHER debate on the matter and an undefined timeline. Realistically, how long as we talking until this single modern unified campus is complete? How long is the current model needed to fulfill this idea? Now, to speak to the actual experts, the people whose opinions really matter and expertise we rely on: what do they think? Because yes, I am a tax payer, but no, my thoughts don’t really count. Do teachers wants one giant middle school? Do administrators? That’s not my understanding in following the last year’s worth of meetings and debates. What has changed?

    Separately, let’s all please remember the call for redistricting is not new and it’s not specific to just the middle schools. Don’t forget that 2 years ago Dr. Palmer requested, and the BoE voted, to remove one A.P. from CES because of “low enrollment”. The same was intimated for GFS due its own “low enrollment” but I think that got lost in last year’s CMS crisis. Until 3 years ago KHS was “over” capacity … they used a trailer to alleviate crowding. Our els have long been uneven and enrollment disproportionate. In Dr. Palmer’s first PTA brown bag meeting on 9/14/16 when I was a first year PTA co-president we discussed “overcrowding/ redistricting thoughts”–bullet #3 on the agenda. Dr. Palmer acknowledged the need and also the “emotionality” of the act. She said she’d shelve redistricting for a year– and then dropped it. My heart goes out to those families caught in the uncertainty of future districting lines, but it’s critical to remember that redistricting is not just a “middle school” problem. This is a full district issue that has been a problem for years.

    • Thank you Jodi! Good enough is grilled cheese and soup for dinner on a Tuesday night, but shouldn’t be the goal for our schools.

      If this proposal is a veiled attempt to shelve redistricting I am offended.

      Does everyone in Westport understand that the publicly available data clearly shows that class sizes and student/teacher ratios are disparate across the elementary and middle schools (before the mega). The speed and depth of teaching is simply NOT the same if there is inequality across the district.

      Understanding those facts rationally should be the singular driver for deciding on redistricting as our resources must be shared equally. There is not room for emotion in this debate.

  16. Nicole Laskin

    I do not think that it is too late to change direction and I wholeheartedly support reconsidering the current plan.

  17. This is refreshing perspective and reasoned suggestion which accounts for the realities of where things currently stand. My read from parents of kids at the now joint Bedford Middle School is that their kids “love it”. It also appears that the staff and administration at the one middle school has made things work under trying circumstances. Look at the improvement since last year at this time This leads naturally to the option of keeping all kids in one middle school and then using the space at the Coley site for a new endeavor. We would still have the Coley fields and can use the building space to make something which would make Westport an even greater place for our kids, their learning and thir development. To those who would oppose this insightful suggestion, one would wonder, what do your kids at Bedford think? Is it not up and running and educating our children with passionate teachers and everything we would want? What if all that could be augmented by a Bedford bulidinbg addition AND a new enclosed town athletic facility on the Coley site? The Y is too small for our current needs. How about a computer facility? The options for a space that size would be limitless and the money would be better spent with a project for all of Westport. Bravo to the thinking outside the box.

  18. Joan Gillman

    Danielle, we should be discussing outcomes for our students. While my 6th grader is happy at Bedford, there are no outcomes to measure after four weeks. I would ask the town to continue to prioritize maintaining the highest quality of education for our children. Bedford at 857 students ranked #3 in CT. CMS ranked #7 in CT at 513 students. There are only five middle schools in CT with student populations over 1,000 that ranked in the top 50 and only one is comparable to the mega-middle school at Bedford. New Canaan is #1 at 1,359. Middlesex in Darien is #6 at 1,133. The next schools with more than 1,000 students is ranked #16, Glastonbury and #17 in Wilton. Maintaining the highest quality of education is what has drawn new families to town. If you are asking us to weigh the choices for investments, we need the alternative ideas for investment in the land at CMS to come with evidence that any alternative middle school model will not compromise the outcomes for the widest population of students. We have a proven model for success. Let’s be extraordinary careful not to have fear of redistricting or other ideas for property use compromise the quality of education and the outcomes of which we are so proud.

  19. Robert Harrington

    The BOE has spoken.
    The BOF has spoken.
    The RTM has spoken.
    The Selectman’s office has spoken.

    Now Danielle wants to open up the whole debate again.

    Have you spoken to any of Principals or Assistant Principals? This was a short term fix and this year maybe going well but it is not sustainable. They will be the first to tell you that.

    Danielle I know you were bitterly opposed to the former superintendent leaving (and if you had a vote on education she may well still be here). You have made that clear to many in private that you disagreed with want occurred. I see you still reference her in your article today.

    We have moved on and are coming together as a community. Using the P&Z in this way is a disgrace. I’m sure you have also caused a headache today for the Democrats too.

    • Danielle Alexander

      Thank you, Robert. I couldn’t agree more. Decisions have been made. My eyes are looking forward.

    • Robert – well said; those points need to be raised. I don’t dispute the right of ANY resident of this Town to raise issues, but to insert the P&Z into this matter, after the appropriate town bodies have held meetings and made decisions, strikes me as inappropriate and a bit of a power grab by the current P&Z Chair and Vice Chair. I am quite sure the decisions of the BOE and the BOF are not subject to review by the P&Z.

      • Colleen Coffey

        Redistricting was always on the table and part of the conversation. Lets not use this issue to suggest change for a middle school model the town already fought over and voted on. Mother of a 3rd grader at KHS. 8th grader now at BMS and 10th grader at Staples. Thank you.

    • Nancy Mahmoud

      Thank you, robert. I can’t help but think this is totally self serving.

  20. Christina Langone

    As a parent of a 3rd grader at CES and a 6th grader at CMS/BMS (who is having an amazing year at BMS), I believe that we need to reconsider the decision to renovate CMS. I intimately followed the process of approving the funding for the CMS renovation last year and agree with Danielle that we now have new information that we have to consider. When I advocated for the renovation, I was fully unaware of the dramatic impact that the redistricting would have at the elementary school level. I did not consider that whole neighborhoods would be asked to move schools or that, in my case CES, elementary schools would drastically change their K-5 enrollment without any proposed facility enhancements (for example an auditorium). Given that I do not see any easy redistricting scenario that will garner town wide support, I believe it is prudent to reopen the discussion.

  21. Megan Rutstein

    Admittedly, I wasn’t involved last year since I have preschool and elementary school age kids. I had no way of knowing that we would all be up for this incredibly disruptive re-districting of the elementary schools. This effects so many new families and we couldn’t have understood this last year. With so many new people joining the conversation because it impacts elementary school parents now, I think it is worth exploring having one school and what kind of addition we could build to make it even more amazing. It may even be worth it to spend some money on plans & bids to create a brand new CMS. Let’s be sure the trade offs of disrupting the elementary schools are worth it. It just does not seem worth it if all we are doing is re-creating a middle school from 1965 with walls that are “re-clad” to protect the kids from what’s inside. The community is now awake so lets take our time and not rush into making decisions that will impact so many children.

    • Monika Lazaro

      Megan, with all due respect, the community was more than awake last year. You can play back the videos of all the BOE, BOF and RTM meetings that were well attended by very engaged and concerned parents, if you feel the need to catch up before restarting a process that began 13 months ago.

      • Andrea Wilson

        I think what Megan was trying to say is that elementary and preschool parents were not as engaged as middle school parents last year because the plans being discussed were not going to affect us in the immediate future. Now with the redistricting of elementary schools on the table, a lot of elementary school parents are suddenly very concerned (and rightfully so). I also have not been part of previous discussions as I have a daughter who just entered the elementary school system this year in kindergarten. I think that this letter is very thoughtful and offers a lot of “what ifs” that seem to warrant at least some exploration. I also appreciate that someone who does not have elementary age school children is concerned about their well being. I have no idea what the right answer is but I definitely think more time is needed to make a decision that the whole community can rally around. It is very unsettling to know that the elementary kids might be disrupted for a decision that was possibly rushed into and might end up causing more problems in the long run.

        • Monika Lazaro

          I was an elementary school
          Parent last year too; we were equally informed. Not tuning in is a respectful choice but you can’t reasonably expect a whole process be restarted 13 months later, just because you chose not to engage at the time. There is no new info. There are plenty of important initiatives and issues in our district that were shelved to make time for the CMS discussion. We need to move on to those other important issues.

          • Andrea Wilson

            Monika, I was a preschool parent last year. Why would I engage in a middle school conversation? I was not getting any information from the PTA as I was not part of the public schools. My daughter entered Kindergarten 1 month ago and that’s when I started to tune in. I’m sure I’m not the only one and this is all new information to me. I’m not advocating for one middle school vs two – I am not sure what the answer is. The elementary school redistricting was concerning to me (among many others) and that is why I commented. I’m also not asking to start the process over, but certainly have a right to ask questions and want to explore other options if they exist.

            • Monika Lazaro

              Why would you engage if you had no PTA info, you ask? Well, because it went way past PTAs and into multiple public town meetings such as BOE, BOF and RTM; because it was heavily covered by the news: Westport Now, News12; covered by blogs and FB pages, and it was certainly the talk of town; hard to miss, really. Because even if you don’t have children, anything that affects education in Westport, will affect you. Obviously not everyone engaged and that is a choice I highly respect.

              However, after all was said and VOTED ON you want information and that is smart, but answers to your questions are likely in the hundreds of hours of recorded meetings. The right to ask questions is not the right to stop CMS work which is the result of thousands of hours of investigations, debates and deliberations by many, and restart a new public process. Especially a public process suggested by the P&Z (no educational policy mandate).

              Please watch the hundred+ hours of recorded public meetings before asserting that more time is needed. You will find that much was discussed, many questions asked and many options explored. Trust me, “the gift of time” is a fully loaded phrase. You could ask your school administrators, PTA reps and your BOE members if you have any remaining questions, all before supporting a new public process and before taking Danielle’s opinion for facts.

              Quite frankly, we have some really urgent matters to deal with (as an example of something worth tuning into: the vaping and marijuana crisis in our middle and high school), that we have to address NOW, without sucking more air out of our administrators’ and town officials’ time reopening the CMS issue.

              As for your kindergartner, welcome to the district! No matter what elementary school she gets districted to, it will be great. In my opinion.

  22. James Warren Westphal

    While Westport’s various policy making boards prioritized getting CMS up and running and while BOE employees worked overtime to best accommodate the sudden influx of students into BMS, I disagree with the assertion that “…there was no thoughtful discussion” of Westport’s long term school facility needs. As a BOF member, I know I was not alone in having countless conversations with other board members, parents, educators, and experts on what sort of footprint was appropriate for Westport’s middle school aged children.

    I personally had a very open mind at the beginning of the discussion. In fact, as a fiscal conservative, I would have been delighted to find a way to consolidate middle schools. But the data on relative middle school sizes in our DRG and throughout Connecticut (looking at a total of 44 schools in 21 districts) showed that such a middle school would have been of unusual size. In fact, for a Grade 6-8 structure, the single middle school approach would have meant: (i) Westport would have the largest a middle school in the 44 school sample and (ii) the single middle school would be twice the size the median school in the sample. The data I’ve seen jibes with what Ms Gillman references above, although I’d add that New Canaan’s middle school covers four grades and, as I understand, is structured as multiple “schools within schools”.

    I have no problem with bucking the conventional wisdom and doing things differently than virtually every (if not every other) school district in Connecticut. But it made sense to most of the people I talked to that the reason middle schools were smaller than high schools is because they offer younger kids a more comfortable environment – including a sense of community and belonging – and are more effectively managed from an administrative standpoint.

    With all that said, I recognize there is a diversity of opinions in Westport and that people are entitled to debate these issues at any point in time, even if it would have been better for them to do so much earlier. I do question why P&Z would hold a hearing on this, especially as we embark on local elections. There are four great candidates for BOE, who will be popping up regularly over the next five weeks at soccer games, civic events, and the transfer station. I am sure they will be available to any voter who would like to discuss this issue.

    Jim Westphal

    • The social implications inside the building, along with all of the problems noted by both Christine and Jodi above (along with many others from a safety and administrative perspective), are reasons to abandon a singular middle school. If we don’t like a refurbished one. We should build a new one and reinvest in the Coleytown community. Not crush it under the wheel of misguided urban planning. Let’s think for a minute about the traffic from out-of-town participants to a sports facility on the corner of North and Coleytown Road. As a taxpayer, there would be NO incentive to get behind that over a functional school that fits our agreed-upon 8 building model. We have no success metrics in place for this current year and Danielle’s voice is one of thousands as far as how it is truly going.

    • I agree with Jim completely. This is not P&Z jurisdiction. There has been a long and vigorous process around this for a year culminating in a vote by the RTM of 31-0 to approve the plan. To say the decision has been “impulsive” is false and profoundly insulting to hundreds of people who have been Involved with this issue for a year. This strikes me as a cynical politicization of this sensitive issue to get.votes for P&Z, which has no role in this issue. Please stop.

      • Danielle Barker

        Thank you everyone for giving opinions and insight into the various issues in determining next steps here.
        There is something I really don’t understand and maybe someone can shed light. It seems the elementary schools are reasonably balanced. The kindergarten classes all alternate between 3 and 4 kindergarten classes every year. Isn’t this to be expected? Why do all the plans on the table redistrict the already balanced elementary schools. These plans will overtax some elementary schools while under-utilizing others. Not to mention it disrupts an absurd amount of population. How is moving elementary school kids in the middle of their years a good thing? So why is this even part of the discussion? Is it not possible to only redraw the middle school lines? Is it so terrible to move onto a middle school with only some of your 5th grade classmates? I would think it’s much more disruptive to start ripping kids from their current elementary schools. Meanwhile the middle school kids are all merged into one building. This is the best time to re balance the middle school accordingly to match whatever the best facility decisions can be made for the middle schools.

        • Andrea Wilson

          I agree with Danielle Barker. Can someone please explain why we can’t rebalance the middle schools, without creating new problems for all five of the elementary schools? A lot of ppl are commenting on whether they support one or two middle schools, but I think there is more confusion around why this can’t be contained to the middle schools in order to be least disruptive to even more students – and younger ones to boot. Splitting up one elementary school in time for middle seems to affect a lot less students than the current elementary plan – and also at a time where they are transitioning schools anyway vs. in the middle of their time at elementary. Also, to reiterate why I wasn’t informed is because my daughter was at preschool last year. Therefore, we received no emails from the PTA or anyone as we were not part of the public school system at that time.

          • Nicole Dodge

            Please read the publicly released data on student populations across our district at each school.

            The overall size of each school varies by huge percentages thus changing the dynamic.

            Class sizes are not equal.

            Student/teacher ratios are not equal.

            Hence, cost per student is not equal.

            I encourage you to ask any trusted teacher if the learning experience he/she is able to deliver is the same irrespective of those metrics. The ability to teach varies widely.

            • Danielle Barker

              The plans on the table, 8b and 8c that I have seen have the goal of rebalancing the middle schools. They clearly do nothing to rebalance the elementary schools and actually appear to make them more imbalanced. I don’t have full history of the elementary school enrollment but it appears that they all fluctuate each year between 3 and 4 classes. That would seem like they are pretty balanced. Is there an elementary school that consistently packs it’s max at 24 students or consistently has its minimum around 14 per class? I’ve never heard numbers like this. Please direct me to the links that show these imbalances between elementary schools. I’m new to this and would like to learn.

              • Danielle, the demographer’s report presented at the 11/27/17 BoE meeting (check for docs online) features data going back to 2011-12 and projections thru 2022-23. In it you see some schools have sections as high as 6 (LLS) while others as low as 3 (CES & GFS). SES and KHS vacillate between 4 & 5 per grade. Some grades bump against the breaking point (22 for K-2 and 25 for 3-5) and some are charmingly small. This is recent data and shows that while this year, yes, the sections may be relatively even, that isn’t the historical case and isn’t guaranteed to be the case moving forward. To your question about class size, that can vary widely. My 8th grader was in a class of 22 in kindergarten–the breaking point–at SES (4 sections total). The same year, across town in GFS, had 3 sections and 16 and one at 15. My current 6th grader also moved in 4 sections through SES, but she started in a class of 19 in K and finished at 25. Some years the classes are big, sometimes they are small. Some schools get a huge influx in August when classes are formed, and some get numerous move-ins during the school year (i.e. my kids’ large classes). It’s a crap shoot. But the school populations have been long unbalanced and our BoE and superintendents have been wildly remiss in letting the issue fester. (Add: I don’t agree with the plans on the table. But the unbalance will continue to negatively affect both the els and also the middles if gone uncorrected.)

                • Edit: My current 6th grader also moved in 4 sections through SES, but she started in a class of 19 in K and finished at 25 *in 5th*.

    • Colleen Coffey

      Thank you Jim Westphal and Joan Gilman!

  23. Danielle,
    Thanks so much for highlighting some of the challenges and questions that our community faces. The questions that stick out for me are:

    1. What’s the best for the kids in terms of preparing them for high school and beyond and which option would enrich their middle school experience the most?

    2. What are the tax ramifications of each of the options?

  24. I did not and do not vote for Planning and Zoning Commissioners so they can use their official position to make educational decisions for the community. And, given the number of community members I’ve heard from in the last four hours, many feel the same way.

    What troubles me the most about this, however, is that Danielle’s opinion is not based on input from: our vastly experienced acting Superintendent; actual student performance data; or the input of our trained and State certified teachers (or any teachers at all – as a former CT State middle school teacher, it has been studied and proven time and again that smaller schools are best for student academic and social development in the middle grades).

    And, seeing the P&Z use their elected positions to attempt to undermine a direction that was given appropriate process and time for public input and then voted on by the Boards actually charged with these decisions (BOE, BOF and RTM – with unanimous votes by the BOF and RTM), makes me extremely nervous about the message this sends to Superintendent candidates as we seek a permanent Superintendent. Who would want to lead a district in which a Board with no jurisdiction on educational decisions can attempt to overturn decisions the BOE has made? We are going to send any excellent candidates running for the hills. The time to litigate this decision has passed – and needs to be left to the Boards elected by the community to make educational decisions for this town.

    Lisa Newman
    RTM – District 8

  25. Trammi Nguyen

    I am happy to hear that your child is doing well at the middle school. I hope that is the case for all the children and also teachers, administrators, counselors, custodians, and other staff members who work at BMS. Since it’s such a difficult age for our 6-8 grade students, I would venture to guess that it’s not easy for the majority of them, especially the most vulnerable. I would also assume that with more children in the building that it’s harder for the adults to “have eyes on them” and catch problems that may arise as quickly. It’s just a matter of numbers here. Too many bodies to keep track of.

    I am sure that the middle school is much better than last year, but that building was not designed to house so many individuals. And, last year shouldn’t be the standard to measure by. Shouldn’t we be looking at the standards which make the public education in Westport and other school districts exceptional? Maybe small class sizes and a good teacher to student ratio are a part of that standard? I am sure there are others that I won’t list here.

    On a more personal note, my seventh grader (who I wouldn’t say is vulnerable) isn’t “happy” (I don’t think he should be so all the time as we are human and have a full range of emotions to experience) nor is his schedule ideal (as I am sure is the case with most 7th and 8th graders). He’s in the largest pod. He has PE and lunch with 8th graders. On Mondays, he has to choose between going to Math or Mandarin. Both the math and language are new to him so he’s likely going to miss out on something important as the school year unfolds. He is not alone in having a rather “messed up” schedule.

    If we are so concerned about having a similar experience for all our children, then maybe we should put all the elementary school children in one big space as well? Each of the five elementary schools has its own character and charm, we won’t get away from that no matter how hard we try to make everything equitable.

    I think we had asked, when we were wondering what to do with CMS, what we think is best for our public schools? Perhaps I am mistaken, but I heard that we wanted 8 healthy buildings. I am sure deferred maintenance in the 7 we have not looked at closely will end up costing us as well. With enrollment down, perhaps maintaining the health of all the school buildings will prepare us for a time when enrollment goes back up and another building will be closed. I hope we learn from this crisis that we can’t have exceptional education without healthy buildings. How is the wear and tear on BMS? It’s newer as is SHS, but they are all aging.

    I think it’s up to our Superintendent and BoE to decide what type of education they want to deliver and whether or not that will be delivered in 8 buildings or fewer. Some times staying in our lane is necessary and prudent. I would hope that as a community, we would come together to do what we have to do (whether we like it or not) for the good of all.

    • Trammi – do you mind explaining further about your child having to chose which academic class to attend?

    • Nancy Mahmoud

      My kids aren’t happy either. This year’s 6th grade class is heavy on boys. My daughters pod is overwhelmed by them. She only has 3-5 girls in every class. When I asked her math teacher how many girls were in the class she stated, “it would be a lot if I told you that there were five girls in the class.” Dividing up the whole town into pods to account for age, math level, band or orchestra or chorus, language and kids w IEPs vs kids who are gifted has proven too difficult to do in a one middle school scenario. My daughter is miserable in a school w all boys all day long. You know what happens when you put 17 middle school boys in one room together? Behavioral issues. My daughter told me she often spends her days listening to her teachers constantly yell at her class. Did you also know that her home room didn’t have enough seats for all the kids? Kids had to sit on the floor until I called the school and asked when chairs were coming in. The fact that Daniel seems to think that one middle school works great just because her kids are happy is like me saying no one is hungry because I ate just had breakfast. Totally self absorbed. My daughter has an IEP. It took her years to catch up to grade level last year and all the stress of this one big middle school now has her falling behind again. She loved school and would come home and immediately start homework and go above and beyond. Now she comes home and says that she hates it. My son is in 8th grade this year. Because of this one big middle school he has to carry around a heavy backpack all day long. Neither of my kids get to eat lunch w all their friends because the grades are split up for lunch. I could go on and on! This is not the middle school experience I envisioned for my kids. I’m willing to sacrifice my kids happiness for a year for the greater good until we get the other school up and running. But we have discussed the possibility of moving our kids out of westport public schools if this craziness continues

  26. Collette Winn

    This is the first rational, detailed plan I’ve heard YET. We are UNNECESSARILY subjecting our children to changes to elementary school when the problem lies at the middle school. And, to be honest I think it’s been a political favors nightmare. Leave the zones as is and put the money into building an amazing middle school where all our kids come together. Thank you Danielle. Incredibly smart, honest and needed.

  27. The points being raised here are similar to what many raised during the months of emotional discourse. Many of us are still hungry for a basic evaluation of our options. It’s not a crazy ask. One of those options is a refurbished CMS. Another is a knockdown and rebuilt CMS. Another is the redeployment of the CMS facility to another use. I don’t suggest I know the right answer, but I do know that it’s not what happened last spring- the Board of Finance deciding for all of us that it’s an allocation of $35MM and a demand for a particular timeline.

    • I agree, Rachel, to an extent. That said, if a refurbished middle school is not something this town has an appetite for, it most certainly, through an extensive process resulting in a unanimous vote, has an appetite for 8 schools. Surely the cost to build onto Bedford, demo CMS, and build a field house would amount to a similar cost to just building a new, state-of-the art school that doesn’t pit communities against one another in the fight for who has the “better” learning environment. Destroying an entire community and making a congestion and security headache for an entire section of Westport is not the answer. (Field houses in similar communities that drive out-of-town traffic are not plopped down in the middle of residential communities.) I met with Danielle last week and she told me that “with all due respect, your children do not have a right to a community school.” But my community certainly has the right to congestion free streets and lack of out-of-town visitors. Either way, I don’t believe it is within the purview of the P&Z to speak up about the “rights” of the children of an entire community to an equitable educational experience.

  28. I wholeheartedly support this line of thinking. I do believe the push for redistricting has engaged a new (large) group of stakeholders who would like their input to be included. Let’s pause from the knee-jerk response to simply recreate ‘what was’ and think creatively and critically to determine ‘what can be.’ We are an incredibly passionate and intelligent town that is now in a position to truly craft an ideal educational experience for our children. Let’s capitalize on this moment and think big.

  29. Kris Hamlin, RTM #4

    1. Putting the merits of the suggestion aside, I do remember this being raised in the course of things during the year we debated the best approach and for whatever reason, good or bad, it was an approach that was not adopted.

    2. The procedural wackiness of this suggestion causes me to hear the theme music of the “Twilight Zone” as I read it.

    This would be akin (at the federal level) to the Dept of Ed coming up with a budget, it passes the House and the Senate and the WH, is tested in the courts and no error is found, the process begins to move forward after being fully vetted, and then the Tennessee Valley Authority decides to hold a hearing about what federal education policy and budgets should look like.

    3. I may be a stickler for due process, but for goodness sakes, if P&Z can now set educational policy after the BOE, BOF, and RTM have approved a different course, we are in a Trumpian-guard-rails-are-off dystopian world that meets local Westport.

    • Robert Harrington

      Kris Hamlin I 100% agree with you. Every word. I am not sure this is P&Z action but the opinion piece of one rogue commissioner,

  30. Peter Tulupman

    It is very, very easy to be a Monday Morning quarterback. Shame on you, Danielle Dobin. Where were you and the P&Z last year?

    The crux of your argument is to save a minimum of $32m in a one time cost. How about we put the interest of students first? We should not have P&Z of the board of finance running the schools. And where was the P&Z, BoE and BoF when the schools the schools needed to be maintained? Where are they now maintaining Coleytown? And, if they schools are not considered best of the best, our property values diminish.

    Let’s get some facts straight.

    The schools are not doing well. Westport doesn’t have a superintendent, and I believe they will be hard pressed to get a top-tier superintendent given the current situation with the schools.

    The School Board of Ed has been hard pressed to make any decisions last year. And given they were the team that hired the last Superintendent, many parents don’t have faith in them to make decisions, let alone hiring a top-tier superintendent. The Board of Ed do not show up to meetings prepared.

    There is a conflict of interest between the lawyers that represent P&Z and the lawyers that represent the BoE. Both are represented by Berchem Moses. Let’s get them removed from the equation, because they have far too much influence on town decisions and an interest to pad the bill.

    When the Coleytown Middle School was closed down, the solution of many families was to move their children to private school. Those folks are removed from being engaged and participating in the discussion.

    The way this appears to me, is that the long game has always been for the town to close Coleytown MS for the sake of a dollar.

    Lets put education and students first and make decisions based on what is best for all of our students, and what will attract more people to the town.

    • Dick Lowenstein

      This statement above, “There is a conflict of interest between the lawyers that represent P&Z and the lawyers that represent the BoE. Both are represented by Berchem Moses” is not correct. The BOE is represented by Shipman and Goodwin. For more on that relationship, which has its own problems, follow agenda Item #3 tonight at the RTM meeting.

  31. I am absolutely shocked that this article was even printed. I am disappointed that Elementary School parents are now just joining the conversation, citing they were uninformed. As PTA President last year we all sent WEEKLY updates to the parents educating them on the latest BoE, BoF and RTM updates including talk of redistricting. This is not a rushed decision but one that was decided on after hundreds of hours of meetings. One middle school is a temporary solution. PERIOD.

    We are 4 weeks into school. You are mistaken if you think it’s perfect. The school is overcrowded, the students are getting less instructional time per class due to a 9 period day, teachers can’t find phones to call parents, students are forced to carry heavy backpacks all day. My daughter has to remember which of the 3 rooms to find her math teacher for extra morning help, class sizes are not smaller- do you find 26-27 kids in a class to be a “world class education”? Yeah, my kid appears happy and has a lot of new friends but at what cost? Stressed teachers? A building really designed to hold 850 students now housing 1,300? Anxious kids? What happens when flu season hits?

    This is not time to restart the conversation. We had the opportunity last year almost on a weekly basis to weigh options. We need to move forward.

    • Thank you Amie! Of course it isn’t perfect! Every single thing you mentioned about a typical day is true for most kids. And the stress created surely is not felt equally on each child.

      Let’s not forget that the mega in New Canaan has 70,000 MORE square feet than BMS, housing 1300 students. 70,000 more than BMS! Their most recent addition of 25,000 square feet cost roughly $20M.

      It defies logic to believe that creating the proposed modern middle would save our town $32M or resolve our crisis with any greater expediency.

    • Thank you, Amie.

  32. I agree with you Danielle. I think there are many pending issues the BOE is dealing with that will have a direct impact on redistricting benefits for long term effect. What are the long term plans for Stepping Stones? How much will moving/retrofitting CES and outfitting the future space for Stepping Stones cost? How much will the repairs, which will no doubt come out of the facilities report, cost?

    You can’t fix a middle school problem by significantly unbalancing elementary schools. Why create a problem while trying to fix another?

    As a P&Z member and as a mother Danielle has EVERY right to give her opinion on the path the BOE is headed in. Not only will two beyond capacity elementary schools be bad for children, but half of the towns property values would nose dive (ie. Lower tax income).

    The BOE has not produced anything that meets their own specified goals (none that wouldn’t damage the elementary school populations). This needs to be thoroughly thought through with all the information present.

  33. Sandy Srihari

    I disagree with the notion that the school district has been discussing all the options in a way that is open to everyone. Really it’s been that the BOE discusses an option publicly, then a group of parents get upset and voice their opinions, and then a few weeks or months later a new set of options come out. Then it’s rinse and repeat. Most of the people who come and speak up are the people who are directly affected by the option of the moment. This system hasn’t lended itself to open and larger discussions by the whole town, 60% of which do not have kids in the school system. I also disagree that this could have been spoken about last year, because the middle school wasn’t working even mildly well for many people. At least this year it’s in a better position last year, though obviously still has flaws. I say this as a parent of a 7th grader, so I too am in ground zero like so many of you. I don’t actually know if a mega middle school would work and share many of the same worries that many parents have. But, I also think it’s crazy that a town like Westport is reduced to picking the best of the worst situations. None of the options out there right now actually solve all the issues. All they do is triage the very real need for more students at CMS by creating an imbalance at the elementary school level and create future issues for a too small BMS. There has to be other options out there that solve declining enrollment other than shifting the problem from one school to another. What about expanding CMS to make it an equal size to BMS, so then you can put three small schools at one and the two large at the other. Or maybe it’s 5/6 and 7/8 school, though those have some of the same issues as the mega. I don’t know the correct solution, but instead of everyone just screaming about the idea of the moment, it would be amazing if there was a productive and collective way to find a solution for this problem. We should be better than choosing which option stinks the least.

  34. Heather Talbott

    After following the town wide discussion for some time, listening to the BoE, BoF, RTM, school administrators and staff, I think we should have two middle schools for this town because smaller middle school communities allow the best opportunity for students to do better and this town can afford to provide that opportunity and can populate two middle schools that way, even with declining enrollment in the near future.  If two middle schools cannot be achieved because the town bodies thoroughly discuss openly, find it to be a poor solution and decide to vote against two middle schools then I believe that between CMS and BMS, one should be used for the entire town 6thgraders and the other to house the entire town 7th and 8th grades. This pathway solves the educational parity issue and keeps disruption due to redistricting at a minimum. I DO NOT agree with one mega middle school as the best middle school education Westport can offer, even if Bedford is currently built out to better house a larger population.  Especially for the data points pointed to Joan Gillman’s comments and James Westphal’s comments.
     
    While I agree with Danielle that a full discussion was never had regarding CMS options: 1) renovate, 2) rebuild, 3) other (I only picked up in town governing bodies that the town went with renovation because the cost of a new build was higher than renovating, which is not a full long-term evaluation especially with the potential risk of higher costs due to renovating a 1960s building). As we try to solve through repopulating the schools more evenly, we are constrained by the current layout of CMS for modern learning needs and limitation on student count that can be housed there. And for that I thank her for bringing up this discussion.  Perhaps the next discussion shouldn’t be housed by the P&Z but it should be taken up as a focus of discussion by the Selectperson’s office as head of this town, along with the BoE.  I don’t know where Mr. Marpe stands on our educational issues in town that are now segregating the town and tearing us apart.  What I am more concerned about is when we need leadership in this town he is not present and providing leadership in helping these town bodies focus on the issues and not get distracted by side analysis. The town needs a LEADER to pull those town bodies up around the same table and foster a discussion to work through this successfully. This is tearing our town apart, whittling away at our home values, showing the weakness in the governance of our town bodies and sacrificing years of student learning.
     
    Don’t be wooed by a CMS being turned into an athletic campus and STEM labs.  From following all this educational discussion closely for years, that is not a solution that addresses the weaknesses in our educational system, in my opinion.  We need to LISTEN to our staff and administrators.  They have ALL recommended to return back to two middle schools or away from a mega middle. Do not be afraid by redistricting. Just demand redistricting that solves the issue of a middle school imbalance.  If we want minimal redistricting at the elementary schools than the BoE HAS to return back to the elementary split feeder scenarios and see if that provides a less distributive solution. It possibly gives the BoE more time to evaluate the proper elementary plan (4 versus 5 elementary schools based on projected population and/or redistribution; allows time to work out where Stepping Stones goes and to be built out if moved out of CES) and allows the BoE to balance the middle schools to allow them to offer parity educational structures at both middles by the 2020-2021 school year.  Our student population is going down but not for long and we need a long-term plan in place that allows flexibility.  Reopening CMS without an equal educational structure to BMS should not be allowed.  Sending students back to a renovated building without the repopulation and parity educational structure is not acceptable and I do not think the school should be reopened until that is solved.  And it can be solved now.  The identification of the lesser educational structure offered at CMS, due to lower population, has been known for years and the redistricting discussion has been going on for years.  The conversation is not rushed it is just not bore a quality solution, but the pressure is on for time if CMS is to reopen in August 2020.
     
    As a community, if anyone in town would not happily send their student to a newly renovated CMS that offers parity education to BMS than ask yourselves why, and if there is a legitimate concern, identify it and demand the town bodies fix and address it.  You as a resident should be ok sending your student(s) to any school in town.  If you are not, outside of geographical location, then that issue needs to be addressed, so raise that issue if you so have one on CMS. Redistricting needs to happen in some form before CMS reopens, in my opinion, in order to be fair across the town.  The idea of ‘I want a neighborhood school’ cannot be part of the conversation.  The BoE and town are tasked to do what is in the best interest of the entire population on balance, taking into account extreme and unique hardship only.  So as community let’s focus on the best solution for the entire student population in town and not just sending kids back to CMS that has only changed in its physical structure.
     
    If the town cannot work the way through a proper redistricting than the BoE needs to return back to the discussing of using two campuses to educate the middle school population.  If you send all 6th graders to one location and 7th and 8th another than the 4-teacher teaming structure can be kept at each location and the town if offering EDUCATIONAL PARITY with no overcrowding.

    Non decisions and pushing off decisions is no longer fair to the town nor an option, in my opinion.

  35. Sandy Srihari

    I disagree with the notion that the school district has been discussing all the options in a way that is open to everyone. Really it’s been that the BOE discusses an option publicly, then a group of parents get upset and voice their opinions, and then a few weeks or months later a new set of options come out. Then it’s rinse and repeat. Most of the people who come and speak up are the people who are directly affected by the option of the moment. This system hasn’t lended itself to open and larger discussions by the whole town, 60% of which do not have kids in the school system. I also disagree that this could have been spoken about last year, because the middle school wasn’t working even mildly well for many people. At least this year it’s in a better position last year, though obviously still has flaws. I say this as a parent of a 7th grader, so I too am in ground zero like so many of you. I don’t actually know if a mega middle school would work and share many of the same worries that many parents have. But, I also think it’s crazy that a town like Westport is reduced to picking the best of the worst situations. None of the options out there right now actually solve all the issues. All they do is triage the very real need for more students at CMS by creating an imbalance at the elementary school level and create future issues for a too small BMS. There has to be other options out there that solve declining enrollment other than shifting the problem from one school to another. What about expanding CMS to make it an equal size to BMS, so then you can put three small schools at one and the two large at the other or some other equitable mathematical solution. Or maybe it’s 5/6 and 7/8 school, though those have some of the same issues as the mega. I don’t know the correct solution, but instead of everyone just screaming about the idea of the moment, it would be amazing if there was a productive and collective way to find a solution for this problem. We should be better than choosing which option stinks the least.

  36. And so as I scroll through the comments, I couldn’t miss who the Coleytown parents are. When Bedford was built, it amazed me that it wasn’t going to be the only Middle School and that Coleytown would remain open. I see a perfect opportunity to develop one Middle School and not spend the money on redoing a very sick building. My vote? One Middle School.

  37. Wendy Batteau

    I share the overall astonished, negative response to this suggestion and will not reiterate comments made by Lisa Newman, Becky Martin, Netta Levy, Jim Westphal, Robert Harrington, Kris Hamlin, Trammi Nguyen and many others above. I am mystified by Ms Dobin’s misrepresentation (or ignorance?) of facts about the year-long process that we have come through, the current status of reconstruction, the willingness to throw this community back into one of the most divisive states we’ve experienced in many years. Further this attempt at intervention at this very late date is out of order. P&Z does not have a place in this process at this time. With such a full list of items to address, how/why was this surprise given priority when other issues wait? I note that throughout Ms. Dobin’s piece, she uses the pronoun “I” rather than “We”. Is this something the other P&Z commissioners propose, too? No others have responded here. I expect they know better and hope they will weigh in.

  38. To suggest there is new information to consider in this process is disingenuous. Redistricting is not new. Westport has not redistricted in more than 18 years. The BOE has avoided redistricting because it is disruptive and understandably, not popular with parents. But, it is something that has been on their horizon several years now. We are now at a point where it cannot be put off any longer. While no doubt painful, kids are resilient when we let them be and model our own positive attitude toward such a change. Beyond that, I do not see how the town delivers education to students falls with the purview of the Planning and Zoning board. Having been part of the process from the very beginning, I am so disappointed that this is being brought up after what was a lengthy and at times divisive process and in such a political way. I could not agree more with the Jim Westphal, Lisa Newman, Gery Grove, Robert Harrington etc.

  39. Wendy Batteau

    I share the overall astonished, negative response to this suggestion and will not reiterate comments made by Lisa Newman, Becky Martin, Netta Levy, Jim Westphal, Robert Harrington, Kris Hamlin, and many others above. I am mystified by Ms Dobin’s misrepresentation (or ignorance?) of facts about the year-long process that we have come through, the current status of reconstruction, the willingness to throw this community back into one of the most divisive states we’ve experienced in many years. Further this attempt at intervention at this very late date is out of order. P&Z does not have a place in this process at this time. With such a full list of items to address, how/why was this surprise given priority when other issues wait? I note that throughout Ms. Dobin’s piece, she uses the pronoun “I” rather than “We”. Is this something the other P&Z commissioners propose, too? No others have responded here. I expect they know better and hope they will weigh in.

    • Wendy– I agree with your view about the procedural irregularity of this suggestion. It should be raised at a BOE hearing in the first instance. Citizens could also meet to discuss DD’s idea.

      But a P&Z hearing about educational policy?

    • Wendy, the spouses of the other P&Z members have responded and agreed with Mrs Dobin, so it seems like they are all in agreement, sadly putting the P&Z in a shameful place. The RTM unanimously voted earlier this year. I respect Mrs Dobin personal opinion, we all have one, and she is free to express it. But when calling a special session at the P&Z, Mrs Dobin is acting on behalf of her public role and out of her jurisdiction.

      Using Dan Woog’s blog as a public record is questionable. Discrediting Facebook as a source of information for our community is ignorant.

      Are the P&Z members interested in the education of our children, or are they interested in further development of our town, at the expense of our children?

      How do we measure success without metrics, “working well” is Mrs Dobin’s subjective and personal opinion, nothing more. Dr Rosen and Mrs Szabo are doing the best they can, the teachers are doing the best they can, our children are doing the best they can. That will not rank Westport on the top tier of educational districts for long.

      So before the P&Z gets involved on our children’s education, let’s question what is the P&Z real intend. Because it’s not saving $32MM.

      And let’s keep this as public record.

      Thank you,
      Paloma

      PS – My children walk to BMS/Staples, yet we are a CMS family, so there is no personal gain on this matter. But I do want the best for this town, and 2 middle schools is the best solution, including Heather Talbott’s proposal.

      • Jack Whittle

        Paloma – Respectfully, while I see some familiar names among those posting here, it is not accurate to state that “the spouses of the other P&Z members have responded and agreed with Mrs Dobin” – I am quite familiar with four of the Planning & Zoning Commission members / alternates (Walsh, Stephens, Gratrix and Olefson) and two of them are not even married; none of THESE four, or their spouses or partners, have posted here.

        • Jack, I stand corrected, SOME, not all.

          Thank you for pointing it out. I didn’t mean to imply all.

          Regardless, the use of the P&Z for personal purposes, seems questionable.

        • Jack, I stand corrected, I should had said SOME. Thank you for pointing it out.

        • Jack, it would be helpful for everyone to understand who in the P&Z is in agreement with this strangely inappropriate action on the part of the vice chair of the P&Z. Is it just Mrs Dobin and the democrats? (I understand the democrat members did not opine, but sure did their spouses), is it a combination? What are the P&Z overall role and responsibilities? and who is supporting this?

    • Completely agree. I certainly hope Ms. Dobin is along and that her fellow Commissioners will promptly correct this open abuse of their authority and the process. I certainly will vote against any member of the P&Z that would allow that body to hold a public meeting on middle school education and school redistricting, which would be an entirely improper abuse of their authority. P&Z commissioners can appear at BOE or BOF meetings and comment with the rest of us. They cannot use Town Hall to set up their own self-appointed committee on education where they control the agenda and the meeting because they don’t like the unanimous decision of the BOE, BOF and RTF (31-0!!) on the CMS plan.

      I have sent the below email string to the BOE, BOF, RTM, P&Z and Town Attorney
      On Oct 1, 2019, at 10:47 AM, Jeffrey Benner wrote:

      All,

      As you are all probably aware, P&Z has apparently called for a public hearing on October 22 to discuss education and school redistricting. This is a transparent and harmful abuse of the P&Z’s role and violation of it’s jurisdiction. I hope and expect the Town attorney will review the committee charter and take appropriate steps to either cancel the meeting, or at least put out a strong opinion signed by as many of you who agree that it is improper.

      Process matters. I hope you are all personally offended at this cynical and damaging political stunt to try to usurp your authority. Please defend your proper authority and put a stop to it.

      Jeff and Michelle Benner

      Sent from my iPhone

      I followed up with:

      All,

      Below is a link to the opinion piece by Danielle Dubin on Dan Woog announcing the P&Z meeting on education (you read that right). Incredibly, Dubin appears to be using this private website as some kind of semi-official public forum. She writes “Planning and Zoning Commission invites every stakeholder to discuss this important topic on October 22 at Town Hall” and promised that “P&Z staff will insure that every comment left in this public forum is included in the public record.”

      I see no notice of the meeting on the P&Z website. Dan Woog’s blog does not create comments for the official record. Town staff should not be involved in this end-around of proper procedure and authority.

      What is going on?

      https://06880danwoog.com/2019/10/01/opinion-danielle-dobin-lets-create-one-visionary-middle-school/#comments

      Sent from my iPhone

  40. Elaine Marino

    Is it possible to increase BMS’ footprint?

  41. As a parent and not a professional educator I am prepared to leave these decisions to the BoE and the Superintendent and any outside educational consultants who can evaluate this facilities train-wreck and advise us on the best course. My gut says two middle schools because smaller is better. But any situation can be made to work with patience and collaboration. I do, however, think it’s nuts to redistrict our elementary schools this year, (the current plan appears to affect 500-600 kids?!) after all the town has just been and is still going through. Focus on creating the best middle school and decide who feeds into it next year when more careful studies can be done and we have a new Superintendent in place.

  42. Nancy Mahmoud

    Middle School at Bedford isn’t working well for my kid with an IEP. Maybe it is for yours. And what do you propose we do with the existing Coleytown building structure?? This town needs to be a two middle school town. Bedford is too big to help kids transition from small elementary school environments to basically a high school type situation. Enrollment numbers are going down slightly before going back up again. This is the most ridiculous suggestion and I’m looking forward to the schools being split up again.

  43. Mary Palmieri Gai

    Agree we need a unified Middle School at Bedford. Not to consider this is in total disregard with Coleytown homeowners. Townspeople warned the owners that be about 2/3 of the town being districted to Bedford and 1/3 to Coleytown creating twice the demand for Bedford properties. It doesn’t matter about the time spent or emotions already spent ..it’s already spent. Get over that. And ultimately after we lose CMS, we need to lose the Coleytown’s elementary name that will forever be tainted with the mold issue. They built anew McKinley in Fairfield after mold was found but the issue is still out there online because the name is still out there online, we can hold contests on what we can do with the extra building and to rename Coleytown Elementary. Sounds ridiculous I know but everything is about online reputation. Westport schools are stellar none should be tainted whatsoeverz

    • Does anyone have a link they can post to the proposed elementary school redistricting plan that seems to be the real topic of Danielle’s post and the source of this sudden flood of purported concern about middle school education from people who have apparently been out of town for the past year? I can’t find it on BOE website. Thanks.

  44. ASK. THE. TEACHERS.
    Reminder: this town hires the best and the brightest educators, and then right when we should be benefiting from their insight, we waste time with data-less pontificating and memory-lane assertions. Use the pros.

  45. I wasn’t aware that the P&Z has anything to say on the subject of educational use of our schools or on re-districting , so I encourage Danielle to use her voice before the appropriate town bodies, rather than try to end-run the process.
    However, she makes good points about the limitations of the community “discussion” of CMS and the aftermath. In fact, her letter bears a similarity to my comments at the RTM meeting where we approved the $32 million to rebuild CMS. I only wish that she had expressed these sentiments a year ago, when only a few of us were urging the BOE and BOF to consider what a rebuild might look like or cost, beyond a completely ballparked estimate. You can find those comments here: https://www.westportct.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=20606
    After the KD&G report on CMS’s condition, I urged the BOE and the community to try to see the implosion of CMS as an opportunity rather than an unmitigated disaster. I also brought up the need to understand the reality of the physical state of all of our buildings, so that we can try to plan for our future needs and not be blindsided. Still, when the issue arrived before the RTM, I voted for the appropriation request. That is because, although our conversation was truncated, there had been a thorough airing of the concept of 1 larger middle school, and it had been roundly rejected by the community. And as much as I wished that our conversation about options had been clearer, and focused more on what would be a smart investment for Westport’s future, that didn’t happen outside of a few RTM committee meetings, and in the meantime, our kids were and are suffering. I urge all Westporters to consider the lack of leadership across the town when they go to the voting booth this November and next.
    With all due respect to Danielle, I do not see that now we “have the gift of time” that we didn’t have then. The kids need us to provide them with a safe and healthy place to learn, yesterday. Now, if Danielle, as a private citizen or a member of an elected board that has oversight or jurisdiction on these issues(not P&Z), would like to be involved in pushing for a full accounting and assessment of our remaining schools, that would be helpful to the community. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that when the report is in, we will find other school buildings have potentially major remediation or renovation needs. Let’s learn the facts then try to have a thoughtful conversation about how best to spend our dollars in investing in our school system. It is true that a school building is just a building, but it is also true that schools today are designed differently, to take advantage of what we have learned about child development, educational tactics, and security features, many of which can be addressed in the design phase in innovative construction. A building like that would be a true investment, not just in our schools, but our future. BUT, the time to have that conversation about the future of the CMS site is past. As a town, all of our representative bodies have voted on this path forward. At some point, a decision had to be made so that individuals- our kids!!- could move forward. It’s done. Let’s learn from our disappointment with how the process went and create a better dialogue in the future.
    RTM District #3

  46. Your “unified middle school” proposal says that “Every middle school student will be educated in a modern space, thoughtfully designed for the team-teaching method and reflective of our needs in 2020 and beyond.” Exactly WHAT space are you talking about???? Are you suggesting that we build such a facility? Because one that fits that description and also fits all our middle school students (properly) does not exist. BMS is NOT that dream middle school that you mentioned. To say that the merged school is working perfectly, frankly, smacks of ignorance to the experience of the students and teachers…. whom, yes, are beautifully making lemonade out of lemons. And also, the suggestion that CMS be turned into a special facility for science, computer labs and programming and indoor athletic fields, would separate those importance programs AWAY from the facility where the kids are during the school day. I most certainly do not want to take my math/science oriented daughter to ANOTHER facility for her to have access to those specialized programs. Finally, to slow down and again and take another “thoughtful” look at all the possibilities is to kick it down the road again and prolong a never ending debate over what to do. We have debated this for over a year now. The decision is made. Go with it. Your utopian idea would require a THIRD, $100,000,000, brand new, 5 year design build process, modern and larger facility. Stop this nonsense. Fix, upgrade, modernize CMS and get the kids back into it.

  47. Non-rhetorical question (meaning I really am interested in hearing answers — I did not attend the most recent redistricting meeting): Why do so many of you think that having one middle school will make elementary school redistricting unnecessary? Is that a valid assumption? If so, on what basis? Thanks.

    • Jennifer Bagnato

      Jeff, the redistricting proposals before the BOE now are meant to solve the middle school imbalance problem. All solutions include elementary school redistricting. If there were one middle school, there would be no imbalance problem and no elementary school redistricting needed.

      While many people are supportive of redistricting in concept, it is important to understand that none of the redistricting proposals before the BOE actually achieve the BOE’s goals for eliminating the imbalance. Many of the proposals get to a 4 teacher team at CMS but the undesirable 6 teacher team remains at BMS. The 4 teacher team is the the gold standard but is it susceptible to natural enrollment fluctuations that have happened and will likely continue in our town. The one middle school idea is a way to provide the top quality educational structure that sustains enrollment fluctuations, instead of forcing us to redistrict piecemeal every few years.

      Redistricting does not solve the imbalance problem at this point. This is a concern noted by the BOE itself. Some of the maps get us close, for now, until enrollment changes again. It is logical to look at alternatives when the current proposals do not solve the problem, risk imbalance in the elementary schools in the near future, and disrupt so many families across town.

    • Sandy Srihari

      The most recent options – 8b and 8c – were designed to max out CMS to reach the goal two team size. In order to get CMS to capacity and even over capacity, CES and KHS have to be filled and overfilled so every single seat can be maximized at CMS. This actually created an imbalance at the other three elementary schools, which are left quite small. Neighborhoods that did not expect to be redistricted were included because the demographers did everything possible to shift large amounts of kids over to KHS and CES. I am usually the person speaking out against the demographers, but in this case they were just trying to meet the goal of two full teams at CMS. This would not be a typical example if the town was just redistricting to create balanced elementary schools. Back in February, Milone and Macbroom stated there is no way to balance the middle schools simultaneously with the elementary schools. Most people did not anticipate the extent of what this would look like until the last BOE meeting.

      • Elizabeth Williams

        All of the pocket redistricting options presented so far address one problem and create another. Certainly it is possible to balance all of the school enrollments but it would require redistricting the whole town. Are you advocating that our commitment to current catchment areas drive educational practices?
        Why couldn’t walking radius areas be drawn around schools and catchment borders be moved in consideration of these student populations with an eye to the numbers needed to balance the schools? The calculation of a swing population of grandfathered students could also be considered. This hasn’t happened.

      • Thank you all for responding. Are the 8b and 8c options published? I see 8A in the July 15 meeting agenda, but I can’t find what apparently was presented at the 9/23 BOE meeting publicly posted anywhere.

        I don’t know how to make redistricting not painful and upsetting for those impacted. But I do know the CMS decision has been made after long, exhaustive and painful debate that finally ended in clear consensus among our elected representatives, including 31-0 in the RTM, our most representative town body. Re-opening CMS ASAP is the by far the best and most rational option, which is why that was the decision we made as a Town.

        Avoiding redistricting pain by advocating to abandon CMS and cram our kids into BMS at 200% capacity indefinitely is not a solution. It has already been unanimously rejected for very good reason and it is not going to happen.

        I humbly suggest those unhappy with the redistricting options on the table accept the fact that we have already decided by unanimous vote of BOE, BOF and RTM that we are an 8 school town and that CMS is going to be fixed and reopen in 2020. How this has come to be viewed as a problem instead of a godsend is baffling to me, but any viable redistricting solution has to start from the fact that we have 8 schools, that is better than having 7, and we need to use them.

        Advocating that the CMS decision could or should be reversed is going to waste precious time and energy, get everyone really upset and then fail (again), because (a) that ship has sailed and (b) fixing and re-opening CMS is just obviously the right thing to do. No one on the BOE or BOF is going to reverse themselves and vote to abandon CMS, and there is no other viable alternative for that building other than to use it for what it is intended: as a middle school. We went round and round and round on sixth grade academy and it failed because it doesn’t make sense. The logistics alone are a non-starter: almost $1 mm a year for ten extra buses (so add another $30 million over 30 years to CMS cost) and a guaranteed traffic nightmare. Move on.

        We need to allocate students to 8 schools as best we can. Some people will have to change schools and they will be unhappy for a while and then get over it when their new school turns out to be great. Pretending or wishing we had 7 schools plus an abandoned campus at CMS is not a viable or serious solution. Let’s work the actual problem — redistricting is hard — and get on with it.

    • Jeff, the elementary schools are not balanced. KHS for one is close to (if not over capacity). GFS is very underutilized. I don’t recall the other data but safe to say there is an imbalance across the els. The BOE is trying to redistrict in a way that disrupts the fewest students. Not an easy task for sure. There was an option raised at one point to change the middle school feeder pattern which could help. I’ll admit, I’m not completely up to speed on it all the details anymore. What I do know is that Westport has needed to redistrict for a long time. It’s a tough decision to make but it has to be made as it seems to be the best way of balancing the schools. It falls squarely on the shoulders of the BOE and no other town body to make that decision.

  48. Tara Tesoriero

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. One amazing middle school is better in so many ways. Spend the money to enlarge Bedford and call it a day. It will save money as well running one school rather than two. This addresses parity concerns as well as redistricting concerns! It also stops building cms which seems silly to build walls over walls and replace everything else-either knock it down and start over or spend the money more thoughtfully-creating one amazing middle school! Thank you for your impressive thoughts and ideas!

  49. Elizabeth Williams

    So Danielle’s opinion is that a few bad ideas about redistricting have been floated so we should dump all educational best practices and choose to permanently overcrowd our only operating middle school building (designed to house 800 kids). This idea was explored and discussed and debated and FOUND LACKING by all of the educators in town over the past year. There is nothing visionary about pretending CMS could be a computer lab or enrich after school programs with more space: that would happen in both schools if they were utilized by the number of kids they are designed to hold and not overcrowded. This opinion piece is missing the following facts:
    • Middle school class sizes are 17% larger than Staples High School classes.
    • It is a poor educational practice to have younger kids in larger class sizes.
    • No school in the state is as overcrowded as Bedford Middle School right now. Not in Bridgeport or New Haven.
    Our town assets (our school buildings) have been neglected for years and kicking the can further down the road is no longer an option. We can’t afford to continue to be short-sighted and lower the quality of our schools further because it is cheaper to do so.
    The nonsensical approach of the redistricting choices that have been presented speaks to a lack of leadership by the BOE and the town. The discussion has to move away from factions and look toward intelligent, creative solutions that serve the entire town long term. I’ve been disappointed to see such shallow discussion by the BOE. It has encouraged the false idea that one school or another has more at stake. I hope we are capable of taking better care of each other’s children than we have this last year. We need to attract an incredible leader to our schools right now. This callow opinion piece is not going to help with that nor will P&Z overstep into education policy.

  50. Michelle Mechanic

    There are a few problems here. A “super middle school” was considered, and rejected. The proposals on the table come closest to meeting the goals: four teacher teams and balancing the schools. The BOE, BOF, and RTM have resolved CMS will be a 6-8 school. If this conversation were to be reintroduced, it would have been better done last year or over the summer.
    I’m not sure what P&Z can, or should do regarding the schools except for one possibility: We need to rebalance our schools due to decreased enrollment. P&Z is responsible for approving affordable housing units which could accommodate new families. It would be great (for me) to see P&Z tackle our rebalancing problem by approving more affordable housing for families, thereby increasing diversity, increasing enrollment, and giving new families the opportunity to benefit from our wonderful schools. (This is my personal opinion as a Westport resident and parent, and is not the opinion of any organization with which I am affiliated.)

  51. I was told that the idea of elementary schools k-4 intermediate 5-6 school at CMS and one middle school at BHS was untenable because CMS can’t hold all of the 5th and 6th grades. I don’t believe it. CMS was designed to have the auditorium split into classrooms. The art and music section there is also huge. There is are two huge classroom floors. Lots to discuss and it involves every Westporters regardless of parental status.

  52. Jack Whittle

    Obviously there are those who don’t believe we should renovate Coleytown Middle School (witness the passionate debate here). But that question has already been given a great deal of attention by the Town boards and leaders, in many open meetings with the same passionate debates, and a decision has already been reached. Regardless of where you or I may stand on this issue, we need to honor the legitimate process that has been followed, by those town boards and bodies who have jurisdiction over this question – and that would be the Board of Education and Board of Finance, and of course the RTM.

    If you disagree with the decisions reached by these town bodies in this matter, you have the right to raise your voice with them, and cast your votes accordingly come election time.

    But this is NO place for the Planning & Zoning Commission, which I sat on for 6 years, to get involved and re-try this question in their own venue. Even if you disagree with the decision reached, the path Ms. Dobins (with the support of the Chair of the P&Z, Paul Lebowitz, obviously) is having the P&Z take here hosting a public meeting (including a survey of these comments?) must be rejected as wildly out of bounds, at odds with the Town Code, and out of step with how we reach and respect decisions as a town.

  53. Those of us who are older wish we would have spoken up before huge mistakes were made in town, live with that legacy. The building that ate Westport, the demolition of the Westport Sanitarium (Winslow mansion) and the 2/3 1/3 middle school debacle for a few. Before we make another costly mistake, despite the thousand of special hours and learned people, let’s spend a little more time. I think it’s totally appropriate for a Paz person to speak up! She is a resident with gravitas of volunteerism and knowledge of the town issues. I don’t hear an Amen.

  54. I am a parent of a BMS 6th grader from CES. While I would not say that the current setup at BMS is ideal, I do think that $32 million is a hefty sum to pay for the convenience of returning kids to CMS in the shortest possible time.

    There is no question that an investment has to be made in the Westport school system, but the decision of how resources are best spent certainly warrants further research, debate and consideration. Is $32 million best spent rehabilitating one building, or can it be better utilized to improve the entire district? The issue of redistricting cannot be resolved without a long-term vision of what is sustainable. Moving kids from one school to another to alleviate the present-day overcrowding without a corresponding plan modernize our aging schools is not a solution.

    I do not have strong view of whether we need one or two middle schools in Westport. I do urge the people in decision-making positions not to rush forward with a renovation project that might not be in the best interest of the children of our town.

  55. Elizabeth Cohen

    Redistricting is not a new concept. It happens; and it would seem to me to have a lot less significance to a child’s education than that of an over-crowded, over-scheduled, stressful and less personal middle school experience.
    Regardless of your opinion on the BoE and their decisions and decision-making process, it’s in the past. We spent the entire year last year debating the CMS issue and a decision was made. There was ample time and opportunity to gather information and voice opinions. That’s how this process works. To now go back and say we should relook at a one-middle school model so that we can avoid (appropriate) redistricting is unfair to the town and undermines the whole process. It seems like personal agendas are getting in the way. (And I have two elementary school children who will possibly be moved.)
    To say that we now have all this time to relook at the model means we’re just pushing the decision out further— which creates further stress, division in the town, and more importantly, it delays the process of getting the kids to where they ultimately will land.

  56. Brooke Petrosino

    BMS Mega School was a one year option that has now turned into two year while CMS is offline as a Middle school. Is this year better than last year? Yes, but not an ideal model for our district for our Middle School students or teachers and why it was discussed at length last year. Both ideas moving to a one middle school model & a 6th Grade Academy were vetted with plenty of public input and expert testimony and both were voted off the table for many reasons–neither were a good educational model for a district our size.

    Tax payers don’t get fooled by Danielle’s shiny proposal! No savings would happen with a one Middle School model. The cost to properly house 1,300+ students at BMS would entail additions to the school to house more pod spaces, a larger lunch room and auditorium to house band and orchestra lessons. Not to mention creating more teaching spaces where the rented modulars stand now–do we plan to rent them indefinitely? Creating a one Middle school would cost more than refurbishing CMS…this was discussed last year and why the One Middle School model option for Westport was voted no.

    Pretty sure if people talked to the Middle School Administrators, teachers, and students they would understand why a One Middle school option at BMS is not ideal educationally or social/emotionally for middle school students. Students this year have lunch starting at 10:30 and ending at 1:30. They don’t get to have lunch with their entire grade levels and some have a mixed lunch with 7th & 8th graders. The hallways are still crowed and some teachers share classrooms so don’t have space of their own to make phone calls. The Mega Blue Pods this year have the 6-8 teacher team models that Dr. Rosen and Ms. Szabos spoke negatively about at a BOE meeting last week as a less adequate model for teaching and learning for students. So not sure why we would want to continue that if we don’t have to. Not an ideal teaching situation long term at all. BMS better than last year? Yes, but not a model to sustain or be proud of as a District long term.

    Redistricting at elementary and middle schools has been in need for years. This is not new information. And as hard as it is to except as parents, as a town we have to stay focused at what is the best educational model for our district for the future of our schools and the students.

    This article that Denielle Dobin wrote was irresponsible as an elected official. Her article has created much public concern on a matter that was already vetted and determined by the BOE, RTM, BOF and Selectman’s office voting to remain as a 2 Middle school 6-8 town. “Taking a pause” will jeopardize the work of the CMSBC for reopening CMS on time as a 6-8 Middle school fall of 2020. She used her elected platform to try to sway public opinion for personal reasons and personally think she should step down from her role on the P&Z or be fired for doing so. Pretty sure there are rules in place for such matters so elected official cannot use their “elected power” to sway public opinion for personal reasons.

  57. As the father of a Kindergartener at KHS and a preschooler, I’d like to add my two cents. And just because I wasn’t involved in this conversation last year, doesn’t make my opinion any less valid today. We were far removed from this situation until the redistricting of the elementary schools was brought to our attention.
    I am intrigued by the idea of one larger middle school, but i also understand the benefits of returning to the two middle school model. There are various ways that this can play out. CMS can house 6th grade and BMS can house 7th and 8th for example. And if we return to the two school model, then both schools should receive equal resources that are afforded. Are we just putting lipstick on a pig with CMS? If so, sounds like a waste of tax payer money and this will have a long term negative effect on the town.
    My view is that disrupting hundreds of children and families due to redistricting is harmful and not necessary. The most obvious solution to me is to fix the imbalance by adjusting how the elementary schools feed into the middle schools. For example, how about splitting the largest elementary school into the two middle schools? We can then adjust over time depending on future enrollment across the district. Otherwise, seems like this is a short term fix for a problem that will re-emerge again in the future, and we are compounding the issue by negatively impacting more families than necessary.
    We all have a right to voice our opinion and concerns and while many say that this is a done deal, hundreds of people feel otherwise. That says to me that this conversation needs to continue.
    The character of a community is best demonstrated during periods of distress. We can all agree that we want what’s best for our children and our town. That’s a good starting point. Let’s be thoughtful and prudent and take the time necessary to hear everyone’s concerns and ideas in a respectful way.

    • Jay Walshon MD FACEP

      Brooke

      ALL Town employees and ALL officials are prohibited from participating in any hearing and decision in which they or any member of their family have a personal interest. They are mandated to disqualify themselves as well as have the disqualification entered into the record.

      Unfortunately Town officials believe it appropriate to repeatedly engage in this blatant ethics violation, the Town leadership refuses to enforce it, and the Town residents who are adversely affected by such abuses of authority currently have no effective recourse to hold them accountable and responsible in any meaningful fashion (other than the ballot box which is both inefficient and ineffective regarding the immediate issues).

      Therefore this practice continues, both surruptiotuously and blatantly. This is but one recent and egregeous example that has implications far beyond this critical CMS dialogue..

  58. Shruti Gupta

    Westport has already wasted over a year on the decision making. CMS could very well have been repaired and functioning by now. To open this discussion again is delaying things by another year. At the end 32 million would not be saved as to make things permanent in Bedford massive construction would be needed including a new cafeteria and auditorium to fit everyone. Right now things are working becoz we needed them to work. There are no whole school meetings or anything like that that a school should have due to space constraints. We all moved to westport for schools and that very thing has become a joke. Narrowing to one school from 5 smaller schools at an age when kids need the most support is absolutely ridiculous. And there are a lot of parents that pulled out their children from middle school this year due to these reasons so enrollment declined due to that. That is temporary- most of us very well intend to bring our kids back in. It is really irritating and annoying that this town has started a discussion yet again. There will always be pros and cons to decisions but going in circles again and again is absolutely ridiculous. And ofcourse not to mention every committee in this town wants to abuse their power and not let BOE do what it is supposed to do.

  59. Dianna Walsh

    I am open to having the BOE gather additional information and reevaluate any option that has potential to provide balance, parity and long term stability for our district, including one enhanced middle school or a 5/6 or 6th grade academy. Underlying the decision to repair CMS (and commit to two 6-8 middle schools in order to secure funding from the BOF for the repair) was the assumption that redistricting would solve the imbalance and lack of parity at the two middle schools and enrollment would sustain two schools going forward. However, after actually gathering demographic information, seeing the actual enrollment data, and working on redistricting, after 8 months and many many scenarios and presentations, the BOE still does not have a sensible solution for repopulation and parity at two middle schools, because no matter which way they have tried to slice it, the numbers do not work. They have not found a scenario that satisfies their Guiding Criteria, reaches the goal of keeping two 6-8 middle schools with four teacher teams of equitable size, balances the Els and provides Stepping Stones with the space it needs for the long term. Maybe the BOE can get there and I think they should keep trying, but, at this point, it is possible that something will have to give. Maybe it is the four teacher teams, or maybe it is balance at the Els, maybe it is additional funding that allows the middle schools operate with four teacher teams below capacity, or maybe it will be the current two 6-8 middle school system. Or maybe, they will simply pick an option that doesn’t meet their educational goals, but is “good enough” for now, causes large amounts of disruption and puts us right back here for another round of redistricting in 3-5 years. I am not an expert and I don’t know the best path forward, nor am I sold on or advocating for one middle school as the solution at this point, but as stated above, I am open to having the BOE reevaluate options that were rejected early in the process in light of the work that has been done since last February and the options we have in front of us now. All that being said, I am unclear on how P&Z has a role here and why it is being used in this way. It seems that without a permanent superintendent who can develop a long-term plan for success for our district and commit to leading and implementing that plan, others will continue to try to fill the void.

    For those just getting up to speed on these issues, it might be helpful for you to review the redistricting goals set forth by the BOE, their Guiding Criteria for redistricting, and the various scenarios that have been considered and the discussions that have already taken place regarding those scenarios. You can find all BOE meeting agendas, meeting minutes, videos of live and archived BOE meetings and presentation materials here https://www.westportps.org/district/board-of-education. Whatever your views are, you can share them with the BOE directly at boe@westportps.org.

  60. New Westport resident here. I attended the BOE meeting last week and was disheartened. While I was impressed by the Middle School principals and their passion for a four teacher team system, I did not see how pocket redistricting would achieve that goal. In order to balance the enrollment at the middle schools the team hired by the BOE to run numbers were using figures from last years enrollment and not factoring the number of proposed developments around town (when numbers are so finite, everyone number counts). Not to mention if grandfathering in current students would be an option then it would be years before a “balanced enrollment” could be achieved. Moreover and admittedly the plan of redistricting would come at the price of our elementary school, throwing them completely out of balance. How is trading one problem for another a solution? Further more there was no guarantee that the middle schools would not become unbalanced in years to come forcing another redistricting. Over all the situation is a mess, with no clear action plan. To me, the idea of one state-of-art middle school would solve the problem of balancing enrollment and save the heartbreak of redistricting.

  61. The only conclusive fact I recall through the lengthy process last year was that mega middle schools are terrible for adolescents. Supported by research, psychologists, parents, teachers. Is there new information which warrants this proposal? What % decline in enrollments over next 3-5, 5-10 years are we anticipating? If we didn’t want to rebuild a 30 year old school we should have voted to rebuild it. Mega middle school was already debated.

  62. Eva Kornreich

    I agree and would also like to hear more from teachers on how the unified middle school is working.

  63. I can’t say anything new or more in support of 2 middle schools than what has already been said by so many (some even backed up how they feel with numbers and research).
    I would like to share what my 6th grader shared with me last night. He told me that there is a new procedure in place that when (he thinks the whole 6th grade) has lunch after a core class, the core teacher has to walk the kids to the cafeteria. This is because kids were running down the halls to the cafeteria to get in line faster so they didn’t have to wait in the long line to buy their lunch. The kids figured out that standing in line a long time reduced their time to eat so they resorted to running down the halls to get to the cafeteria faster. Obviously that wasn’t safe and it highlights another downfall of jamming 1300 kids in a space meant for 800. And if a mega Bedford is created, this problem mostly likely won’t be resolved. Oh and this happens at 10:24 am because that’s when my son’s “lunch” wave starts. (Which is a separate issue that won’t be resolved with one middle school).

  64. Iliya Ribchin

    Like all humans on this planet, Westporters are driven by self interests and self preservation – even when we speak and act in ways that appear altruistic. Supporters of either position may claim they feel it’s the best decision for the town but cannot help to view the options through the lens of what’s best for their own kids, their own families, and their own property values.

    There is nothing wrong with that, but we need to accept that much of the debate over this issue has been and continues to be clouded with emotion (no matter how much people claim to be presenting a dispassionate argument for the benefit of Westport). Everyone has “skin in the game” whether it’s parents with kids in the schools or administrators with jobs/budgets to protect, or town officials attempting to balance competing priorities. Sifting through the competing points of view to engage in a clear and fact-driven debate is virtually impossible.

    Danielle Dobin’s editorial is probably the first thing I read that made an effort to lay out a rational position devoid of emotional noise. While some may question why P&Z is “involved in education”, I would argue that they absolutely should be critical to this decision. P&Z is responsible for the development of the town, our neighborhoods/communities, and ultimately our home values. Our school system is one of the the biggest drivers of the attractiveness of our town, value of our neighborhoods, and value of our homes. It would be a huge failure of P&Z if they sit silently while the town makes decisions about schools that will massively impact Westport – not for the next school year but for decades to come.

    Danielle also brings up a point that everyone seems to ignore… does anyone really think the cost will be just $35M? When has any major project in Westport come in on time and/or on budget? We couldn’t even replace a turf field successfully? What gives anyone the confidence we can rebuild an entire school?

    While those of us with kids in the schools look at the impact of these decisions on our kids over the next few years, P&Z needs to look at the impact on Westport over the next few decades. The decision needs to be based on dispassionate facts, unbiased data, and a blunt discussion about how all of Westport will receive a return on the capital invested not just a few kids who have to face the horrifically unbearable burden of carrying their backpacks all day, eating lunch a bit early, or walking a few extra yards to class.

  65. Michelle Benner

    Dan, quick question: Is it appropriate to put the Westport Public School’s official logo on the same page as Danielle Dobin’s opinion? It feels wrong to me, making it seem like her voice is an official voice of the WPS. It’s not, is it?

    • Of course she is not speaking for the Westport Public Schools. I used a graphic to illustrate Westport schools in the general sense. I can’t imagine anyone thinks that she is an “official voice of the WPS.” There is nothing in the piece to remotely suggest that.

      • Michelle Benner

        Well, I think it’s deceptive and gives more gravity to her opinion than it deserves.

  66. I know we’ve already been around in circles on all of the potential scenarios. But I’d like to understand better why this one can’t work:

    – Create a 6th Grade Academy in the renovated (or partially renovated) CMS
    – Send all 7th/8th graders to BMS.

    I know bus cost is an issue. But is extra 1m a year seems like something we could tackle, esp if not all of CMS would need to be redone right away.

    I was speaking to a friend who lives in Short Hills NJ where they have over-enrollment in their elementary schools. They dealt with it by creating a 5th grade only building. She says it’s great b/c all of the kids get to meet in a smaller environment before they go on to the more stressful scene at middle school. We could have a 6th grade only building. Also then avoid having less mature 6th graders with almost high school ready post-pubescent 8th graders. Wouldn’t this scenario be best of both worlds and let us keep our elementary zoning in tact, and also let us maintain the integrity and parity of our academic models?