Tag Archives: Coleytown Middle School

[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.

Unsung Heroes #101

This Unsung Heroes post started with a request to honor one Bedford Middle School music teacher: Lou Kitchner.

A parent praised him for his “innate passion for music, and the power music can have on an individual child.” She mentioned his special ability to make each student feel special; his utter devotion to his craft, and the youngsters he works with; his ability to reach each at their own level, and help them reach far beyond whatever they thought was possible.

Lou Kitchner

Mr. Kitchner certainly deserves those kudos. But Westport is fortunate to have many other superb music educators too. Each one — from elementary school teachers like Greens Farms’ Suzanne Sherman Propp, to Staples’ Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda (who retires this year, after more than 40 years as band leader) — earns well-deserved praise and love from students and parents.

So — 2 days before the Westport music department’s 4th annual Pops Concert (a sellout, as always) — “06880” hails the entire town’s band, orchestra and vocal teachers as Unsung Heroes.

Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda at the 2018 Candlelight Concert.

But I kept thinking about Lou Kitchner and his Bedford band. This has been a very tough year for his school — and of course Coleytown Middle too. Teachers from 2 schools were suddenly thrown together, in 1 building. Overnight, they had to adapt to an entirely new situation.

With incredible hard work, they got it done. Administrators and staff members — teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, you name it — did whatever they had to to serve their students. (The same thing happened at Staples High, with Coleytown’s 8th graders.)

Spaces and resources were shared. Schedules were worked out. Everyone compromised. The school year went on.

That teamwork was never more evident than on Memorial Day. The Bedford and Coleytown bands marched together. Their numbers were huge. Their sound was impressive. Walking proudly — in front of, behind, and among them — were music teachers from both schools.

The Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands combined this year. Hundreds of young musicians sounded great — and very together! (Photo/Sarah Tamm)

So everyone who had any part in making the Coleytown/Bedford/Staples transition work this year is an Unsung Hero too.

That’s a lot of heroes. But it takes a village to educate a child.

We bang the drum for all of you.

Portables Put In Place

They don’t look like much.

But they don’t have to.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Four portable (aka modular) classrooms arrived at Bedford Middle School today.

Four more are on their way.

They’ll be fully installed and hooked up soon — well in time for the start of the next school year.

All Coleytown Middle School students will be together again, at BMS.

“Fractured Fairy Tales”: The Story Behind The BMS Show

This has not been an easy year for middle schoolers.

Coleytown was closed in September due to mold; 6th and 7th graders have been at Bedford ever since. Every day, administrators, staff and students of 2 schools make compromises. Everyone involved has done a great — and often unheralded — job.

But it’s one thing to move classes, or share gym and cafeteria space. It’s another thing entirely to accommodate 2 different drama productions simultaneously.

Traditionally each spring, CMS stages an all-school musical. BMS puts on a 6th grade non-musical.

Both are fully staged, with professionally produced costumes and sets. Both involve scores of students.

Directors Ben Frimmer (CMS) and Karen McCormick (BMS) agreed to keep the schedule the same as in past years. They would share space during rehearsals, but — to provide stage time for actors and the technical staff — Bedford would push its opening back to April.

Bedford Middle School art teacher Lynn Karmen, with one of her set painters. (Photo/Melissa Fass)

Musicals require tons of space — for dancers, singers and scene work. Coleytown’s “42nd Street” was especially big. With only 3 weeks for Bedford to install their set, create costumes and the actors to transfer what they’d learned from such a small space to a big stage, the BMS show could not be technically complex.

Normally, Bedford’s non-musical is a version of a classic childen’s book like “Alice in Wonderland” or “The Phantom Tollbooth.” But with such limited room for rehearsals, plus set and costume construction, McCormick and her staff decided on a series of short stories from the 1960s “Rocky & Bullwinkle” cartoon show, called “Fractured Fairy Tales.”

They crafted 15 stories, and added short “fairy tale” commercials.

That provided 70 actors with over 240 roles to share. There are 40 narrators, 15-plus kings, queens, princes and princesses, and dozens of goblins, beasts, chickens, ogres, court jesters and peasants. Each youngster is featured in at least 2 “plays.”

The Do It All Wand cast. (Photo/January Stewart)

They found space in hallways and classrooms. Combined with Coleytown’s set construction crews, tap dancers, costume people, there were some very noisy afternoons.

“The kids didn’t mind,” McCormick says. “They worked very well under the circumstances.”

With just 12 days of unfettered access to the stage, BMS got creative with their set. “Fractured Fairy Tales” uses a new 25-foot floor-to-ceiling movie screen as a backdrop. It features hundreds of colorful images, most from old cartoons. On stage, 20 colorful 18-inch cubes instantly turn into thrones, tables or mountains.

Transferring the off-stage rehearsals onto the large stage has taken some work. But, McCormick says, the actors are working hard on new blocking, and pumped-up motions.

“Fractured Fairy Tales” rehearsals are fun — and energetic. (Photo/Melissa Fass)

Costumes were done later than usual too. BMS actors received theirs only a few days ago. Each person has 2 to 4 costume changes — some with only minutes to spare. They’re working on that too.

But this is Bedford Middle School. Like their Coleytown counterparts, the young actors and their tech crew embrace the challenge.

When the curtain rises this Friday, audiences will not even realize what everyone went through to produce “Fractured Fairy Tales.” They’ll smile, laugh and applaud. Just like every other BMS show.

(“Fractured Fairy Tales” performances are this Friday, April 26 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 27 at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, April 28 at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets.)

(NOTE: Coleytown’s show — “42nd Street” — overcame several obstacles too, beyond shared space. Click here for that “06880” story.)

For Coleytown Company, The Show Must Go On. And Boy, Did It!

First, Coleytown Middle School’s Company lost their stage.

Then they lost their lead.

But the show must go on. This weekend, it did.

Big time.

With great cooperation from Bedford — where Westport’s 2 middle schools now share space, following the closure of CMS last fall due to mold — Coleytown Company was deep in rehearsals for “42nd Street.”

Andrew Maskoff (tie) with (front row, left to right) Drew Andrade, Melody Stanger, Anna Diorio. Rear: Lucy Docktor, Jordyn Goldshore, Kathryn Asiel and Demitra Pantzos. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

On Tuesday, director Ben Frimmer learned that Andrew Maskoff — the 6th grade lead — had to go on vocal rest. He could not talk or sing until the show.

Frimmer was determined to get him on stage. In the meantime, he needed a fill-in for rehearsals — and the possibility that Andrew could not perform at all.

There were 3 possibilities.  Frimmer could recruit his son Jonah — a 7th grader in Weston who has done 3 Equity productions. He could go on himself. Or he could ask a Staples High student to step in.

Frimmer chose the third. He called Staples Players director David Roth, who suggested Max Herman. The senior had just completed a fantastic run in “Curtains.”

Frimmer knew Max well. They’d worked together on 3 CMS shows.

The director called him at 1 p.m. An hour later, Max was at Bedford rehearsing.

He rehearsed all week — including following behind Andrew, who walked him through the blocking.

Andrew Maskoff (center) helps Max Herman with his blocking. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

Andrew went on Friday night. But it was clear that 2 more shows would be too much. Max took the stage Saturday, so Andrew could close out the run on Sunday.

“I have never seen a student make as mature a decision as Andrew,” Frimmer says.

Having survived Saturday night, the cast was excited yesterday to have everyone back on stage.

Suddenly — just 30 minutes before the curtain rose — another supporting lead was struck with a migraine.

Staples freshman Nina Driscoll — another Coleytown Company alum who had served as assistant director — immediately offered to step in.

In just half an hour Frimmer and his assistants ran her through her songs and dances, and highlighted her script. Ten minutes before showtime, she announced she was off book — she knew the script — and was ready to go.

Nina Driscoll (3rd from left) with (from left) Sacha Maidique, Callum Madigan and Maggie Teed.

That’s show business.

And that’s why Westport loves Ben Frimmer, Staples Players — and especially Coleytown Company.

(Hat tips: Tami Benanav and Nick Sadler)

Drew Andrade dances, accompanied by (from left) Eliza Walmark, Rima Ferrer, Emma Schorr. Cece Dioyka, Drew Andrade, Ava Chun, Kathryn Asiel, Keelagh Breslin. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

“42nd Street” dancers (from left) Vivian Shamie, Kathryn Asiel and Demitra Pantzos. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

Bedford Wins State Science Olympiad; Coleytown Earns Kudos

It’s been a tough year for Coleytown Middle School.

But moving to a new building did not stop some of the students from working hard in preparation for the Connecticut Science Olympiad Tournament.

On Sunday in Farmington, they turned in outstanding performances at the tournament — in all 23 events. 

Coleytown students coached by Keenen Grace finished 7th in the state, including 10 top 5 finishes. The state Olympiad director gave a shout-out during the awards to the CMS students, saying they had done “particularly well” given the circumstances.

The Coleytown Middle School Science Olympiad team…

Meanwhile, Bedford Middle School — coached by Art Ellis, with help from Kat Nicholas and Daniel Cortright — competed as 2 teams. The A team finished 1st.  They’ll represent Connecticut at the Science Olympiad national tournament in June, at Cornell University.

The B team was not far behind, in 3rd place.

Congrats to all our great middle school Olympians!

… and the Bedford Science Olympians.

Middle School Actors Get Star Treatment

Coleytown Middle School students have lost their auditorium. But Coleytown Company — the school’s drama troupe — has not lost a step. In true theatrical fashion, the show must go on.

This spring’s production is “42nd Street.” Guest stars include Amiee Turner (who was in the original show) and Megan Osterhaus (who played Mary Poppins opposite Gavin Lee’s Bert on Broadway).

Coleytown Company director Ben Frimmer — who saw Lee in “Mary Poppins,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “The Grinch” — realized he’d be a great guest artist, to work with his middle school actors.

Osterhaus made the connection. Yesterday, the magic happened.

And — because the two middle schools are now one — Frimmer invited the Bedford acting troupe too. Over 140 students from both schools had a blast.

Gavin Lee talked about his craft …

Many students seemed familiar with “Mary Poppins.” But they were gaga over the SpongeBob credit.

Lee passed out lyrics to that show’s opening song, and described the back story of the musical. Then he taught the words — and the intention behind them — to the song “Bikini Bottom Day.”

After the kids belted them out, Lee taught the choreography. Students spilled off the stage, onto the extension built for “42nd Street,” and into the aisles.

They took turns dancing and singing. They cheered each other on. They loved it.

… and then worked closely with the Coleytown and Bedford Middle School youngsters.

Lee then discussed characters. Volunteers read a few scenes with the actor.

Next, he asked a group of “42nd Street” tappers to show him the opening number. He gave important feedback on performance and precision. They all listened intently.

The workshop ended with a Q-and-A. It might still be going, if Frimmer had not finally called a halt.

The young Coleytown and Bedford actors enjoyed the fun, educational afternoon.

They also enjoyed being one group. Two is indeed “company.”

Board Of Ed: 6th Graders Will Attend Elementary Schools

For the past 3 months, Westport educators and town officials have wrestled with the closing of Coleytown Middle School, due to mold.

Last night, the Board of Education released this statement:

The Board of Education thanks everyone who came out to our board meeting on Monday night. We appreciate all of the comments that were shared on behalf of parents, students, teachers and members of our Westport school community. As a board, we truly appreciate the passion that we all have for educational excellence in our town.

We also appreciate the words of our first selectman, Jim Marpe, who made it quite clear that he and his administration are behind us all the way, supporting the Board’s decision, as well as supporting us in our long-term plans moving forward. We are fortunate to have such great support.

As a result of all the input the Board has received, including listening to those in attendance on Monday night, the input of our Community Advisory Committee, numerous public sessions and substantial email messages and conversations and the recommendation of the Dr. Palmer, superintendent of schools, the Board of Education deliberated and voted to have all 6th grade students attend school in Westport’s current elementary schools commencing with the 2019-20 academic year.

Long Lots is one of Westport’s 5 elementary schools. It opened in the mid-1950s as a junior high,

With this decision, we as a town are working to ensure a smooth transition for our teachers, administrators and, most importantly, our students.

The Board of Education also voted to form the “CMS Task Force” to explore options for returning Coleytown Middle School to service and to make recommendations to the Board of Education. The Board of Education will name the members of this task force in early January.

The Board of Education additionally affirmed its commitment to completing an academic and facility vision by the end of September 2019.  This will be called the NextGenEd initiative and will start in January, 2019.

With these actions, the gears are in motion for Westport to continue to provide the high level of academic excellence now and for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Palmer will be following up with additional information regarding some of the details of the next steps.

The Board of Education thanks our fellow community members, the employees of our schools and town for their continued, valuable support and ideas.  Westport is a town that places great value on the education of each and every child in our community and that is our focus as we move forward.

Regards,
Mark Mathias, Chair
Jeannie Smith, Vice Chair
Elaine Whitney, Secretary
Karen Kleine
Vik Muktavaram
Candice Savin
Neil Phillips

After Coleytown: School District Considers 9 Plans For Next Year

When mold closed Coleytown Middle School in September, school administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents scrambled to adjust.

Sixth and seventh graders moved to Bedford Middle School. Eighth graders headed to Staples. That temporary measure will last through the current school year.

Now — with the fate of CMS still undetermined — educators and townspeople must plan for the next school year.

Yesterday at Town Hall, superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer presented 9 options to the newly formed Community Advisory Group. Comprised of teachers, administrators, PTA members and others, they have a December 10 deadline to present a 2019-20 plan to the Board of Education.

The options — which may be amended as work continues — include:

  1. Keeping 6th grades at elementary schools; all 7th and 8th graders would remain at Bedford. Stepping Stones Preschool would move from Coleytown Elementary to a rented facility; Long Lots kindergartners would attend CES in that space.
  2. As above, but Long Lots 6th graders would attend Coleytown El in the current Stepping Stones place.
  3. Stepping Stones would move to a rented facility. Long Lots 6th graders would attend CES; Saugatuck and Kings Highway 6th graders would go to Bedford Middle School (which would include portable classrooms); Greens Farms 6th graders would remain in that school, and CMS 7th and 8th graders would remain at BMS.
  4. All 6-8th graders would attend Bedford on a staggered schedule. For example: grade 6, 7 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.; grades 7-8, 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  5. Maintain the current plan: All 6th and 7th graders at BMS; CMS 8th graders at Staples.
  6. All students in grades 6-8 attend Bedford on the same school schedule.
  7. All students in grades 6-8 attend Bedford, with double sessions. For example: Session I, 7 a.m. to noon; Session II, 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  8. Housing one of the following at a different, rented location: Early learning center (Stepping Stones Preschool and all kindergarten classrooms districtwide); 6th grade; 8th grade; all of Coleytown Middle School.
  9. Utilize 1 of the 5 elementary schools to house CMS. Those elementary school students would be redistricted to the other 4 elementary schools.

The Community Advisory Group’s next meeting is tomorrow (Tuesday, November 20, 7:30 p.m., Bedford Middle School).

Board Of Ed Offers Update On Coleytown Middle

Two months after mold forced the closing of Coleytown Middle School — sending 6th and 7th graders to Bedford Middle, and 8th graders to Staples High School — administrators, town officials and the Board of Education is working hard to find a temporary solution. The Board of Ed says:

Our school district is undergoing an unprecedented situation. Seven weeks ago we voted to move students out of Coleytown Middle School. The Board acted quickly to hire both the architect and industrial hygienist to provide 3rd-party evaluations of the condition of the building.

We are sending this communication to the community to let you know what actions are being taken by the Board to address this situation in both the short- and long-term.

Coleytown Middle School

Last Monday, we heard a report from KG+D Architects about their assessment of Coleytown Middle School. KG+D offered very preliminary cost estimates of 3 options to remediate or rebuild Coleytown Middle School, ranging from $25 to $70 million.  The report is available for viewing at: http://bit.ly/KGD-CMSReport-2018-11-05.

The Board of Education also authorized the creation of an ad hoc townwide committee to advise and make recommendations to the Board on the short- and long-term needs of our district’s educational and physical facilities. Our town has precedent for these committees and we are moving expeditiously to activate these. People willing to serve on this committee can send an email expressing their interest to Mark Mathias (mmathias@westportps.org).

Ultimately these decisions lie with the Board, but we are soliciting community input in order to inform our decision-making.

So, what’s happening next?

First, on Thursday (November 15, Bedford Middle School, 7:30 p.m.), an open meeting will be held. The public can hear from and ask questions of Kris Szabo, Dr. Adam Rosen and James D’Amico (Coleytown, Bedford and Staples principals) about progress at Bedford and Staples. District administrators and members of the Board of Education will also be present.

Second, no later than Monday, November 19, we will receive the report from the industrial hygienist on their review and recommendations on Coleytown Middle School.

Third, we are currently constituting the ad hoc townwide committee that will include stakeholders from our town. Dates for the ad hoc committee-related and community events include:

  • Tuesday, November 13 (Town Hall, 7:30 a.m.): The Finance and Facilities Committee has first on its agenda the “Formation and composition of a town-wide committee” that was authorized by the Board last Monday
  • Sunday, November 18 (Town Hall, 5 p.m.): Preview to the ad hoc committee by Dr. Colleen Palmer, superintendent of schools, the 2019-2020 academic year options
  • Monday, November 19 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 p.m.): Dr. Palmer will present to and discuss with the Board of Education options for the 2019-2020 academic year
  • Tuesday, November 27 (Long Lots Elementary School auditorium, 7 p.m.): Evening open conversation and public feedback on the options presented
  • Wednesday, November 28 (Town Hall, 12:00 p.m.): Daytime open conversation and public feedback on the options presented
  • Thursday, November 29 (Town Hall): Ad hoc committee will meet to discuss the 2019-2020 academic year options and make a recommendation to present to the Board of Education
  • Monday, December 3 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 pm): Ad hoc committee will present to the Board of Education their recommendation
  • Monday, December 10 (Staples cafeteria, 7:30 p.m.): The Board of Education will decide how to proceed for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The challenges our town has faced this academic year are substantial. Closing a school during the school year is not a decision that we take lightly. The situation has affected everyone in our schools, and is a test of our ability to handle disruption. Through years of building top teams of teachers, staff and administrators, we are confident in our teachers, staff and administrators.

It’s also clear that this year is different for everyone involved with our education system. This is not the year that anyone planned. Some people have been affected more than others. We have been and continue to work to address everyone’s needs.

Bedford Middle School

Most importantly, we have focused on the safety of our students, faculty and staff and our continuing efforts to provide the top notch education for which Westport is known.

More updates will be coming from Dr. Palmer and the Board of Education as we work through this together.

Finally, we appreciate the feedback we have received from the community. It is your support, varied perspectives and specific insights that help us make decisions that will affect us now and for years to come. Board members’ individual contact information can be found by clicking here. Alternatively, the entire Board can be reached by email at boe@westportps.org.  Videos of our public meetings can be viewed by clicking here.