Westport school board narrows in on K-6 model
WESTPORT — Three months after Coleytown Middle School closed due to health concerns related to mold, the school board is closing in on a decision about where to house Coleytown’ students next school year.
This coming Monday, the Board of Education will likely vote to place all of the town’s seventh- and eighth-grade students at Bedford Middle School while the incoming sixth-graders will do another year at their respective elementary schools, BOE Chairman Mark Mathias said.
“This would be a K-to-sixth proposed model, which means everything they have now, plus hopefully more,” Saugatuck Elementary School Principal Elizabeth Messler told the school board at their Monday meeting.
The sixth-grade would not be secluded, but “part of the fabric of our school,” added Messler, who presented the model with her fellow elementary school principals.
Superintendent Colleen Palmer said the K-6 model is her recommended plan after her first choice option — creating a temporary school for the town’s sixth-grade population at a rented facility — fell through. Despite contracting with a realtor to look for space that could house the proposed “sixth grade academy,” each available space had prohibiting factors, such as safety concerns with locating the academy on a busy road.
“There’s a lot of challenges when you try to put a school into an office building,” Mathias said, noting none of the spaces had a gymnasium or cafeteria. Several of the BOE members said the sixth-grade academy was also their first option but, absent the miracle opening of a perfect space, is likely not a viable plan for the coming school year.
Ever since Coleytown closed, all of town’s sixth- and seventh-grade students have been located at Bedford while the eight-grade is being housed Staples High School, but Palmer said she does not endorse this option for another year out of concern for the social and emotional health of sixth-graders who may not do well in a large middle school environment.
“If we’re going to stay in this interim plan for several years, I worry about the sustainability of this and feel the elementary would offer us a more comfortable environment in which we could support the academic program of our students,” Palmer said.
Palmer urged the school baord to vote on the K-6 option as soon as possible in order to give her administration enough time to prepare the plan, which would entail adding modular classrooms to several of the elementary schools and potentially laying off some Coleytown staff.
The estimated cost of the K-6 plan with staff savings would be $730,000 in the first year of the program, Palmer said.
Several parents said they were concerned about the loss of elective classes and after-school enrichment opportunities under the K-6 model.
“There’s no obvious, perfect situation, and we have to make the decision,” BOE member Candi Savin said. “It’s uncomfortable, and I don’t think it’s going to be any more comfortable sometime in the future.”
The BOE will meet on Dec. 17 to vote on the K-6 plan.
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