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Officials Should Rethink K-6 Proposal

Another look at a K-6 school

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9

You don’t necessarily have to be religious to appreciate reading Ecclesiastes.  There’s a great deal of wisdom to many of the ideas expressed there.

Take for example the concept of nothing new under the sun.  I was reminded of that when I read the Patch article, .”

I can frankly speak to this issue with some authority because first, I’ve lived in Newtown for more than 44 years, and second, I was an elementary school teacher from 1973 until my retirement in 2004. Since then I’ve served as a substitute teacher at the elementary level.

When we moved to Newtown in 1967, the high school was under construction.  High school students shared what is now the middle school with 7th and 8th graders. There were double sessions. The elementary schools were all K-6 schools.

When the high school opened, that created a vacuum at the middle school. That vacuum was filled with 5th and 6th graders. So for many years the elementary schools were K-4 and the middle school was a 5-8 configuration.

In the early 1970s, severe overcrowding at the middle school forced the town to construct numerous portable classrooms at the elementary schools to house the  5th grades. The school district then moved to elementary schools being K-5, middle school, 6-8, and everyone else in the high school.

That’s the way it stayed through the construction of Head O’Meadow until Reed Intermediate School opened.

When school officials were struggling with the problem of overcrowding at the elementary and middle school levels in the mid 1990s, there was a significant number of people who urged the construction of another K-6 elementary school. rather than an intermediate school.  

The reasoning was four-fold. First there would be fewer transitions, and second, it would tend to create more of a community atmosphere with one of the ideas being that in education, smaller is better. Third,  5th and 6th graders wouldn’t “grow up” quite so quickly and fourth, looking way into the future, it was thought that an intermediate school would be very difficult to retrofit to other grade levels if needed.

I was among those who urged the above scenario. Obviously, our ideas were not accepted so here we are today — four different levels of schools one of which can’t really be used for any other grade level below 5th grade.

The idea of  returning to a K-6 configuration is not universally accepted by many teachers I’ve spoken to. Their feeling is that the “average” 6th grader today is much different than that of yesteryear. They simply wouldn’t fit into an elementary context.

There are other problems with moving two grade levels to the elementary schools besides the obvious one of finding rooms. There are currently 18 5th & 6th grade classrooms. That means each elementary school has to find nine more classrooms.

And that’s not all. Nine more classrooms at each school would put enormous strain on the core facility. The music, art, physical education, library/media, and food service programs would be strained far beyond their current levels.

This doesn’t even begin to address finer details like the absence of lockers and greatly reduced playground space.

I’m sure the members of the committee who are looking into this issue are aware of all of this. Yet, I’m puzzled by a comment Board of Education Chairman Bill Hart made as quoted in the original Patch article: Renovating Reed into a school for sixth through eighth grade was appearing “probably expensive and not practical.”

Does he seriously think it would be less expensive and more practical to configure the elementary schools for 5th & 6th graders? 

I strongly urge the committee — and the town – to take a better look at this idea. I think under closer scrutiny they’ll find that this is no longer a viable idea. The construction of Reed Intermediate took it out of play. 

Ah, hindsight. Always 20/20, isn’t it?

Heather October 23, 2011 at 01:30 PM
Well said. I am interested in this topic and hope that the public is kept well informed on this issue. I think it would be a huge strain on the elementary schools. I hope it doesn't happen.
Sam Mihailoff October 23, 2011 at 02:53 PM
Logic is rarely. if ever. part of the game plan on Primrose Lane
Kathy Fetchick October 23, 2011 at 03:36 PM
First, the meetings are public and posted on the Town calendar (http://www.newtown-ct.gov/Public_Documents/NewtownCT_Calendar/?formid=158). I believe we set a tentative meeting date of 11/2 if anyone is interested. Also, our recommendation will go to the BOE and it is up to them to make the final decision.
Christine Sekelsky Hermes October 23, 2011 at 04:27 PM
I find this unacceptable as we are already stretched for money in the BOE budget! I have 3 children in Middle Gate and think it would be a very large stretch to add 2 more grades, there. I don't see how this is cost effective and am wondering how it will affect the kids. There is already issues with the 1st grade PE classes having too many children.
Kathy Fetchick October 23, 2011 at 05:27 PM
The adhoc school space needs committee asked the Superintendent and her staff to look at the possibility of K-6 in the elementary schools. There is no immediacy in this decision. This type of change would only take place in the future if the enrollment hit a certain level. The question needs to be explored because at some point, the boe and the school district will have to deal with the reality of the declining enrollment: monroe, ridgefield and other districts have already done so. The facts are that just over 2100 kids filled the elementary schools back in 2005. The K-5 grades are be able to fit in the elementary schools next year and K-6 may be able to fit in 2015. That is strictly by the numbers. There are other factors which need to be considered and that is why the educational experts have been asked to do the research. The committee was looking into K-5 and 6-8 at Reed; however, the Superintendent told us that there would have to be a 20,000 sq ft addition to the Reed school. The other side of the coin is that there are millions of dollars of capital projects in the future. How great would it be if we could repurpose a school as a municipal building instead? This would reduce our debt, address some future municipal space needs, and allow us more flexibility with our operating budget. The bottom line is that we should be asking the questions, researching the answers and making a decision based on data. Isn't that what you would expect of your leaders?
Douglas Brennan October 23, 2011 at 07:08 PM
Should Newtown strategically be centralized or decentralized. The move to early centralization creates a greater burden (external cost) on the parents and children without providing a meaningful educational or cost benefit. The way to avoid these futrue issues is to avoid the typical optimum planning exercise that only creates the inability to ramp up and down cost effectively.
Jessica October 23, 2011 at 07:19 PM
"Also, our recommendation will go to the BOE and it is up to them to make the final decision." KF That's a scary thought right there. Not having much confidence in the board of Ed right now. My son couldn't wait to get out of Middle Gate and into Reed for a fresh start and more responsibility. I can't imagine him having to attend there for another two years. If this comes to fruition it will be taking a serious step backward.

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