Several months ago, it was looking as if someday if Newtown’s student population was to sink to low enough levels. But now, after looking at trying to fit all of the grades into the building, officials have determined the sixth grade might have to move to the elementary schools instead.
Renovating Reed into a school for sixth through eighth grade was appearing “probably expensive and not practical,” Board of Education Chairman Bill Hart said toward the end of Wednesday’s meeting of the Ad-hoc School Facilities Committee.
“The only thing left is to look at K through sixth grade,” he said.
The committee, a group comprised of officials from the school district, education board and Legislative Council, was formed to explore different school space-needs scenarios in light of declining enrollment.
The group had intended to take a final vote on the matter Wednesday, but eventually delayed a decision because committee members determined they needed more information, namely whether all of the elementary schools might be able to fit kindergarten through sixth grades and Reed to take seventh and eighth grades if student enrollment was to decline enough.
“It’s significantly important that we have more answers in a short period of time rather than a long period of time,” education board member Debbie Leidlein said. “I don’t want to wait for another two months before we look at this…I don’t think we have any other options.”
At the moment, elementary schools offers classes to kindergarten through fourth grades while Reed has fifth and sixth grades and Newtown Middle School seventh and eighth grades.
Officials project that student enrollment will decline enough in the future – potentially by 2015 or in and around that year – to warrant the closing down of a school building, which some officials believe might be rehabilitated to serve other municipal needs. The town has plans for a new community center, police station and other facilities but a limited Capital Improvement Plan budget, so some officials believe the closing down of a school might offer Newtown more options.
The , but its work has been slow going as officials struggle to make meetings work with their schedules and solicit information from the school district on different scenarios. Members had looked into closing down an elementary school, because they wanted to preserve neighborhood schools in case one particular sector of town saw a growth spurt.
The committee initially determined that moving the fifth grade to the elementary schools and making Reed School home to sixth, seventh and eighth grades might be the most viable option, but following Wednesday’s meeting, which also was attended by Reed principal Sharon Epple and Newtown Middle School principal Diane Sherlock, clumping the three grades at Reed appeared to be a much less attractive option.
For one thing, sixth grade teachers hold different certifications from those who teach seventh and eight grade, the principals said. Additionally, a new wing, including classrooms and an additional gym, would need to be added to Reed in order to accommodate the space needs of three grades at Reed, according to the principals, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson and Director of School Facilities Gino Faiella.
The cost of renovating Reed would exceed the savings of closing the middle school by several factors, according to school officials.
“Without at least another gym or these large rooms, we can’t fit three grades into Reed,” education board chairman Bill Hart said.
At the same time, Sherlock also said she believed in the intermediate model Newtown has adopted.
“If what you are doing is working, why would you change it?” Sherlock asked. “I realize that I have a vested interest, but I don’t think it’s broken.”
However, some officials said the potential cost savings and the pressure on the town’s capital improvement budget in light of the economy was forcing them to consider these options.
“We don’t want to hurt the school system,” council member Kathy Fetchick said.
At the end, officials settled on another meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Nov. 25 with the expectation that Robinson will meet with elementary school principals to determine whether those schools can fit kindergarten through sixth grade in a scenario that includes full-day kindergarten and one with without.
Sherlock also was asked to determine whether seventh and eighth grade could fit into Reed if the student population were to decrease by about 100 children.
Officials said due to differing educational needs as well as parental concerns associated with having eighth graders ride the same buses as high school students, moving the eighth grade to Newtown High School was ill-advised.
Fetchick said the high school might still serve a purpose in future years if all of the other scenarios weren't possible.
"The high school is built for 2,200 students," she said. "The high school is going to be a ghost town."
Editor's note: Officials said due to differing educational needs as well as parental concerns associated with having eighth graders ride the same buses as high school students, moving the eighth grade to Newtown High School was ill-advised. That sentence has been revised from when this article was originally pubished to better reflect what was said at the meeting.