Committee working to shape future of borough schools

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What will the Naugatuck school system look like in 2025? That is the central question members of the Long Term School Facility Planning Committee are attempting to answer.

“We’re looking for a plan that would include what needs to be done in order to have an excellent system in place in the year 2025,” committee Chair Warren “Pete” Hess said.

Over the past couple of months, the committee attempted to gage public opinion through a survey distributed online and at locations throughout Naugatuck.

The results of a school survey reinforced a lot of opinions discussed by members of the Long Term School Facility Planning Committee, according to Mayor Robert Mezzo, who sits on the committee ex-officio.

He said the survey results won’t be used to guide policy, but is one of the many factors the committee will discuss when planning the future of education in Naugatuck.

“This is not scientific by any means. It’s just an attempt by the committee to find strong trends in public opinion,” Mezzo said.
Right now, everything is on the table, including closing and repurposing schools, building new schools, renovating and changing the grade configuration in the district.

Almost 400 people responded to the survey. With 4,500 students in the district, along with teachers, parents, administrators and taxpayers, Hess said the field in the survey was extremely small and didn’t provide too much information that hasn’t already been considered by the committee.

He said he was a little disappointed about the low rate of participation despite the committee’s best efforts to get the survey out to the public.

Most of the respondents–73 percent–were female.

“The mother seems to play a predominant role in a child’s education, even in two parent families,” Mezzo said.

Many of the respondents were educators, parents and taxpayers, roles that are not mutually exclusive, Mezzo pointed out.

Many of the respondents–44 percent–didn’t have any kids in the school system. Only 4 percent of survey-takers were students themselves.

The survey found that the importance of quality educators and support staff was overwhelmingly important regardless of what building they were in, Mezzo said.

The survey also showed that respondents valued a good curriculum over having a modern building or a school close to home.
Another point most respondents agreed on was that Naugatuck schools need a makeover. Two-thirds of respondents rated the overall condition of schools fair or poor.

When asked hypothetically which school should be reconstructed in the next 10 years, 60 percent of respondents said the high school is in most need of a revamp, followed by a new middle school. Maple Hill Elementary was in the best condition of all Naugatuck schools, according to respondents.

Survey respondents said they would like to have one to three years to prepare if a school were to close or grade configurations were to change.

Last year, The Board of Education faced a lot of heat when it attempted to close Salem School to save money. The idea was ultimately retracted, but survey results show most respondents, 54 percent, would favor closing Salem over other schools. Most respondents would oppose closing Maple Hill.

The planning committee has been discussing the possibility of changing the grade configuration. Survey results showed that 39 percent of respondents thought a kindergarten through fifth grade elementary school, followed by a grade 6 to 8 middle school, and a traditional high school was the best configuration. However, 25 percent of respondents preferred the current grade system of kindergarten to fourth, fifth to sixth, seventh to eighth and high school.

The committee has discussed a myriad of plans and designs for the future of Naugatuck schools and is moving towards reaching a consensus on a plan that will be favored by the majority of the committee, Hess said.

“We’re looking at a variety of combinations of projects that would include renovations, reconstruction and repurposing schools,” Hess said.

The committee hasn’t made any final decisions yet, and plans to make recommendations for new school sites and other plans to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses once it has come to a conclusion. Public forums are expected to held once the committee makes more defined recommendations.