Committee settles on middle school model for borough

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The Naugatuck Board of Education discussed creating a campus style kindergarten to eighth grade school in the borough at its meeting Feb. 9 at Maple Hill School. - LARAINE WESCHLER

NAUGATUCK — The committee tasked with looking to the future of Naugatuck schools has settled on a grades five to eight campus-style configuration for Naugatuck’s middle schools.

The district currently has two intermediate schools for fifth and sixth grade students and middle school for seventh- and eighth-graders.

The proposed configuration would combine those three schools onto one campus with separate sections for grades five and six and grades seven and eight.

The Long Term School Facility Planning Committee, which recently pushed forward a successful referendum for the high school renovation, has now asked the architectural firm Kaestle Boos Associates to do a feasibility study on a possible combined middle school, Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson told the Board of Education at last Thursday night’s meeting.

Kaestle Boos in turn asked for educational specifications for the proposed school.

According to Tindall-Gibson, educational specifications for the high school project cost about $5,000, but the committee is hoping to do a pared-down version for the middle school project.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said the committee settled on the five to eight model rather than a kindergarten to sixth grade campus because it would be simpler. The kindergarten through fourth grade, fifth to sixth grade campus would require multiple additions at multiple elementary schools.

“The options for converting to K to six got to be pretty complicated,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said the five to eight model would provide equity among students from different parts of the borough because there would be only one school.

Mezzo said the committee liked the idea of having one campus while maintaining social and academic separation between the older and younger students.

The committee decided to move ahead with the middle school concept before addressing elementary schools because it would affect more students, Mezzo said.

Once it gets the educational specifications and feasibility study, the committee plans to solicit community input before moving ahead with further plans.

“I think these things take a lot of time to get right,” Mezzo said.

The plan is still in the preliminary stages. The architects would make suggestions, including whether the upper and lower grades would be in different wings of the same building or entirely separate buildings. The two sections may or may not share common facilities, Tindall-Gibson said.

“We’ve got a lot of work left to do,” Mezzo said.

Board of Education member Diana Malone said when she first heard about the plan she had concerns about having such a big school for the younger students. But, she said, the more she learned about the idea, the more sense it made.

“The kids right now, when they’re in a school for only two years, they really don’t have ownership of that school because they’re in and then they’re out. But to be in a school for four years, they get more ownership of the school and can get more involved in it. And plus, they’re going to be separated, which is great,” Malone said. “In my opinion, it seems the way to go.”

School board member Glenn Connan agreed.

“For kids to go to three schools by eighth grade, for me is ridiculous. … Two schools is a lot more reasonable,” he said.

Connan said he would like to see the plan go through sooner, rather than later because construction rates and interest rates are low while the state reimbursement for school projects is high. He added the combined campus would lower operational costs.

“I think if you do the math, it’s going to make economic sense to do it as quick as we can to renovate our schools.… The cost to the taxpayer may actually be less, and yet the kids will have the benefit of going to school in a brand new building and hopefully get a better education because of those advantages,” Connan said.

The Board of Education will join the Long Term School Facilities Planning Committee at the committee’s next meeting, Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall to discuss the issue further.