Proposal centers on pairing students, mentors

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Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson and Chester Cornacchia, the economic development commission president who took over ownership of the historic former post office in downtown Naugatuck, are proposing a new educational innovations center that could be housed in the facility. -RA ARCHIVE
Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson and Chester Cornacchia, a member of the economic development commission that took over ownership of the historic former post office in downtown Naugatuck, are proposing a new educational innovation center that could be housed in the facility.   -RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — For Chester Cornacchia, revitalizing the borough means a return to the ideals that created what was at one point a successful factory town.

That is why Cornacchia and Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson are proposing a program outside of the public school system that would teach children to innovate and think creatively.

“The idea is to try to get those kids to make a connection to their community at an early age,” said Cornacchia, who along with Tindall-Gibson sits on the board of directors of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation.

The idea, which has been presented to the borough’s long-term school facilities planning committee and discussed with Naugatuck High School faculty, would call for a Center for Enrichment, Innovation and Discovery, or CEID, pronounced “seed” for a reason.

The center would headquarter a program that would bring in mentors — engineers from Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., Connecticut Light & Power or small businesses from the borough’s industrial park; doctors and dentists; lawyers, government workers, teachers and theater managers, for example. The mentors would run weekly programs teaching their trade to students from kindergarten through high school.

The children would learn things outside the school curriculum and the professionals would build links with talented students, recruiting them to stay in the community, Cornacchia said.

“We want to give them an opportunity to make a connection locally so that they come back,” Cornacchia said.

Cornacchia and Tindall-Gibson are rounding up a board of directors to develop a business model for the center, which would be an incorporated nonprofit that would only cost about $150,000 per year to operate. Some of the money could come from federal grants, but public money alone could not sustain the program, Cornacchia said. He hopes corporations will sponsor the center, possibly with money they would save in recruiting costs when they hire the borough’s homegrown talent.

The center could be headquartered at the old post office building, 285 Church St. Cornacchia is the only managing member left of a corporation that bought that building 10 years ago, after the post office closed. An insurance company is now leasing the building for storage space, and the walnut-trimmed foyer is being restored, Cornacchia said. The organization running the center would continue to pay property taxes on the building, he said.

“The building itself has a community significance and that needs to be preserved,” Cornacchia said.

The center could also partner with St. Francis-St. Hedwig School and the Naugatuck YMCA across the street from the post office, Cornacchia said.

Tindall-Gibson is retiring from the borough school system next month and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Brigitte Crispino, who also pushed the plan, retired in June. Cornacchia, however, said he thought educational leaders would continue to support the plan no matter who is in power. The mentoring program could inspire unmotivated students, Cornacchia said.

“Often, the opportunities are created from within,” Cornacchia said. “Economic development is not the tail end, but it’s the complete life cycle.”