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Cold Spring School Plans $2.2M Expansion
by Melissa Bailey | Oct 14, 2013 7:41 am
Posted to: Schools, Fair Haven
A free-spirited, three-decade-old independent school is expanding its footprint in Fair Haven—with a goal to invite more neighbors inside.
The private school, Cold Spring, serves 133 students in grades pre-K to 6. It sits at the corner of James and Chapel streets at the entrance to Fair Haven, the neighborhood with the city’s largest Latino concentration. The school plans to break ground on Oct. 23 on a $2.2 million new building, which will house a 4,100-square-foot gymnasium that will double as a theater.
The building will complete the school’s campus, said Arati Pandit, the school’s new director.
Pandit, who took over the school in July, was brought on board with a directive to strengthen the school’s ties to the community. Pandit has already started plotting ways to use the new space to the end, such as building a community garden and inviting local artists in residence.
Cold Spring was founded in 1982 by a group of parents who sought to expand a beloved pre-K program to serve older students. In 1987, the school moved to a four-story brick building at 263 Chapel St., the site of a former printing press. Over a 14-year tenure as school director, Jeff Jonathan oversaw Cold Spring’s growth from a grassroots experiment to a full-fledged school. He oversaw the school’s expansion into two 2-story homes next door, which now house older students and music and arts classrooms.
Jonathan stepped down from his position in 2012 due to an illness. The school named an interim director for two years, with the hopes that Jonathan would get better enough to return. When he didn’t, the board launched a search to find a replacement
Completing the school’s expansion is one of the first major tasks Pandit is taking on as she leads the Cold Spring into its next chapter as the third school director.
Cold Spring plans to tear down a one-story building at James and Saltonstall, right next to its campus, and make way for a fourth and final building. The building will be 4,075 square feet, plus a 721-square-foot mezzanine, according to Director of Admissions Sara Armstrong.
The space will serve in part as a gymnasium. Right now, students walk across Chapel Street to play sports in Criscuolo Park; they don’t have an indoor space in which to run around. The gym will double as a theater space, in which Pandit hopes to launch a theater program.
Pandit sees the new building as fertile ground for new collaborations with New Haveners from outside the school. She said she hopes to work with New Haven Farms to build a community garden somewhere on the grounds.
Inside the auditorium, Pandit foresees launching a new artist-in-residency program, in which local artists will visit the school to teach kids their crafts. Pandit said she defines “artist” in the broadest sense, including people who sculpt glass, dance flamenco, tell stories, and do calligraphy.
Establishing a “deeper connection” between the school and its surrounding community was a top priority for the Cold Spring board as it searched for a new director, according to board member Andrea Asnes, a Yale medical school professor who has two children at the school.
Pandit gladly accepted that directive, Asnes said. “She brims with ideas. She’s got a lot of energy.”
As it stands, the school’s main interaction with the neighborhood is through Criscuolo Park, where kids play during gym class and at soccer practice, Pandit said.
Not many of the school’s 95 families hail from Fair Haven, she said. Half of students hail from the suburbs, mostly from Hamden. Some 60 percent of students are white. About 10 percent of students at Cold Spring are Hispanic, 4 percent black. Another 14 percent are Asian-American, and 13 percent multiracial.
That’s quite a different composition than that of neighborhood public schools like Fair Haven School, where the vast majority of kids are Latino, and from New Haven public schools, where 86 percent of students are black or Hispanic.
Armstrong said the school makes a large effort to help families pay for the school. Tuition at Cold Spring costs $21,175 for grades K to 6 and $13,900 for pre-K. About 45 percent of students receive financial aid. Scholarships average $10,000 per person, according to Armstrong.
Asnes said the school has sought to take advantage of its immigrant-rich neighborhood by, for example, having students in a Spanish class interview a local bodega owner about his life. The board would like the school to strengthen those ties, she said.
Asnes said Pandit is a great person to take on that task in part because of her passion for the arts.
That passion became instantly clear as Pandit sat down in her office for a recent interview. She immediately mentioned how she had rearranged her office. She took pride in recounting how she got rid of clutter and set a new, minimalist environment. She replaced a clunky principal’s desk with a simple wood table. She brought in orchids and bamboo. She installed a large red wall hanging she bought in her native India. And she cut a hole in the wall to create a new window, through which she can greet students.
Pandit said she sought to set an example for the staff about the importance of physical space.
“We all need to create a space around us where we can do our best thinking and our best learning,” she said. “You create your own space,” she said she told her staff.
Over the summer, Pandit led teachers through a collaborative art project. The activity was in part an instructional tool: It was based on a book teachers read together, “Making Thinking Visible,” which calls for honoring the creative process of itself, not just the finished product. It was also supposed to be a way for the staff to gel.
“I like art. I like what it brings out in people. I like how art can bring people together,” Pandit said.
For Asnes, Pandit’s perspective on art is “representative of something deeper,” a desire to reach across boundaries that separate people, and separate the school from the outside world.
Pandit, who’s 40, grew up outside of Mumbai, India. She moved to the U.S. at the age of 23 to get her master’s in education at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, where her aunt lived. Her training is in special education. She got her start teaching 3rd grade at the Quaker School in Horsham, Penn. For the past 10 years, she has been working in administrative roles at the Advent School, an independent school in Boston, ending up as interim director.
She moved to Hamden in July with her husband and their 6-year-old son, Anshul, who’s now a student at Cold Spring. So far, she has set about meeting one on one with all 95 families at the school.
In Cold Spring, students are grouped in mixed-aged classrooms for grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5. There’s also one class each of Pre-K and 6th grade. Class sizes vary from 12 to 20 kids, with two teachers per class.
The school has a “progressive” approach to education, Pandit said: It doesn’t use text books. The curriculum responds to children’s interests. There’s an emphasis on emotional intelligence and social justice. As a private school, Cold Spring doesn’t have to administer the standardized tests required by the state and federal government in public schools. The school does have its own version of standardized tests, Pandit said; the scores are used to help staff track students’ progress. The stakes are not as high, because the scores don’t determine a teacher’s job evaluation, and no state or federal grants depend on the scores.
Pandit said she aims to continue the school’s mission to “develop self-reliant and curious learners” in a “child-centered way.”
Changes she has made so far include instituting mandatory yoga for all students, once a week.
“The world is just moving at such a fast pace,” Pandit said. “If we can give kids a moment to center, it can help them going forward” in any stressful situations they may encounter.
Another change Pandit announced is offering new grants for teachers who want to use their vacations to travel somewhere and learn something.
The idea met applause from teachers like Robert Brereton (pictured), the school’s music teacher of 17 years. Brereton already travels quite a bit performing the mountain dulcimer. He said he has a few ideas for how to use a travel grant. The school already has an orchestra of steel drums of different sizes. Brereton said he’d like to head to Trinidad to learn to better play those drums.
Pandit said more initiatives—such as connecting students with the city’s museums—will unfold as she continues to learn more about the school and the city and brainstorm with school staff.
She pronounced the school’s next chapter—with its new building and a beefed up commitment to the arts—“very exciting.”
“Big things can happen in small schools,” she said.
Tags: arati pandit, cold spring school
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As one who has been involved in several non-profits, I immediately wonder, wow, where has the money come from for these excellent programs? Some credit should be given in the article to whoever is the director of development for the school, and to the committee—probably parents—who must have run a capital campaign for the building project and written the grant applications for the teacher travel grants, and who undoubtedly do the annual slog of fund drives, fundraisers, and grant applications so as to keep the scholarship fund going at that high a level. Nice work, all of you.