With a flood of expected new students, a suggested remedy has popped up: double the size of one elementary school, and build three more.
The idea comes from a panel of teachers, parents, aldermen and administrators tasked with taking a fresh look at K-8 school attendance zones and student enrollment patterns.
The new school projects are among 24 recommendations aired at a public hearing last week.
Click here to read the recommendations.
The panel called for the Citywide School Building Committee, which the mayor chairs, to consider four school construction projects: To build three pre-K-8 schools on the east side of town, in the Hill, and on the campus of Southern Connecticut State University; and to double the size of MicroSociety School.
Ed Linehan, a retired administrator who chairs the redistricting committee, said the proposals came in response to a faster-than-expected boom in enrollment across the district as well as a shortage of seats in certain parts of the city.
The city’s K-8 population grew by 5.4 percent from the 2010-11 to 2011-12 school year, outpacing expectations, according to Linehan. His committee unveiled new projections predicting the total student body would grow by nearly 10 percent in the next nine years, growing to 21,644 students in 2021. The K-8 population would grow by 12.8 percent, according to the committee’s findings.
Meanwhile, Linehan said, certain areas of the city have a serious shortage of classroom seats near where students live. In the east side of town, which includes Fair Haven, Fair Haven Heights, Wooster Square and the East Shore, there are 1,336 more students than there are K-8 seats in neighborhood schools, the committee found. If you add in three schools that aren’t “neighborhood schools,” meaning they don’t have attendance zones—Benjamin Jepson, Christopher Columbus and Conte/West Hills—there’s a shortage of 50 seats.
However, Linehan noted, the eastern side of the city is expected to absorb families from Farnam Courts, as the city razes and rebuilds that 244-unit housing complex.
To respond to the “large and growing capacity gap” in that part of town, the committee suggested the city consider building a new K-8 school somewhere in the eastern part of the city.
Similarly, the panel noted a shortage of 1,162 seats in neighborhood schools in the “south central” quadrant of the city, which includes the Hill and West River neighborhoods. The shortage is 35 seats if you add in Roberto Clemente and Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School, which aren’t neighborhood schools. A new pre-K-8 school would help solve that “capacity gap,” the committee found. The district already aims to build a pre-K-4 school in the area, according to its master school construction plan. The plan calls for a $29 million renovation to turn the former Vincent Mauro School at 130 Orchard St., which currently houses students in grades K to 2 at Strong School, into a full K-4 facility. Linehan’s committee, however, proposes designing the school so it could be reconfigured into a pre-K-8 if needed.
The district’s master plan already calls for building a pre-K-4 school on or near the campus of Southern Connecticut State University. No money or specific plans have been approved. Given its predictions about the booming enrollment in all K-8 grades, the panel suggested the city consider building that school as a pre-K-8, or building it in a way so that it could be converted to serve pre-K-8.
Last, the panel suggested expanding the size of MicroSociety Magnet School at 311 Valley St. The school sits on a rather large footprint, Linehan noted: “there’s enough land there” to double its size, so that it serves two classes of kids in each grade from K to 8. The expansion would accommodate the 192 children expected to move into the reborn Brookside housing complex in West Rock.
The panel stopped short of calling for these specific projects to be built—it technically called on the school board to ask the mayor’s Citywide School Building Committee to “examine the desirability and feasibility” of doing so, noted Chief Operating Officer Will Clark (pictured).
The news came as a shock to one member of the audience, Essie Barros (pictured at the top of this story).
“I’m a little stunned,” Barros said.
Barros, of Newhallville, said most families she knows don’t get into their preferred magnet school. They end up in what she calls “free fall” schools, catch-all schools of lesser quality.
“The magnet schools aren’t benefiting my students in my neighborhood,” she said. “They’re not getting in.”
Magnet schools are being overrun by suburban kids, she argued. The district reserves half of its magnet pre-K spots for suburban students; overall, it aims for a 65 to 35 percent New Haven- suburban balance in order to keep state magnet funding, according to Linehan.
There remains a much higher demand for magnet school seats than there are available seats: In the last lottery, 9,333 students applied for 2,677 open seats at 29 schools, including five charters.
Barros suggested the city should focus on improving its current schools instead of building more.
“I don’t see the value in putting up any more schools,” Barros argued. “We need to be comfortable sending kids where they are now.”
Eliza Halsey (pictured), a Howard Avenue mom who sent her daughter to Strong School after striking out in the magnet lottery this year, urged the district to build Strong School into a stand-alone school with a strong theme, instead of continuing to treat is as an “overflow” for kids who don’t fit in their top choices.
COO Clark said the city’s master plan (read it here) intends to do just that: Expand Strong from a K-2 into a proper K-4. He said the city’s school construction plans will continue to be discussed in public at the Citywide School Building Committee. The lesser-known committee, whose agendas cannot be found online on either the city or schools websites, meets in City Hall on the second Thursday of every month.