Moving Week, Not Vacation, For Davis

Melissa Bailey PhotoLola Nathan planned on spending April vacation on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Instead, she and her teachers and staffers forfeited their week off to prepare classrooms for when students return Monday—to a gleaming $48 million rebuilt version of their 93-year-old home.

It may not have been technically a vacation. But the air buzzed with excitement at the old-and-new-again home of Davis Street 21st Century Magnet School. Excitement, along with a lot of scurrying around.

“I’ve never opened a building before,” said Nathan (pictured), principal of the high-performing elementary and middle school, as she whizzed through the halls Wednesday in Sketchers tennis shoes coordinating staff and movers. “I had no idea how much work it would be.”

Central office owes the staff a week’s vacation, she added.

Holly O’Brien and Adeli DeArce set to work unpacking boxes, arranging desks and setting up a butterfly garden in a new, light-filled classroom they can call their own.

O’Brien (at left in photo), a teacher, and DeArce (right), a paraprofessional, have taught together for the past 10 years at Davis. They spent the past two years in a swing space on Orchard Street as the district set about building a brand new space for the school community back at its original home.

The brand new school at 25 Davis St. is set to open Monday with much fanfare.

The 72,000 square-foot, three-story school was designed by BL Companies of Meriden and built by A. Prete Construction Co. of New Haven. The total project will cost $48.1 million, with $40.1 million paid by the state and $8.0 million by the city, according to the city budget. (That includes bonding costs.)

The school has 470 students in grades pre-K to 7; the new space will allow it to complete its expansion to a full pre-K to 8 school.

DeArce unpacked markers while O’Brien stocked the cupboards above a brand new sink. The classrooms all have interactive whiteboards, new computers, and big windows. O’Brien pointed to where a rug will be laid out for morning meeting time. In the winter, kids will sit on a heated floor, she said. O’Brien said she loves the new space.

The swing space where they have taught for the past two years, the former Vincent Mauro School, was dreary, O’Brien said. When she walked into her new classroom this week, she was delighted: “Wow, there’s so much light.”

Nathan said she spent Sunday preparing the school, and plans to be there Easter Sunday, too.

She paused in the hallway to greet a new student—and make arrangements for a social worker to help him transition smoothly on Monday. Students and some parents toured the school last week.

Nathan said the building will “bring about a new mindset” for students and staff, as well as a sense of pride.

“A good environment is always motivational,” Nathan said. However, she noted, the “newness” alone won’t boost student learning—it needs to be coupled with academic initiatives. Nathan’s school was ranked in the highest tier when a first batch of schools were graded last year, granting her new autonomy in how she runs the school.

Click here, here and here for some past stories on some of the innovations going on at her school.

As Nathan walked through the halls Wednesday morning, staff moved about preparing for a new chapter.

Marianne Apuzzo (pictured), the magnet resource director, was busy planning new bus routes for the first day of school.

Marcus Walton (pictured), who teaches sixth- and seventh-grade math, pulled out “sentence strips” from a cardboard box in his classroom. He said he’ll use them for math vocabulary. Walton, who’s in his third year teaching at the school, has two kids at the school. He’s one of the staffers that Nathan recruited through an unconventional route.

Walton had been working as an investor, “balancing million-dollar accounts.” He started volunteering as a parent and a mentor, then, with Nathan’s encouragement, made a career switch. Now he uses his computational skills to teach pre-Algebra.

Band director William Fluker (pictured) presided over a new orchestra and chorus room, as well as a storage closet stocked with brand new instruments. As part of the school construction project, the school got 40 new instruments, including six trumpets and six saxophones.

Students in the marching band will show off their talent at Monday’s opening ceremony at 10:30 a.m. with a performance of “In The Stone” by Earth, Wind and Fire.

“The kids are so fired up,” Fluker said. “They can’t wait.”

When the doors open, students will walk into an atrium with a high, wood-paneled ceiling.

They’ll walk past a cornerstone from the original Davis Street school, which was built in 1918 by the Westville School District. The building opened as an eight-room, brick schoolhouse; it was twice expanded before being demolished for this project.

The school features a brand new performance space, art room with kiln, and a computer lab attached to the light-filled library.

Inside the library, colorful chairs with etchings of insects await readers.

Outside, workers leveled dirt on the school’s field ...

... and finished up other last-minute business.

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posted by: Stan on April 22, 2011  1:06pm

Despite what people may think, Mayor D. deserves an applause on his educational/school initiatives. A very BIG thank you to Principal Nathan and all her staff for spending Spring/Easter break setting up the school for Monday. As a parent who has a daughter at the school we appreciate all their efforts.

posted by: ozzie on April 22, 2011  4:17pm

48 Million on another School .How much is the federal government reimbursing the City ? Does anyone know ? Is it 80 % if it is then the taxpayers are on the hook for 9.6 Million if it’s 60% then their on the hook for over 19 Million. No wonder why taxes are sky high and there’s always a deficit. But keep blaming the Cities problems on the Unions Mr. Mayor

posted by: Zelig of Westville on April 22, 2011  6:06pm

Could this be true?
“The school…is set to open Monday with much fanfare.” This coming Monday?
The school band will be playing, loudly, at 10:30 a.m.
That’s about the same time the congregation at the Westville Synagogue, around the corner, will be reading the Torah as part of its celebration of the seventh day of Passover, which is a major holiday for Reform and Conservative as well as Orthodox Jews.
But what difference does that make? Why schedule this for a day when observant Jewish students and residents of the neighborhood can attend?

posted by: Driver on April 22, 2011  8:28pm

Thank god. These parents (like many other parents) don’t know how to read “NO PARKING” signs in parking lots. Seriously. When you park outside the designated areas, drivers CANNOT SEE SMALL CHILDREN! We can’t.

Finally get the lot back.

Now those construction workers who park in the lot…we’re coming for you next!

posted by: trainspotter on April 23, 2011  5:41am

Zelig, This school system serves meat on Fridays during lent. The first school district in CT that we have been involved with that does that. Even though I am a Catholic, it doesn’t matter to me. I send my child with his own lunch every day anyway. Everyone must make their own decisions and set their own personal priorities. A school opening is just not as important as observing your faith. The school will still be there when the children return. As far as the school itself goes, it looks beautiful. Despite what critics say, the city of New Haven has vastly improved the school system infrastructure at a bargain price. A nearly 100 year old school doesn’t need major renovations? Nonsense.

posted by: to Stan on April 23, 2011  9:04am

It’s all window dressing, Stan, believe me.  Many NHPS are a mess INSIDE.  And I don’t mean cosmetically.  ...

posted by: What??? on April 23, 2011  9:21am

Busing for Davis and Mauro-Sheridan has been combined for the rest of the school year. This means the students from both schools will now be sharing buses and bus stops. I hope that an offer has been made to any available staff from either school to ride with the students to help avoid any potential problems between students and to help the bus drivers deal with the newly crowded buses. If that is not possible, the bus company should provide aides to help with the transition…maybe some of the drivers who will finish their previous routes early? Walking may also be an option for many since Davis is a neighborhood based magnet school, so hopefully parking won’t be an issue. Walking also helps facilitate parental involvement when parents are invited/required to come in at pick-up and drop- off time. In reference to the holiday issue, I agree the timing is inconsiderate but I think students are excused from school for religious holidays and most orthodox Jewish people don’t drive to synogogue.

posted by: sharon Lovett on April 23, 2011  9:41am

In response to Zelig, how many Jewish families from Westville Synogogue presently send their children to Davis Street School, let alone any New Haven Public School? Very few if any! Shachrit service could easily be moved an hour or so earlier if the synogogue community really wanted to watch this important community event.

posted by: Say What on April 25, 2011  9:39am

I hope they get an extra weeks pay for all their hard work over vacation!

posted by: Noteworthy on April 25, 2011  10:00am

$100K in building costs for every child. $666 per square foot. 100% borrowed. School officials and architects gone wild continues.

posted by: nogame on April 25, 2011  10:40am

I didn’t read the previous article on the “innovations” happening at Davis Street, but from my experiences there, the most important things that happen at Davis Street are not new or innovative. They are leadership, accountability, and dedication, with the teachers following Ms. Nathan’s lead.

posted by: Neighbor on April 25, 2011  1:25pm

In response to Zelig, if parents who attend Westville Synagogue were active in Davis Street School then they could have informed the school leadership of this conflict.  However, since that did not happen this leads me to believe that the families who Westville Synagogue are not part of the Davis School community and therefore the point you raise is a non-issue.

posted by: Transparent on April 25, 2011  1:32pm

It is an awesome building, which is well deserved by the wonderful Staff and Students. Keep up the good work!

The only sad part of being in a NHPS is the politicking, which keeps well deserved, effective educators from becoming Administrators. The superintendent needs to go.

Mr. Mayor., wake up! Stop installing young, inexperienced teachers into leadership rolls. Then perhaps you will get all of NHPS to be high performing.