“We made a difference,” said Wallingford Education Association (WEA) President Lou Faiella, regarding the Board of Education’s decision last night to scrap any plans for consolidating the town’s two middle schools into one. However, the battle to keep both high schools open in Wallingford continues.
A week after coming out in force to oppose school closures and consolidations, Wallingford teachers again expressed their support for keeping all schools open at a follow-up Board of Education meeting last night.
Teachers’ concerns were widely shared by parents and students in the district—as well as many members of the board—who felt that creating “megaschools,” as Faiella put it, meant students could get lost in the shuffle. Consolidating the town’s two existing middle schools would make Wallingford home to the biggest middle school in the entire state.
Speaking out against plans that would close down schools and lengthen bus routes, Faiella and other teachers and parents said these options would be detrimental to children, especially students with social and emotional needs.
“Creating Connecticut’s largest middle school would be disastrous for students, teachers, and the community,” Faiella noted.
Narrowing the options
Out of six school restructuring plans proposed by a consulting group, WEA advocated for the least expensive option—Option 1, keeping all Wallingford schools open and making the necessary renovations—which would benefit the community’s students, teachers, and taxpayers alike. The union also said it would support plans for more extensive renovations to the district’s existing neighborhood schools—acknowledging, however, that cost would be a consideration.
The Board voted unanimously to eliminate two of the plans (Options 4 and 5) that would combine the middle schools into one. The six different plans also included an option that would combine both high schools into one, as well as both middle schools into one. The Board voted to amend that proposal—Option 6—so that it leaves the two middle schools intact but keeps open the possibility of a single high school.
While one board member pushed to eliminate Option 6 entirely, remaining members voted to keep it on the table—a move that disappointed many parents, students, and teachers.
Straight talk from students
High school students holding signs that read, “No Consolidation” and “Big Schools, Big Problems” spoke directly to BOE members about their own personal experiences and their desire to keep Wallingford’s neighborhood high schools from merging into a megaschool.
“I have positive relationships with my teachers and appreciate them beyond words,” said student David Sherman. “I enjoy talking to them. Larger schools and classes will make it more difficult for interpersonal relationships to form and for students to speak out.” Sherman shared that when he came out to his family, “it did not go well,” but said that teachers who knew him gave him the support he desperately needed.
Fellow student Nora Guccione told the Board that she and many of her peers have social anxiety that makes it hard for them to succeed in large environments. “The merging of schools would force students like me to move from an environment where we are comfortable into one where we can’t speak or learn,” she said.
Numerous students echoed Sherman and Guccione’s sentiments about teachers who know them, inspire confidence in them, and help them learn and thrive socially and emotionally.
“I can’t compete with the eloquent, heartfelt testimony of these students from the high schools,” Faiella told the Board. “We all love our community schools. Megaschools don’t have a place in Wallingford. Research shows they really don’t work. I know that you’ve always put students first, but you can hear from their testimony that one high school is not putting students first. It’s going to be a detriment. That personalization and feedback they get from their teachers, the ability to have conversations and connect with an adult—I just fear for those things that will be lost in one megaschool. I’m glad you’re going to take the combined middle schools off the table. I hope you will extend that to the high schools as well.”
Teacher Lisa Miller, who is also a Wallingford parent, added, “I’m opposed to any plan that includes one high school. If it’s imperative to have two middle schools, it is just as imperative to have two high schools, because in high school, risky behavior can escalate. Too large of a student body means too many students can be lost in the shuffle. They’re children, not dollar signs.” Miller also noted that a combined school would reduce the number of extracurricular opportunities available to high school students and force them to compete for more limited spots.
“Neither of us is O.K. with an overly large high school,” added colleague Cyndi Frank, who has come out to every BOE meeting on the subject to show her continued concern.
“I’m excited that the Board acknowledged the problem with having the largest middle school in the state of Connecticut,” said Faiella of the Board’s decision not to merge middle schools. “But it concerns me that they could still sit up there in the face of the student pleas and the huge representation of teachers at the last meeting and still consider consolidating the high schools. As a union leader, I’m going to stay with the issue, monitor it, keep in constant contact with our teachers as new plans develop, and put out surveys to stay current with teachers’ opinions.”