Residents weighed in on the potential closure of elementary schools in the town’s south end on Monday, Sept. 24, as three new options for the likely redistricting of the community were presented to the Board of Education.
The three scenarios presented by board-hired consultants Michael Zuba, associate director of planning with Milone & Macbroom, and John Ireland, architect with Hamden-based firm Silver, Petrucelli & Associates, discussed the closure of, alternatively, Church Street and Dunbar Hill, Church Street and Shepherd Glen, and Dunbar Hill and Helen Street.
In all three possibilities, the board would retake control of the Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet School building, using the institution for K-5 and individual instruction classes; shift sixth-grade students to a to-be-constructed addition at Hamden Middle School; and build an addition at either Dunbar Hill or Shepherd Glen, depending on which institution would be closed.
The board is hoping to come to a plan for redistricting in the coming weeks. It would then be instituted in the next two to three years, according to Superintendent Jody Goeler.
Parents, teachers and students came forward to offer thoughts on the three plans Monday. Some shared their love for their home schools, including Dunbar Hill teacher Patricia Smyth Avitable, Helen Street parent Wes Fortier, and Dunbar sixth-grader Keanna Sammy.
“Dunbar Hill is not just a building, not just a school. It is a home away from home,” said Smyth Avitable. “In such an unstable world, we bring stability, routine, structure, comfort, and state-of-the-art teaching. Please do not take Dunbar Hill School away from our children — tread softly because you tread on our dreams.”
“My wife went to (Helen Street School); her father went there; his father went there. It goes pretty deep for us,” said Fortier. “It’s a community over there and we really don’t want to see it go
“These teachers, all of these parents here today, they really don’t want Dunbar Hill to close — including our brothers, sisters, friends. Dunbar Hill has a lot of memories — the love, the friendship, the kindness, (does) all of that go away?” Sammy said. “Please find some way in your heart... please don’t let Dunbar Hill close. We really want to stay open.”
Others asked questions and offered guidance to board members.
Queries raised included: the future of teachers at the schools that would be closed, including whether sixth-grade teachers, given their current certification, could teach in a secondary-education model; if the plans would save money; how the state defines minorities, and what would happen if the number of current Wintergreen students projected to come back — estimated at 70 percent in the aforementioned scenarios — failed to hit the mark.
Wintergreen teacher Carmella Rossomando-Heise asked the board to clarify the future of her home school, allowing the students and instructors there to feel safe and certain.
Terrence Jennings Jr. suggested that educational data be used in the board’s calculations.
Erica Sapp said closing a school in a predominantly black neighborhood would send the wrong message to residents there — that they and their school are not good enough.
Valen Grandelski urged the board to keep the most vulnerable members of the district — special education students, disabled young people, working class people, and communities of color — at the center of their decision-making, going against the historic trend in the United States.
“When we’re looking at doing right by our kids, we need to think about protecting those that are most vulnerable,” said Grandelski. “And we need to have that in the forefront of our minds.”
The board has moved to consider redistricting plans to cut costs as financial pressure mounts on the district and the community and address impending racial imbalances at Church Street, Helen Street and Shepherd Glen, board Chairman Chris Daur and Superintendent Jody Goeler said Monday.
Enrollment in the district has been declining, Zuba said, and the trend is expected to continue. There are 5,350 students currently attending classes in Hamden; by 2027-28, that total is expected to drop to approximately 4,520, which has and will continue to open space in the district, allowing students to be shifted to other institutions.
All three plans offered up Monday are expected to mitigate, but not eliminate, the issue of impending racial imbalance in community schools. At least two schools would still incur this status under the projections shared.
Goeler said the goal of the redistricting process is to build a sustainable, long-term plan for the Hamden schools, reacting to current pressure and opportunities to create a vision for the future and sustain the good work that has made the district attractive for families.
“There are really all these unsustainable trajectories right now that we’re facing as a board,” said Goeler. “You hear often about how generations have kicked... the can down the road. And as difficult as this process is, the board is making a commitment to say ‘we’re going to pick up the can. We can’t keep doing that.’”
“We want to make sure that the schools that we love now are there for the future,” he said.
Three special board meetings were scheduled to be held Oct. 2, Oct. 16, and Nov. 1 to discuss redistricting and allow residents to offer further input. The board is hoping to hear more from the public, Daur said Monday.
Members hope to approve a plan in approximately six weeks, member Myron Hul said Monday.
More information about the redistricting plan, including the presentations made Monday, is available at https://www.hamden.org/page.cfm?p=5313.