Bernstein, Stowe: Finding the Silver Lining after Ceiling Collapse

Peter D. Bernstein is chair and Kathleen Stowe is vice chair of the Greenwich Board of Education.

On February 13th, a ceiling fell in a classroom at North Mianus. Thankfully it was a weekend during a school break and no one was hurt. There has been much discussion, as there should be, on what happened (it was not a leak, but a plaster ceiling – likely dating to 1925 – held in place only by nails that fell due to weight), how to avoid future issues, and what it might cost. While some questions remain to be answered, the rapid response ensured that a community of young learners, already impacted by a pandemic are back in the classroom.

If this incident had occurred one year ago, the situation would have been like Cos Cob School of a couple years ago where due to a leak the kids simply did not go to school for more than a week. Instead the school immediately pivoted to remote instruction while the situation could be assessed. Then the Superintendent and her team got to work inspecting the rest of North Mianus, ensuring buildings of a similar vintage were safe, and finding a temporary solution that made sense for our students, their families and staff. Of course, this challenge was enhanced by the need for social distancing and maintaining the cohorts, but COVID has taught all of us to remain flexible and resilient.

Many parents from North Mianus shared that they were saddened that after all the work that went into opening in person and keeping children safely in school it was possible that the school would need to turn to remote instruction for the balance of the year.

The Superintendent and her team recognized that would not be fair to the community and after just two weeks and exploring a multitude of possibilities, the North Mianus students and the teachers have new temporary homes at Cos Cob, Old Greenwich, Parkway and a section of North Mianus School unaffected by the damage.

To be able to return the North Mianus students to the classroom required a lot of shifting: busing, school start times, moving furniture, materials and once again reconfiguring spaces. Given the requirements of COVID, the buildings had already been repurposed. Art rooms became classrooms,
gyms became cafeterias, and new entrances and exits facilitated separate cohorts. Now our facilities team repurposed them a second time and found room for the new arrivals. The students arrived on Tuesday and the host schools offered a warm welcome.

There are so many people that need to be thanked and quite like the Oscars we hope to not offend anyone by leaving them off, but we must especially thank Dr. Jones, Dan Watson and the entire Facilities team, Principal Schmidt and the teachers and staff from North Mianus, the Principals and teachers and staff of the respective host schools, DPW and the fire department. Most of all thank you to the North Mianus parents and their resilient children who have truly shown us what it means to be adaptable and persevere while keeping us smiling (even if behind a mask for now).