Letter: Build a New School Despite Under Enrolled Schools in Greenwich?

New Lebanon SchoolThe following letter to the editor was submitted by Judy Crystal, Sept. 6, 2016

Byram needs a new school.  That a town like ours can countenance sending kindergarteners three streets away from their “school” in order to find classroom space is appalling.

As a resident of Byram (and a 46 year resident of Greenwich) I find the situation disgusting.

Unfortunately, the proposed creation of an oversized, unnecessarily large building in order to circumvent state diversity laws and perhaps guarantee significant state funding is ecologically and morally offensive.

Currently, four of our elementary schools are at 20% below targeted enrollment.  Parkway School is barely at 50%.

Will we build one school only to close another? Those advocates who emphasize the possible state construction reimbursement ignore the increased long-term costs of heating, maintenance and transportation that an oversized building would cost our town.

Further, I do not understand how a magnet school in Byram, located in the far southwestern corner of town, will attract students who will have to travel by bus 30 plus minutes each way from the eastern and northern sides of town, especially since the elementary schools in those areas excel academically.

Hamilton Avenue School pm

The experience the BOE has with magnet school programs on the western side of town at Hamilton Avenue, New Lebanon, and Western Middle School, all of which have failed to reduce their racial imbalance, is a loud and clear message.  Considering that the magnet program at New Lebanon is already unsuccessful before the oversized Byram magnet school is built, the BOE should provide detailed documentation that a new overlarge school building would attract students likely to reduce the imbalance at New Lebanon.  So far the BOE has produced no data to support their large, costly New Lebanon school project.

Our town should build a new “neighborhood” school, appropriately sized for the Byram community, focused on the students’ academic achievements rather than pretending to solve New Lebanon’s racial imbalance.

Judy Crystal
Greenwich

  • Julie B

    HUGE seems to be the buzz word lately. Why it gets applied to the new New Lebanon School escapes me. The increase in square footage sounds huge, but considering that the new building will accommodate the kindergarten classes currently meeting offcampus, will have an adequately sized gymnasium, library, and cafeteria (rather than the current room that must serve lunch in 5 shifts beginning at 10:30 a.m.), provides collaborative space required for an effective IB program, and includes space for pre-K classes (one of the more effective, proven ways to shrink achievement gaps), the proposed building is simply not THAT large.

    Granted, I am skeptical about how many students a magnet school might draw, also. But having heard nothing but positive comments from high schoolers who attended an IB program in town, with the relatively low teacher/student ratios, higher spending per student, with some parents who want their children exposed to a variety of people, and that gorgeous new building, I bet it will attract more students than some seem to think.

    In any event, the Byram neighborhood is growing. P&Z recently approved residential development for a parcel on South Water Street, and how many similar projects will follow? Just like elsewhere in town, single family homes are being split into two or more units. If there is a little extra capacity in the new school, it will not be that case for very long.

    Redistricting and bussing have been explored and overwhelming rejected. The new school is going to be great. Let’s get on with it!

  • Julie B

    HUGE seems to be the buzz word lately. Why it gets applied to the new New Lebanon School escapes me. The increase in square footage sounds huge, but considering that the new building will accommodate the kindergarten classes currently meeting offcampus, will have an adequately sized gymnasium, library, and cafeteria (rather than the current room that must serve lunch in 5 shifts beginning at 10:30 a.m.), provides collaborative space required for an effective IB program, and includes space for pre-K classes (one of the more effective, proven ways to shrink achievement gaps), the proposed building is simply not THAT large.

    Granted, I am skeptical about how many students a magnet school might draw, also. But having heard nothing but positive comments from high schoolers who attended an IB program in town, with the relatively low teacher/student ratios, higher spending per student, with some parents who want their children exposed to a variety of people, and that gorgeous new building, I bet it will attract more students than some seem to think.

    In any event, the Byram neighborhood is growing. P&Z recently approved residential development for a parcel on South Water Street, and how many similar projects will follow? Just like elsewhere in town, single family homes are being split into two or more units. If there is a little extra capacity in the new school, it will not be that case for very long.

    Redistricting and bussing have been explored and overwhelming rejected. The new school is going to be great. Let’s get on with it!

  • Lucy

    I think many people agree that the magnet program is not adequately addressing the racial balance problem in Greenwich. Unfortunately, correcting the imbalance would likely involve the thoughtful participation of Selectmen, the Housing Authority, P&Z, and the community at large, etc., in addition to the BoE. Further, narrowing the achievement gap is a far more important goal than addressing racial balance alone. However, it is completely false that the proposed (and approved) NL school building is oversized. The proposed school would house, I believe, approximately 425 students. Currently, there are approximately 250 children enrolled at the school. This includes approximately 40-45 kindergarteners housed in another building entirely. And, the main building is STILL too crowded with a grossly undersized gym, media center, and cafeteria and classes being taught in windowless former closets and on the stage in the gymnasium. So looking at square footage alone is misleading. The current enrollment numbers also don’t account for the 20 or so pre-k students that were forced to move to Parkway a few years ago. The proposed school would accommodate three classes of pre-k students, which is VITAL for the Byram community and one of the quickest and surest ways to address the achievement gap. Three additional pre-k classrooms of 15 students each brings enrollment projections closer to 300 students. In addition, there are currently about 50 students that live in the Byram catchment area, my children included, that are attending magnet schools elsewhere in town. Many of these families chose magnet schools largely because of the lack of space, the moving of K students out of the building, the threat of having their children bused during construction, and the constant battles with the BoE and town to provide adequate and equitable solutions to resolve overcrowding issues. Further, some neighborhood families have chosen private school or parochial schools and are not included in any official counts. Many of these families, including my own, would be thrilled to send their children to New Lebanon if overcrowding issues were resolved and pre-K was returned to the neighborhood. So, if more families decided to send their children to the neighborhood school once the new school is built, there could be as many as 350 children attending without even taking into account magnet enrollment. Proposed residential developments along South Water Street and projected growth in general will only add to the non-magnet enrollment numbers over the next few years. In the eight years I’ve lived in my Byram home, the number of children under the age of five on my street has increased exponentially. Realistically, the new school building at it’s current proposed size would be at or close to capacity within a few years. Finally, despite the negative press, New Lebanon is a great school and would be far more attractive to families seeking more diversity and an IB education if the perception that the school is beleaguered with inadequate facilities is ameliorated. It wouldn’t hurt if our public spaces and fields at WMS, William Street, and Byram Beach were remediated in a timely manner. Let’s get this school built already and Byram and the Greenwich community at large will only benefit in the long run.

    • Matt Popp

      The term “oversized” was defined by the committee that developed the ed specs for a smaller building.

      The Metis report within the 2014 Racial Balance Plan clearly indicates that a magnet school at NL will not work to reduce RI. Who would take their child out of a great high preforming local neighborhood school (R, JC, P, NM, or CC), put them on a bus for 60 minutes a day to go to NL – no one.

      I’m none responding until you answer the difficult question – which school would you close due to excess capacity?

  • Lucy

    There were some errors and outdated information in my previous comment. The new school would only accommodate 374 students and there are currently 75 students from the New Leb catchment area attending other schools in Greenwich. With the addition of 45 pre-k seats, it’s actually almost a tight fit with just enough wiggle room to deal with the growing population of Byram. Also, let’s take a look at the new Glenville school, which drew so many people to the neighborhood it, too, is starting to burst at the seams. The RTM (http://rtm.greenwich.org/) will be voting on this on the 19th – make sure to contact the Education, Land Use, and L&R committees, which will be reviewing the appeal on the 12th and let them know you support the project, which has been labored over, studied, voted on, and vetted by many town committees and officials.

  • Lucy

    There were some errors and outdated information in my previous comment. The new school would only accommodate 374 students and there are currently 75 students from the New Leb catchment area attending other schools in Greenwich. With the addition of 45 pre-k seats, it’s actually almost a tight fit with just enough wiggle room to deal with the growing population of Byram. Also, let’s take a look at the new Glenville school, which drew so many people to the neighborhood it, too, is starting to burst at the seams. The RTM (http://rtm.greenwich.org/) will be voting on this on the 19th – make sure to contact the Education, Land Use, and L&R committees, which will be reviewing the appeal on the 12th and let them know you support the project, which has been labored over, studied, voted on, and vetted by many town committees and officials.