This week is Staff Appreciation Week at Westbrook Elementary School, and it holds special meaning now that the school will be closing its doors forever come June. The closing of Westbrook brings mixed feelings. Westbrook is a wonderful school with many wonderful people in it. It holds many great teachers, and a superb support staff. The principal is extraordinary and will be sorely missed by those of us not attending Oquenock with him next year. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to experience the Westbrook community and my children have thoroughly enjoyed their time in attendance there.
While the closing of Westbrook brings sadness because of the fond memories and sentiments, it also brings anger and disappointment. The closing of schools is always hard on any community, but our particular . A fair redistricting process is tricky enough as it is, but add to it the fact that there is an imbalance in the number of students on the “north” side and the “south” side, and it becomes even trickier. Based on the , the schools remaining open on the north side do not have enough classrooms to support the number of north side students. Would there have been enough room if the Board had chosen to keep the bigger school open instead of the smaller one as the Superintendent had recommended? Only those people with access to the redistricting computer program would know the answer to that one. But in any case, the Board’s decision has lead to Westbrook being split three different ways. On the south side, essentially everyone going to Kirdahy has been moved over to Bayview together. With the exception of one small section being bumped over to Bellew, Bayview students have essentially stayed where they are, as has everyone in Bellew, Manetuck and Oquenock as well. But Westbrook’s students have been separated among three different schools, with one of the three sections slotted to attend a different middle school as well. This seems to be anything but fair to those of us here at Westbrook. Our children have taken the brunt of the change on a much larger scale than any of the other elementary schools.
The biggest question that still lingers in my mind is whether the closing of two elementary schools was really a necessity in the first place. I am aware that our schools are not currently filled to capacity, but if the consolidation was only able to be accomplished by splitting one of our schools three ways, then perhaps the time is not yet right to eliminate two schools at once. The amount of money that was was in reality only half of what we believed it to be. Yet the decision to close two schools was largely dependent on that belief. I think it would have been prudent for the Board to have given this decision another look in light of the changed financial situation.
One of the arguments for the importance of music and art in our school programming is that these things keep otherwise uninterested students engaged and give them a reason to look forward to coming to school. I would argue that being in the same school as your friends is no less important and has the same positive impact on our children’s overall educational experience. Friendships can be maintained outside of school, but the bonds of friends sharing the similar experience of being in the same school together with the same classes, teachers, fellow students, etc. is a different kind of bond, and these are the kind that will be broken. Many children will now be separated from the friends that they have been with from kindergarten and in some cases not meet back up with them again until high school. This has the potential to negatively impact quite a number of students. I think that is very unfortunate and should have been given much more consideration in this redistricting process. The redistrict was also promised to make more geographical sense than the current boundaries. But the three-way split of Westbrook has left one section as far up as Sunrise Highway now attending south side schools while their neighbors across the street on Higbie Lane remain on the north side. That does not make geographical sense to me. It was additionally promised that the would remain basically the same, which is also not entirely true, especially on the north side.
I believe that the decision to close two elementary schools was made in haste before all other options were exhausted, and I am deeply disappointed in those on the Board that have allowed this to happen. And because the Board chose not to allow our voices to be heard on this matter by community vote, the responsibility for the outcome of this decision rests solely on the Board alone. While I am confident that the transitions ahead will be made less difficult because of the welcoming attitude of those in the schools with new incoming students, I am no longer confident in this Board’s ability to make sound decisions that are in the best interest of this community.