By Valerie Bigelow
I don't mean to be coy, Roy, but please listen to me. Seriously, folks, are we really OK with sending our fifth- and sixth-graders from The Valley all the way to Crossett Brook? While I appreciate the white paper written by Superintendent Nease, I wish it was more optimistic. I watch all of the board meetings so I am very familiar with board business. At those meetings, they have discussed how there is not enough room in Thatcher Brook for all of the pre-K students. That is a good thing! Why would we fill up Crossett Brook with the fifth- and sixth-graders from The Valley only to perhaps run out of room at Crossett Brook in three to four years? Let's be optimistic and come up with a plan that allows for growth.
The superintendent’s plan was met with very little debate or discussion from our Valley representatives, which was very disappointing to watch. The proposal calls for the restructuring (or closing) of two Valley schools and shipping our fifth- and sixth-graders to Crossett Brook. The white paper said this would only add an additional five to seven minutes to their commute. There is no Valley school only five to seven minutes away from Crossett Brook. More like 15 to 30 minutes if you are driving in a car, much longer if you are on a school bus. How can this be a good solution for The Valley? When we moved here in 2015, my kids were in fourth and fifth grade and there were two questions I got over and over from my friends in New Jersey: "Is there a school in your town?" and "How far away is it?" I happily answered, yes, Warren School, right down the road. If my kids had to go to Crossett Brook perhaps our decision may have been different. I know that we are not the only family to have moved here in recent years. Don't we want other families, too, to choose The Valley as their home?
I understand that we need to redesign our district to be more cost effective, so how about a plan that continues to offer the best for our families and potential families? I think that realistically we are looking at going down to two schools in The Valley. In my opinion that is the better place to start. Pick two that make the most sense geographically and rename them Northern Valley Elementary and Southern Valley Elementary or something that takes away the town association from the school, like Thatcher Brook. I think that would help bring us together as a Valley. If the two schools need more space for the preschool program, then fifth- and sixth-graders can be moved into one Valley school building so that you have a larger cohort for those grades. The fourth Valley school building can be used for the superintendent's office and for the children that we are busing out of the district. The proposal for a vocational school sounds very expensive and does not make sense to me if we are trying to save money. I think that the high school can take on more vocational programs within the school and through internships.
I think that this solution is a better place to start rather than busing our kids all over the place. It allows for growth at the Waterbury end of the district and allows The Valley to create a more robust elementary school experience with classroom sizes recommended by the state. I would have loved to see a more constructive discussion like this by the school board. Instead there were comments like, if the Waterbury kids have to go through the trauma of moving seventh- and eighth-graders to Harwood, then Valley kids need to experience the trauma of moving fifth- and sixth-graders to Crossett Brook. Really? I found this discussion very disconcerting. Is this how we are going to decide how to redesign our schools?
My hope is that the school board will have some real in-depth discussions and consider other options. The future of our kids and communities depend on it.
Bigelow lives in Warren.