How Much Is Too Little?


A mom friend in town asked me recently why New Canaan should build onto Saxe. “Why not build another elementary school instead and make them K through five? Then the middle school would really be a middle school.”

Photo taken from Center School, looking down on students, teachers and faculty, just prior to the end of the 1983 school year, by Bev Greenberg. Courtesy of the New Canaan Historical Society.

Photo taken from Center School, looking down on students, teachers and faculty, just prior to the end of the 1983 school year, by Bev Greenberg. Courtesy of the New Canaan Historical Society.

I told her the story of Center School, New Canaan’s fourth elementary school, now the farmer’s market parking lot next to the public library. My friend had no idea that New Canaan used to have a fourth elementary school.

In 1983, the economy was what it was, enrollment was not as robust as it is now or will be, and the town went back and forth between closing Center School or South School. They went with Center. According to newspaper articles about the matter published in the ’80s, it was estimated then by the powers that were that the Board of Ed could save $250,000 a year by closing one of the schools. Those are 1983 dollars. In today’s dollars, that’s about the salary and benefits of two seasoned teachers. Maybe three.

So for those of you new to New Canaan, or not even new but not here in 1983, please know that we are yet again feeling the ripple effect of that decision to close Center School three decades ago.

Entry into New Canaan Community Foundation's first-ever "I [Heart] New Canaan" photo contest. Credit: Tom Hughey

Entry into New Canaan Community Foundation’s first-ever “I [Heart] New Canaan” photo contest. Credit: Tom Hughey

Anyone who tells you that the decision to close Center School was a great idea is incorrect. If Center were still standing, the elementary schools would not have to be grades K-4. Fifth grade could still be in the elementary schools. Construction at Saxe in the 1990s could have possibly been avoided. We have the opportunity to make up for the lack of vision in 1983. Using rough and round numbers here, keeping in mind that I am no math teacher, has New Canaan saved $250,000 each year for 30 years? Have we saved the $7.5 million that the town thought we would? Or have we overpaid for that mistake?

The Board of Ed of 2015 has done its homework. Please check the NCPS site and be informed about the proposals. Proposal 3A includes the addition of 12 classrooms to Saxe, and this is not a wish list item. It is a necessity. It is proven that smaller class sizes enhance learning and instruction, and this addition of twelve classrooms could very well improve the student to teacher ratio. Proposal 3A doesn’t even include absolutely everything, but it is pretty great. The $17 million price tag does not cover the bells and whistles of a state of the art sound system in the new Saxe auditorium. Those “extras” will be funded privately, so please don’t think that Proposal 3A includes anything extraneous.

Saxe MIddle School. Credit: Michael Dinan

Saxe MIddle School. Credit: Michael Dinan

Our school system is fantastic. And that’s with large classes. Just imagine how much more we can achieve with the right amount of space and budget to do it right.

The proposals in front of us taxpayers, those elected to the Town Council, and those appointed to the Board of Finance beg the question: How much is the right amount to spend on the project? Not $13.1 million. Given some of this year’s haggling over the Board of Ed budget, it is unclear just whose interests are being represented by our elected and appointed town officials, whose families may or may not be impacted directly by improvements to Saxe.

Make it right, New Canaan. Check out those enrollment projections on the NCPS website. Construction isn’t going to get less expensive. Go for the $17 million.

Respectfully submitted,

Darcy Pennoyer Smith
Center School, Class of 1982
Saxe Junior High School, Class of 1984
New Canaan High School, Class of 1988
Teacher at New Canaan High School, 2000-2014
Current West School and Saxe Middle School Parent

4 thoughts on “How Much Is Too Little?

  1. I suppose that closing Center Elementary School may have been a mistake but I don’t see how that is relevant to the proposed improvements to Saxe since it is a decision that cannot be undone at this point. just ranked New Canaan’s school’s as A+ so arguing that these new classrooms are needed to “improve” education seems to be weak. There are those repairs/upgrades that need to be done to bring Saxe up to the building Code and I hope no one questions those expenditures. The controversy should be about adding classrooms at Saxe which is dependent about whether the demographics indicate that the school population will continue to increase for a long period. If so, it makes sense. If the crowding is a short term blip, then the construction does not make sense. If there is more going on here, please help me understand.

  2. Darien, a town with an almost identical population has 5 elementary schools, each going to the 5th grade. They have smaller class sizes in both elementary and middle/high school too. We should build a north school and make all the schools go to 5th grade. 10yr olds are still to young to be in middle school.

    • Agree. While we knew that middle school started at 5th when we bought our house 12 years ago, it has always bothered us that this was the case. Even though the 5th graders are supposedly separated at Saxe from older grades, it’s still middle school.

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