New Canaan Now & Then: Center School

Starting in 1795, classes for New Canaan’s School District No. 1 were held in a converted blacksmith’s shop on Park Street near where 63 Park Street now stands. Classes were then held in what is now 40 Seminary Street, but this building also proved to be inadequate. Eventually in 1853, a new school building was built on  the east side of Park Street somewhere between Cherry and Elm, but  before any classes could be held there, it burnt down. So for two years, classes were held in the Town House located at 13 Oenoke Ridge and is now the headquarters of the New Canaan Museum.

‘It’s a Family and a Home’: Center Schoolers Gather To Remember a Special Place and Time in New Canaan

Cady Carroll knew ahead of time that this weekend’s gathering in New Canaan of her former elementary school community would be emotional. Yet in reconnecting with fellow Center School students, parents, faculty and staff during a first-of-its-kind remembrance held at the New Canaan Historical Society, Carroll said she found it “so much more emotional than I thought it would be.”

“There is no way to describe how much anybody who went to Center School connects with someone else who went to Center School, it’s on a level that you can’t explain,” Carroll said from a bustling conference room filled with Center School photos, news clippings, memorabilia and displays. “It’s a family and a home. And when I see a brick, a Center School brick, I am immediately transported into sadness that the building isn’t there anymore. And I can’t visit it.

Faces of New Canaan: Elizabeth Oei

Upon first look, Elizabeth Oei might seem to have her hands full. A longtime New Canaan resident, she serves as member of the New Canaan Volunteer Ambulance Corps (NCVAC) and the Pop-Up Park Committee in addition to a full-time nurse consultant job. She also may be most recognized around town for her two beloved dogs, Cosmo and Bean, gentle animals that she describes as her children. After speaking with Oei (full interview transcribed below), however, it became clear that her involvement is a pleasure and it is all these things that flesh out her full personality. We sat down with this very involved woman to discuss her time in New Canaan, her various roles and responsibilities, and of course her dogs.

Reunited: Center Schoolers Joanne LaVista and Marie Pinchbeck Back Together at First Presbyterian Nursery School

In 1980, Marie Pinchbeck was teaching kindergarten while Joanne LaVista was teaching sixth grade down the hall at Center School. LaVista recalls her and Pinchbeck’s classrooms being close to each other and creating a partnership with the “veteran teacher” at the elementary school when she joined the Center School community in 1980, right out of college at the age of 22. “Our classrooms were right near each other and right away we just started being good friends,” LaVista said. “What we set up was that my sixth graders would go to her kindergarten room once a week and read the library books and she would say, ‘I can never get through everyone’s library books. The kids feel bad when they have to turn their book in and they hadn’t read it in school.’ So we had this great partnership going and my sixth graders loved it.

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.”

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.