First Report: Guilford Middle School
November 7, 2002
The Guilford Board of Education (BOE) has proposed a major middle
school building project to solve the "overcrowding" problem at the
Adams and Baldwin schools. The total cost over the next 20 years
hasn't been fully revealed, but will likely be in excess of 75 million
dollars. Guilford taxpayers are faced with the most important decision
in the history of Guilford public education.
The middle school building project was recommended by Educational Consultants
of Connecticut (ECC) at the October 25, 1999 BOE meeting. These consultants
stated that their "optimal recommendation is to construct a new grades
7-8 middle school to replace Adams and simultaneously construct an addition
At the next BOE meeting, on November 8, 1999, "Chairman Rieben stated
it is clear from the report that the ECC recommendation is to build a new
middle school based on the fact that so many of our other options to alleviate
the middle school enrollment situation have been used already." The
BOE then discussed how they could build public support for the proposal.
Recent public meetings are part of this marketing approach.
Who are the Educational Consultants of Connecticut? Web
searches lead to Guilford BOE minutes, but little else. Other web
searches on the named consultants reveal that all three are currently residents
Since the public wasn't involved prior to this major decision, hard
questions were never asked and needed information is now missing.
Guilford taxpayers deserves an honest, open, and logical debate about the
middle school building project. Hopefully, this paper will
help to initiate such a debate.
The Narrow Grade Span Model Currently Found in Guilford
At the September 23, 2002 Guilford Board of Education meeting, Anne Snurkowski,
Principal of Baldwin, stated that "in the years when grades 6,7,8
were in both Baldwin and Adams, the staff worked hard to separate the 6th
graders from grades 7 and 8 because developmentally they are not ready
to do some of the same activities as 7th and 8th graders."
The unusual solution was to create the current Guilford grade span model,
with four K-4 schools, a stand-alone elementary school for grades 5 and
6 (Baldwin), a stand-alone middle school for grades 7 and 8 (Adams), and
the high school for grades 9 through 12. Principal Snurkowski
stated that "many of the middle schools have moved to the 5-6 and 7-8 configurations."
But, in a phone conversation with the author, she was unable to identify
another school district in Connecticut which is similar to Guilford, with
grades 5-6 in one building and grades 7-8 in another.
With four narrow grade bands, three building transitions, and the high
(300 + student) density per grade in both Adams and Baldwin, Guilford's
grade span model is in sharp contrast with current thinking about best
practices in grade span configurations. Research shows that each
building transition disrupts the social structure in which learning takes
place, thereby lowering achievement and participation for many students.
Research also shows both academic and social goals are better achieved
with broad grade bands and low student density per grade (in a given school
Consider the following quote related to a 1997 Connecticut study:
The March 2002 issue of School
was devoted to issues related to grade level configurations. The
consensus views found there center around two ideas: broad grade
spans are preferable and it's best to delay the first building transition
for as long as possible, ideally to the beginning of the 9th grade,
or at least until the beginning of the 7th grade.
"Charlene G. Tucker and Gilbert N. Andrada found that 6th graders attending
K-6 or K-8 schools made greater gains in achievement, as measured
by the Connecticut Mastery Test than 6th graders tested after having moved
from a K-5 to a 6-8 school. 'We attributed the difference to the
fact that the K-6 and K-8 schools felt more accountable for their students’
progress than the new school,' says Tucker, director of Student Assessment
and Testing at the Connecticut State Department of Education. That could
affect such things as how a school's curriculum is designed or how its
resources are deployed. Another possibility, Tucker says, is that
student achievement was negatively affected by the students’ transition
to a new, bigger school." (Source: http://www.aasa.org/publications/sa/2002_03/pardini_research.htm)
K-8 schools and K-6 schools offer several benefits that serve to improve
both academic achievement and social adjustment:
They keep the student close to home where "everyone knows your name."
In particular, the school principal knows the student and the family,
beginning with the first day of school.
A higher percentage of parents tend to remain involved with the first school
attended by their children.
There is an increased probability of siblings in the same building.
There is an increase in teacher to teacher accountability.
The older children look out for the younger children in their family.
Delays the stress of the first building transition.
Teachers in earlier grades are under pressure to meet the expectations
of teachers in the later grades. They see them every day.
Are Baldwin and Adams Overcrowded?
At the October 28, 2002 BOE meeting, the question "why haven't you used
the portable classrooms that have been approved?" was asked. The
questioner was immediately behind the author, and Baldwin principal, Anne
Snurkowski, was standing next to the questioner. In an aside
to Principal Snurkowski, the questioner said "I know you need them."
Principal Snurkowski responded "No, I don't. I'd rather spend the
money on something else."
An examination of the Adams floor plan reveals 42 classrooms.
These currently serve 637 students and 57 teachers. Interestingly,
the most recent (2000-2001) Connecticut Department of Education Strategic
School Profile for the Adams School (http://www.csde.state.ct.us/public/der/ssp/sch0001/jr044.pdf)
reports only 26 "permanent general classroom." Why not the 42 identified
in the floor plan? Perhaps it's a matter of definitions.
The Adams school floor plan identifies 15 classrooms that are classified
as rooms for special education, science, world language, and computer labs.
Also, some classrooms have been divided up for office space.
A tour of Adams reveals some space problems, most notably the orchestra
is limited to 901 square feet. But there also appears to be a problem
of efficient space utilization. The largest classrooms don't contain
the largest classes. At the extreme, there is a 1,513 square
foot classroom where the students occupy only one fourth of the space.
A very wide hallway could be utilized for office space, but classrooms
have been divided up to provide for office space.
Note: The office cubicles used in business typically occupy approximately
50 square feet. Allowing for isles, the 1,513 square foot classroom
could offer office cubicles for approximately 20 teachers. The very
wide hallway could probably contribute another 10 offices.
What about the size of classrooms in the current Adams building?
Here's a summary of the 42 classrooms:
Size in Square FeetNumber
Note: If only classrooms in the range 616 to 957 square
feet are used, these 30 classrooms alone could accommodate 720 students,
with 24 students per classroom and a median space of 756 square feet per
classroom. That's 256 square feet more than the 500 square feet minimum
size required by the State of Connecticut (click here
for later CT DOE reference in this paper).
Other rooms in Adams include:
Recommendation: Hire an independent space utilization
Choral ................ 1,607 square feet Why can't
this room be used for orchestra?
Band .................. 2,617 square feet
Orchestra .......... 901 square feet
Art....................... 2,579 square feet
Library ............... 3,472 square feet
Provide a detailed analysis of how every room is currently used
in both Adams and Baldwin.
Make recommendations for more efficient use of currently available space.
Detailed classroom loading information, with teacher name and number of
students, for a minimum of one week.
Detailed documentation of usage of all rooms not currently identified as
classrooms, for a minimum of one week.
What About Enrollment Projections?
ECC presented grade 5-8 ten enrollment projections at the October 1999
BOE meeting. The ECC representative, Dr. David Cattanach, stated
"At the middle school level (grades 5-8), over the next ten school years,
enrollment is projected to be within the range of 1,233 to 1,320 with peak
periods in grades 5-6 during years 2001-2006 and in grades 7-8 during years
2002-2007. These enrollment projections were recently reviewed at
the March BOE meeting (see http://www.guilford.k12.ct.us/BOE/minutes2002/3-25-02.htm).
There was no indication of change of opinion at that time.
Note that Dr. Cattanach was adapting to the Guilford "middle
school" model. Grade 5 isn't considered "middle school" elsewhere.
Baldwin is actually classified as an elementary school by the Connecticut
State DOE. (See http://www.csde.state.ct.us/public/der/ssp/sch0001/elema150.pdf).
If There is a Space Problem, What's the Right Solution?
If evidence reveals genuine overcrowding that can't be solved with more
efficient use of existing space, what are the solution options, and
how does each option measure up in terms of cost and needed support for
academic and social objectives?
Here are some alternatives to the current Guilford model (four K-4 schools,
a 5-6 school, and a 7-8 school).
Four K-5 schools, with two 6-8 schools (the old Guilford model)?
Adams and Baldwin as 5-8 schools?
The BOE has rejected this idea of returning to this solution. Supposedly
it's not "developmentally appropriate" and would supposedly require building
another elementary school.
At the September 2002 BOE meeting, "Chairwoman Whelan stated that the Board
talked about moving the 5th grade back to the elementary schools giving
us a configuration of 6,7,8 and the Board rejected that idea. Even
at a 6,7,8 configuration, the Adams building still would not be able to
provide the necessary educational programs. She added that
instructionally it is the best configuration and that keeping 5 and 6 together
is developmentally appropriate." (To see this quote in context, see
page 4 of http://www.guilford.k12.ct.us/BOE/minutes2002/09-23-02.htm.)
"Developmentally appropriate?" There is no educational research to
show that 6th graders shouldn't be housed with 7th and 8th graders.
There are hundreds of 6-8 schools in Connecticut.
As noted above, there is a problem with building transition for 6th graders,
when they move from a K-5 to a 6-8 building. But there are
many strategies for dealing with this problem. Isolating 6th graders
with 5th graders in another building is not mentioned (nationally) as one
of these strategies.
With the current Guilford model we have moved the difficult first building
transition year in the wrong direction, to the beginning of the 5th grade.
For more on the philosophy behind "developmentally appropriate,"
click on Developmentalism:
An Obscure but Pervasive Restriction on Educational Improvement
(The URL is http://olam.ed.asu.edu/epaa/v4n8.html)
At the October 28, 2002 public hearing, Mrs. Truex stated that the idea
of moving fifth grade back to the elementary school was philosophically
As discussed above, the opposite is true. It's the early
building transition that's "troubling." But requiring the child's
first school building transition at the beginning of the fifth grade is
a solution tradeoff that Guilford may be willing to accept in order to
allow participation in more sophisticated music programs beginning in the
If we assume ECC's worst case enrollment projection of 1,320 students
through the year 2009 for grades 5 through 8, this solution option
would house approximately 500 students in the two 6-8 schools (the current
Adams and Baldwin buildings). The remaining 320 5th grade students
would need to be absorbed in the four current K-4 buildings.
The current Adams and Baldwin buildings would then be well below their
maximum enrollment capacity.
Perhaps the current four K-4 schools can't absorb an average of 80 additional
(5th grade) students per school, but the ECC consultants and Mrs. Truex
have both stated that there are no foreseeable problems with space in these
four buildings. (See page 3 of http://www.guilford.k12.ct.us/BOE/minutes99/min10-25-99.htm).
But, if this option requires a new elementary school, the cost would be
would be significantly less than the price tag attached to the current
Five K-6 schools, with Baldwin as the 7-8 school?
Baldwin and Adams could both be reconfigured as 5-8 schools.
Adams could be limited to 600 students.
This could be accomplished by using just 30 of the 42 Adams classrooms,
with only 20 students per class.
Baldwin could be upgraded (if necessary) to support the expected
worst case difference of 1,320 - 600 = 720 students.
This solution eliminates one school building transition, but it continues
to require the first transition at the beginning of the 5th grade.
This solution cuts grade density in half for each 5-8 school.
Research shows that fewer students per grade is associated with improvements
in academic achievement and social adjustment.
This is much less expensive than the current proposal, calling at most
for an upgrade to Baldwin, possibly the same as the currently proposed
upgrade to Baldwin.
Note that Guilford parents have come to expect elaborate support for music
programs for grades 5 through 8. This solution allows facilities
and staff to support such programs to continue to be housed in just two
Six K-8 schools?
Adams, as a K-6 school, would absorb students from the current four K-4
schools, thus relieving enrollment pressure on those schools.
If necessary, Baldwin could be upgraded to enrollment projections for grades
7 and 8.
This is the Wethersfield model (the home of the ECC consultants).
Other, possibly out of the box Ideas?
Much more information is needed in order to evaluate any solution
to the "overcrowding" problem.
This solution is increasingly favored nationally for the reasons given
above. It may be too expensive for Guilford, but many cities are
doing this nationwide, and we in Guilford should study their experience
before rejecting this possibility.
The New Haven Register Says Guilford is
Ready to Vote
According to a November 8, 2002 article (Schools Proposal Ready for Vote)
in the New
Haven Register, the Guilford "Board of Selectmen on Wednesday
set a town meeting for Dec. 2 and a referendum Dec. 10 for a proposed $54.775
million middle schools construction project that would add space to the
Baldwin School and provide a new Adams School on the Baldwin site."
(URL = http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=5995224&BRD=1281&PAG=461&dept_id=7573&rfi=8)
This article also appears on page 5-G of the November 13, 2002 issue
of the Shore Line Times.
There's no mention of the Board of Finance (BOF) meeting on November
18th. Apparently it's assumed that the BOF will "rubber stamp" the
Mrs. Truex Speaks About Classroom Size in Adams
In this same November 8, 2002 New Haven Register article the following
two statements are attributed to Mrs. Truex:
In a November 13, 2002 phone conversation, Craig A. Smith of the School
Facilities Unit at Connecticut State Department of Education stated:
"One of the issues facing Adams is there are no standard-size classrooms;
some are small, others huge." (underline emphasis added)
"To rectify the situation would require a complete interior renovation
to state specifications, which together with the additions at Baldwin
priced out to $70.534 million." (underline emphasis added)
He's not familiar with the term "standard-size" when speaking of classrooms.
There is only one requirement for classroom size. It's found in the
Connecticut State Fire Safety Code (NFPA 101 - 1997). Section 11-1.7
of this code discusses occupant load for classrooms and states that there
should be a minimum of 20 net square feet per person.
Thus, for a class of 24 students, with one teacher, the classroom size
should be at least 500 square feet.
The Bottom Line
We need objective evidence that Adams and Baldwin are "overcrowded."
Let's hire an independent space utilization consultant and examine the
possibilities for more efficient space utilization.
SInce some solution strategies involve the four K-4 schools, it would be
wise to extend the study to include the four K-4 buildings.
If the "overcrowding" problem is real, all possible solution strategies
should be considered. Each solution should be evaluated relative
to current best practice thinking about the relationship between grade
span configurations and desired educational outcomes (academic achievement
and social adjustment).
It's best to delay the first building transition for as long as possible
(now at the beginning of the 5th grade in Guilford).
It's best to minimize the number of building transitions (now 3 in Guilford).
It's best to minimize the number of students per grade in a school building
(now 300+ per grade for grades 5 - 8 in Guilford).
Copyright 2002-2011 William G. Quirk, Ph.D.
The reader is invited to print and/or copy this paper.