First Report: Guilford Middle School Building Project

November 7, 2002

 by Bill Quirk  ( wgquirk@wgquirk.com)

Introduction

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 to Baldwin."   

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 of Wethersfield.

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 building).

Consider the following quote related to a 1997 Connecticut study:

The March 2002 issue of  School Administrator  (http://www.aasa.org/publications/sa/2002_03/contents.htm) 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.

K-8 schools and K-6 schools offer several benefits that serve to improve both academic achievement and social adjustment:

  1. 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.
  2. A higher percentage of parents tend to remain involved with the first school attended by their children.
  3. There is an increased probability of siblings in the same building.
  4. There is an increase in teacher to teacher accountability.
  5. Delays the stress of the first building transition.

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

            200 - 299                          1
            300 - 399                          4
            400 - 499                          3
            500 - 599                         2
            600 - 699                         12
            700 - 799                          8
            800 - 899                          8
            900 - 999                          2
            1300 - 1399                     1
            1500 - 1599                     1

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:

  1. Choral ................ 1,607 square feet     Why can't this room be used for orchestra?
  2. Band .................. 2,617 square feet
  3. Orchestra ..........    901 square feet
  4. Art....................... 2,579 square feet
  5. Library ............... 3,472 square feet
Recommendation:  Hire an independent space utilization consultant to:
  1. Provide a detailed analysis of how every room is currently used in both Adams and Baldwin.
  2. Make recommendations for more efficient use of currently available space.

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).

  1. Four K-5 schools, with two 6-8 schools (the old Guilford model)?
  2. Adams and Baldwin as 5-8 schools?
  3. Five K-6 schools, with Baldwin as the 7-8 school?
  4. Six K-8 schools?
  5. Other, possibly out of the box Ideas?
  Much more information is needed in order to evaluate any solution to the "overcrowding" problem.

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 proposal.

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:
  1. "One of the issues facing Adams is there are no standard-size classrooms; some are small, others huge."   (underline emphasis added)
  2. "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)
In a November 13, 2002 phone conversation, Craig A. Smith of the School Facilities Unit at Connecticut State Department of Education stated:
  1. He's not familiar with the term "standard-size" when speaking of classrooms.
  2. 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


Copyright 2002-2011 William G. Quirk, Ph.D.
The reader is invited to print and/or copy this paper.