Bob Horton nails our New Lebanon problem

The new new lebanon school (representative)

The new new lebanon school (representative)

Spot-on column in today’s Greenwich Time.

Bob is a lifelong friend, although we’ve enjoyed a complete magnetic pole reversal in our politics: in 1960, when I was in First grade and he in Third, he bet me $1 that Nixon, his preferred candidate, would beat Kennedy. I spent election night terrified, because there was no way I could come up with a whole dollar ($25 in today’s currency), and I was in big trouble with a third grader. Turned out that my fears were groundless, and my relief the next morning was so huge that I ignored, but didn’t forget, that he welched on the bet. I just ran an interest calculation on that dollar, Bob, and it seems you owe me $190, based on 3.5%. You have my address.

In any event, here’s Bob:

Greenwich’s new shiny jewel, the 62,000-square-feet, $37.3 million New Lebanon School, is set to open its doors a week from Monday as students return from winter break.

At least five of the 21 pristine classrooms will sit empty; the elementary school designed to house 425 students will be lucky to see a population of 300.

To get beyond the 300 mark, the district will have to empty classrooms in other schools, adding to the town’s significant surplus of instructional space and incurring all the costs of maintaining more space than the district needs.

The school board and administrators have started an extensive campaign to justify building the oversized school at a time when district enrollment is expected to remain flat and possibly decline.

Part of that campaign was to be a new magnet curriculum that would attract students from all parts of town, which would, it was hoped, bring the New Lebanon student population’s racial mix in line with the district’s ethnic profile. That was part of the argument that helped the town secure construction funding from the state.

The town even incorporated a process for developing that magnet theme into the new building’s educational specifications. To achieve desired enrollment, the plan said, “the design of the magnet application/assignment policy and procedures for New Lebanon School must be concurrent with facility design.”

But no such curriculum design (or re-design) ever happened. New Lebanon still offers the magnet program it first employed years ago: the International Baccalaureate method, similar to the magnet curriculum at the International School at Dundee. The different approach espoused by the IB program worked to bring students to Dundee, but that school was re-opened to solve an overcrowding problem at Old Greenwich, Riverside and North Mianus schools. IB has not worked to convince parents from eastern and central Greenwich to send their children across town to New Lebanon.

There is no reason to suspect that a new building will change parents’ attitudes toward crosstown commuting for elementary students. With all credit to Barbara Riccio, New Lebanon principal, who said the lack of a new facility had made marketing the curriculum difficult, selling the IB method will not be easier with a new building. Western Middle School, the school New Lebanon graduates attend, wants to drop its IB program.

It is hard to suss out why the district has not spent more time and money exploring the best way to close the achievement gap at New Lebanon as it promised it would in its application for state funds. But, it is not surprising that a district that has had four superintendents in four years, with a new one beginning in July, has administrators who have learned how to navigate around the board and whoever is passing through the superintendent’s seat. Or perhaps everyone just forgot. But sticking with an IB curriculum that is not integrated throughout the next two levels of a student’s education has proven to be a failure.

We have incompetents running our town, and the BOE is their home base.