NPS announces Middle School Choice, parents cry foul

Screengrab from the March 1 Board of Education workshop meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Public Schools is “transitioning from a concept of middle school assignments based on neighborhoods to families choosing which school they wish their child to attend regardless of where they live in Norwalk.”

Approved by the Board of Education in March, this latest move toward “choice” will affect next year’s incoming middle school students. Now that an announcement has gone out, some parents are balking. For one thing, children won’t be guaranteed a place at the middle school closest to their home.  

NPS has been working toward pathways and choice for years. At the March 1 Board of Education meeting, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Rob Pennington said Middle School Choice would allow students to try out pathways and make a better decision about what they want to do in high school.

“We want our students to either have a diverse exposure to the different programs within the elementary and middle school before they go to high school. Or if they have a vested interest in a particular pathway, and they’re very decisive on how they want to move forward, that they can take that avenue, but have that experience throughout their learning experience. And not just have to wait till high school to figure that out,” Estrella said.

“I love the idea that they can navigate through different pathways. And if you do marine science here, you can change to digital communication there. But it seems to me that they would need added resources to kind of help navigate that,” Board of Education Chairman Colin Hosten said.

Discussions at that meeting and others also focus on the transportation challenges. NPS Transportation Coordinator Johanna Zanvettor promised that the district could handle the changes with its existing resources, citing current examples such as nine bus routes servicing Silvermine Elementary School and students from across Norwalk heading to the Center for Global Studies or P-Tech (Pathways in Technology Early College High School).

Friday’s announcement said a lottery system will lead to “equitable” results. Students will rank their choices from the 10 available programs, with guidance from school counselors and assistance available to families at the NPS Family Center.

There’s no guarantee that students will get their first choice but there a waiting list will be available for the next school year, NPS states.

“Students at all middle schools will receive the same core instruction and will be tested based on the same standards across the district,” the release said. “Transportation will no longer be a barrier for students either. The district will provide transportation to all middle schools students regardless of where their choice program is located while still abiding by the state’s school transportation requirements.”

Teachers will get the same professional development across the district, the release states.

“If a family wants their child to attend the middle school closest to their family home, the student must rank the choice program at that school as their top choices on the application. This will not guarantee them a spot at that school, but it will give them the best opportunity to be placed at that school,” the release states. Again, a wait list will be offered.

What about siblings?

“Priority will be given to students who wish to attend the same middle school as an older sibling(s) during the same school year. A younger sibling can also choose a different Middle School Choice program separate from the school of their older sibling,” NPS states.

Students can change programs, but only after completing the school year.


Parental outcry

The announcement was posted to the Facebook page Norwalk Parents for Education, where it had inspired 100 comments as of Sunday morning, most of them expressing outrage.

“{I}t doesn’t make any sense to let a 10 year old pick a program they might not understand. They’re way more likely to pick a school where their friends are going and not an actual interest,” one early commenter said.

“And how many kids would choose to ride across town and back on a bus, instead of walking/biking to school with friends? Can’t even imagine how after school activities/sports would work…” came a reply.

“I’m not sure how this change all of a sudden appeared… without public discussion? Where was the communication with stakeholders?” the second person said.

One parent predicted a “disaster,” and another said, “Middle school is a big enough adjustment and now they want these kids to go to a different school. Ridiculous.”

If your child isn’t guaranteed their first choice, it throws the entire idea of choice out the window, another said.

“{M}aybe this is the sort of shake up the district needs. Middle schools have been the ‘weakest link’ of late – maybe this repositions student bases that are more energetic about the programming,” a father said.

A friend of his felt it incongruous to create a K-5 South Norwalk neighborhood school and then de-emphasize the importance of “neighborhood” when the kids turn 10. She said, “this will potentially force a lot of 5th graders to come into a school knowing very few people.”

The response overall “looks to me like a very classic Norwalk example of people hearing an announcement, and reacting with anxiety instead of waiting for more information or asking direct questions,” a mother said. “Middle school has been the weak link in NPS the entire 12 years I’ve lived here, and I am interested to hear more details of this plan at the town hall.”

Others said the main issue is families not getting priority at their neighborhood school. One mother said her son’s classes at Roton Middle School are filled to capacity and if this had started this year, he’d likely be bused across town.

“{W}hat I think really caused this reaction is the fact that this was not communicated effectively,” another parent replied. “This should have been presented to the community with explanations and a time to answer questions. The failure to discuss it openly and in depth gives it the appearance of impropriety- even if none exists.”

NPS has replaced its entire communications department, taking advice given in the efficiency study this year. Nearly 16 years of cumulative knowledge went out the door.

The announcement went only to fifth grade families “without consideration of how the message would be received. I think anyone who doesn’t yet have a kid in middle school is impacted and has questions,” one parent said.

One mom, who has been actively involved, said she didn’t think choice is the answer to the “middle school weak link issue.” She thought it would make things harder.

“If I bought a home in a certain area based on the schools, I’d fully expect to be able to send my children to their neighborhood school if that’s what I thought was best and I believe you can have school choice and neighborhood schools without this level of division,” she wrote. She mentioned the recent emphasis on social emotional learning and asked, “Can you imagine how much more anxious the 6th graders will be? I truly believe if a child feels safe and confident the rest will follow. I’m this case we are stripping of them of that. We all make mistakes. This decision is a mistake.”

The district plans an online town hall Tuesday evening, where parents can ask questions.

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Pathway Development NPS


Nora King September 26, 2022 at 8:29 am

There was no public hearing and no vote on this. How is that even legal? Pathways were the topic prior to Covid. Norwalk Public Schools under this current leadership si failing our kids. The lack of focus on math, reading, literature, grammar, science and history is decimating our schools. Nowhere in any meetings did pathways equate to killing off neighborhood schools. Middle schools have been a weak link but that has been because NPS refuses to raise the bar and educate the kids. When did marine biology become more important than teaching our kids how to write a correct sentence, or do calculus or learn about the history of our country? In my opinion their is a lack of leadership and focus. We spend 7 million on a welcome center that was a mess this year and I can speak to that because every time I called they had no clue how to handle anything, yet our test scores are spiraling down. We need to defund the BOE until they can show us they have the leadership skills to manage the millions we give them. Leave our neighborhoods alone.

John O'Neill September 26, 2022 at 10:00 am

The Norwalk Board of Education and Estrella squad never disappoints. New York City School system is disintegrating, yet these enlightened ones are bringing that same culture to our fine city. Has anyone given any thought to all to logistics and costs related to these logistics? Incredible!!
The positive impact from this will the “outing” of the inept Middle School administrators. Any parent aware of the lineups know what Middle School leaders are doing their jobs. Hence, school choice should magnify that. I just hope the requests are made public for all to see.
While we’re on the topic of school choice, why stop with Public Schools. Why not give families a choice of All Saints as well? While it’s not for every student, All Saints would alleviate any overcrowding issues.
This Board and Norwalk Public School administration seem to buy into the theory of 24 hour attention span of taxpayers. While sad, it’s probably accurate. I find it pathetic that a group on New Yorkers are able to come into our city and drop their failed policies on our student body.

Bryan Meek September 26, 2022 at 10:47 am

Another shiny example of our government being made as inaccessible to the people as possible. No one heard about this going on 7 months and the solution to that is…another on-line forum.

Norwalk parents need not worry, the architects of this impending disaster will have long been promoted in far off districts elsewhere using this among other initiatives as resume builders while we deal with the fallout.

Does anyone on the BOE say NO to anything anymore?

Drew Todd September 26, 2022 at 4:06 pm

🚨🚨 attention 🚨🚨
We need you and your children to show up at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, September 27th at CITY HALL to demand that BOE meeting are in-person. We want the opportunity to speak in-person regarding the middle school lottery choice which eliminates our children being guaranteed their neighborhood school in a critical growth period of their life. Please respond below that you WILL show up with your children on Tuesday, September 27th at 6:30 pm. Bring homemade signs. We can individually and as a group zoom into the meeting which starts at 7 pm to show that we no longer will stay quiet and let the BOE pretend that our voices don’t matter.
Please respond if you will be attending. We need 100 or more parents to make a statement that we are tired of being ignored and muted on ZOOM.

Tysen Canevari September 26, 2022 at 9:36 pm

I hate to sound like a broken record but i have no regret for sending my 4 boys to private school. Norwalk board of ed is a friggin joke. $300,000 plus for a super that is awful. School of choice? LOL Whats next? Choose what teachers you would like and what you want for lunch? Just awful

Johnny cardamone September 26, 2022 at 10:45 pm

It sounds interesting innovative and like a school busing nightmare!🥵🙈👎🏽 let the middle school years be a time where the kids learn the classics literature and English and history and then they can get creative in a high school pre-college setting👍🏼🇺🇸🦔

David Muccigrosso September 27, 2022 at 9:22 am

Someone cries foul about literally everything when it comes to Norwalk’s schools. I bet even the superintendent’s dog cries foul when they put their slippers on in the mornings.

A sense of chill would really help here. And perspective! Some nonzero amount of Norwalkers are celebrating this morning because they are finally getting the shot at school choice they’ve been hoping for for years now. But as usual, the comments sections are only full of complainers.

So this is just a friendly reminder for everyone out there who’s reading these comments: Comments sections, like Twitter, aren’t real life. Don’t take either too seriously.

Tysen Canevari September 27, 2022 at 7:28 pm

@ David. The comments section is open for people to voice their support as well. Somehow when the topic of the Bd of Ed comes up and their shenanigans not too many people applaud them! Just saying..

David Muccigrosso September 28, 2022 at 8:36 am

@Tysen – Point well taken, but also comments are a small and self-selected sample size. Only about 5-10% of all users ever comment on stories, so even granting Nancy a high comment rate (because Norwalkers are just such especially conscientious citizens!) we still are only seeing a fraction of public opinion.

More qualitatively, local rags like Nancy’s are magnets for the proverbial Squeaky Wheels.

And moreover… it’s not like school choice is some absurdly illegitimate minority position. It’s perfectly mainstream at the national level, even when it’s not the actual majority — to clarify, like abortion, school choice is one of those issues that you can slice and dice any poll to argue that either side has an actual majority, so the most accurate thing we can really say is that it’s at least an issue that CAN command majorities.

To me, that’s also pretty much the definition of legitimate. Getting back to the nanocrisis at hand, despite all the process complaints being made here, I don’t see the Board of Ed doing anything that’s actually illegitimate. They were elected, they had a vote, and they adopted a policy. Although individuals can certainly object to the policy, it’s not fundamentally objectionable — IE, it’s not like the plan brings back slavery.

So amidst all that… it seems that all the focus on process is not serving our community well here. If people oppose the policy, they should come out and say that. Too many times, we see people complain about process, when the reality is that regardless of whether THEY personally were granted every single process demand they have, the Board would still have voted to adopt the plan. If the process you’ve demanded can’t meaningfully change outcomes, then the problem isn’t that you aren’t being granted due process, it’s that you’ve been overruled in the halls of representative democracy.

All of that is to say, I reiterate that our community would be better served by people just saying what their opinion is.

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