South Norwalk Neighborhood School is needed

Board of Education member Kara Nelson Baekey. (Contributed)

Norwalk Public Schools is committed to engaging our families, including them in their child’s academic success, and making it easy for them to be an active participant in their school community.

Over the last 40 years, families in South Norwalk were not afforded the same level of accessibility to their child’s school as other families around the district who were fortunate enough to have a neighborhood school near their home. South Norwalk families faced multiple barriers to being an active participant in their child’s learning.

The new South Norwalk school is helping to break down those barriers such as transportation and communication. The new neighborhood school allows parents and guardians in that community to more easily engage with school staff and other families.

Norwalk Public Schools prides itself on neighborhood schools, and families in every neighborhood should get that opportunity. Incoming students living in South Norwalk will no longer be subjected to long bus rides across town to attend school. They will be able to attend school with the friends they’ve made across the street or at the neighborhood park.

Their families who struggled with transportation barriers can now walk to the school, communicate with the teachers and staff in person more often, and attend after school activities which builds community, a top priority for Principal Dr. Alycia Rhinehart.

Under Dr. Rhinehart’s leadership, the South Norwalk Neighborhood School is committed to giving these parents a voice that they’ve never had before due to their location and the subsequent barriers to access. These voices will play an important role in the growth and evolution of the school, from the point of this first year of students within the incubator school and beyond.

If you are a parent with a child who is lucky enough to have access to a neighborhood school, please put yourself in the shoes of those parents in South Norwalk.

Imagine having to tell your inbound kindergartner that they will not be attending the same school as their best friend who lives next door, and that instead they will be getting on a bus very early every morning to go up to the Cranbury area for their school, joining a class of other 5-year-olds that they most likely have never met before. Then they will need to take a long bus ride back home each day.

Add on to that the travel that you as a parent will need to handle when parent-teacher conferences, school concerts and every other campus event happens – for six years.

I think that if you were to ask the parents and students of the South Norwalk community if the launching of their new and long-awaited school was a want or a need, the response would be a resounding – it’s a need. And it has been for 40 long years.


11 responses to “South Norwalk Neighborhood School is needed”

  1. Bobby Lamb

    I think Ms Bakey misses the point. Everyone agrees with the Douth Norwalk school and the city is building one for $70m dollars. It will be done in 3 years. The issue was the starting up an “incubator” for one grade of kids at a cost of $2million a year. The school is being built. It is a “want” to start populating it in a temporary space before the building is done. The issue is that it wasn’t approved in the budget. The BOE managed to “find” $2 million dollars basically under the couch cushions (immediately after crying about how the city didn’t appropriately fund them and had created an untenable financial cliff). Now you’re including it in this years budget as an ongoing expenses. You gave yourselves a baked in unapproved increase and are now claiming the city is cutting you?? It’s so disingenuous it’s hard to know where to start.

  2. Bryan Meek

    I don’t disagree with any of this. This is why the BOE I served on hatched plans to address this with the Columbus at Ely effort.

    Sadly that was scuttled for political reasons, otherwise we would have had that brand new state of the art school building open today for 400+ children.

    Instead we are going to spend more than 2x that to locate it by the scrapyards oh 2 to 4 years from now, until the next last minute moving of the goal post happens again.

    Recall the $3 million wasted on Columbus on Ely was due to a technicality on available land, the existing parcel coming up short half an acre.

    DEEP makes exceptions to these requirements all the time, all over the state, but not when it comes to our poorest children.

    We are supposed to believe that Bob Duff, who is capable of coming up with a few $ hundred million for a new NHS no one needs as much, was completely powerless to get the agencies to see it our way.

    Keep up the good fight, but realize who you are fighting first.

  3. Johnny cardamone

    What is happened to the Nathaniel Ely school near Roodner court which has 17 acres of land!? why don’t they turn that into a new high school call it Rowayton high!

  4. John O’Neill

    Thank You very much for a very informative column. It made me think about what a terrific idea this school is. It’s a shame it wasn’t done 10-20 years ago when it was being pushed by Mike Barbis. But then again there were some in the community at that time who would’ve disagreed with Mike Barbis if he told them the sky was blue. Maybe we should congratulate Mike Barbis posthumously once this is done.
    Couple of interesting points — Although not a big deal, it should be noted that the principal for this “community” school is part of the Subway administration Estrella has brought to Norwalk. Interesting that this “community” school will actually has New York roots. Minor issue I’m sure.
    It should also be noted that the initial funding for the incubator program was left-over funds so funding was not highly debated. The sense was it funds were allocated but not being used, so why not? Again this Board was playing checkers and not chess. I guess they didn’t think about the following year…Then again, maybe they did.
    I sense some irritation from the want/need line…Is this Board sensitive about oversight? Hold on…Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do. I thought the Board managed and oversaw the administration. I didn’t think they were elected to run interference for an administration willing to bend the rules to get done what they want whether or not the taxpayer thinks it’s ok…It wouldn’t shock me if there’s a sign in the Education office the reads “Better to ask for forgiveness than permission” — That seems to be their M.O.

  5. Jenn McMurrer

    Just to clarify, my comments around wants vs. needs regarding the SONO Incubator. I have been told it is only servicing 83 children currently, but we are spending $1.8 million to fully staff the building. We are required to do as such, but that means we are spending $21,687 per student, which is higher than any other student spending in the city. We speak about equity and many will argue, including myself, that it has not been equitable for this community to not have a neighborhood school, which is why the council unanimously voted for the new school. But, if we are already spending the money to fully staff the building and this is truly serving the SONO community, why are there so few able to attend the incubator? And as we increase the student body, the price tag will also increase, by how much I do not know because I have asked twice and not received an answer. Also, when we open the new school that we are building, it will not have the capacity to educate all of the children in this neighborhood. It will be based on a lottery something else to think about. I brought this up as an example because it has been presented that we have mental health support we are in dire need of and special educators that we need to increase. We are told these are needs and I presume will help many of our youth across the district. We cannot pay for EVERYTHING everyone requests so my question is what are we prioritizing to take care of the needs? If the incubator is a top priority, then we should find other areas that are not and go down the list. My point is, everything requested cannot be at the top of the list.

  6. Nora King

    I am so confused over her comments. She says Neighborhood schools are critical yet she was one of the members who voted in the dark for the lottery system that was announced on a Friday afternoon last September that state Pathways and a lottery system for all was going in place with no neighborhood schools. It was only after parents revolted and were upset that this Board made these decisions behind closed doors that kids were allowed to remain in their neighborhood schools. Neighborhood Schools should be the number 1 focused with strong academics instead of crazy pathways in Elem and Middle Schools with kids being bussed everywhere. This is the same board member who has let our kids curriculum to be altered to remove the studying of our 50 states and American History and geography in our schools.

  7. David Osler

    We all agree to be the South Norwalk School and it’s a great idea but why would you put it on the corner of meadow and Wilson there were a lot of better places you could have put it over by Woodward Park and foreclosed on some of those warehouses. You could have put it across the street at the old NCC campus not that I think that was a good idea but definitely better than hatch and Bailey. You’re a government you could have done some eminent domaining around your original proposed site where you couldn’t get enough parkland which made no sense to any City resident it’s a school for god sakes and that was a great location. You also tore down pretty much half the building south of Washington including the ones around Columbus another great area to do that. And Manresa Island would probably be a good idea too. I don’t think any of those ideas were really considered and this is why there’s investigations into dirty money

  8. Michael McGuire

    Go Jenn McMurrer! You and Bryan Meek, an unlikely duo, are light’n up the CC. Kudos to you both.

  9. Lisa Brinton

    @ David Osler – Why put the school at Hatch & Bailey! Word on the street is Meadows Garden residents are being asked & given vouchers to leave. Seems future plans are for demolition vs renovation. Obviously it will take a few years, but it certainly fits the rezoning plans impacting the industrial businesses in South Norwalk. Get ready for more high rise apartments. So much for local government transparency. Nancy, you might want to speak to the Norwalk Housing Authority, see what gives.

  10. Kara Baekey

    To correct an inaccuracy within the Comments here, it should be noted that admittance to the new South Norwalk school will NOT be based on a lottery; as with all of our elementary schools, it will be based upon the students’ geographical residence within the city, i.e. any student who wants to attend their neighborhood school may do so (they may also enter into the magnet lottery if they wish to attend another school).

    Secondly, to clarify on the introduction of the incubation of the school….when CMS moved into the new K-8 building on the Ponus Ridge campus, an opportunity arose to begin phasing in, or incubating, the new South Norwalk School with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students beginning in the 2022-23 school year. Currently, the new South Norwalk school is establishing its staffing, programs and community while design work and construction is underway at the new site. Once construction is complete, the new school will have already established several grade levels.

    Unlike other schools, for 2022-23 the South Norwalk School only has pre-kindergartners and kindergarteners. In 2023-24, as the pre-kindergartners advance to kindergarten, and kindergartners advance to 1st grade, new pre-kindergartners and kindergartners will enroll. The new enrollment will almost double the student population during the second year. However, school expenses will not double as there are a number of fixed costs that will not proportionately increase, such as Principal, Secretary, Social Worker etc. We do anticipate needing three 1st Grade teachers for 2023-24. Until the school is fully enrolled, the per pupil cost will decrease and will eventually align with other elementary schools.

    It is also important to note that as enrollment at the South Norwalk School increases (due to student/parent choice), there will be corresponding enrollment decreases at other elementary schools.

    I am happy to provide additional information around the elementary schools per-pupil costs comparison for 2022-23 and 2023-24 across the district if anyone is interested in seeing it. Please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].

  11. Jenn McMurrer

    This verbiage is taken directly from the NPS website: A lottery will be held if enrollment exceeds the number of spaces available.


    My question, which I have asked a few times now is how much will it cost year-over-year and what is the estimated enrollment year-over-year?

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