Board of Ed. begins looking at combining high schools

By Tom Phelan - Staff Writer
Enfield - posted Fri., Feb. 18, 2011
Enfield Board of Education member Peter Jonaitis has speculated on a campus-like solution that incorporates Enfield High School. Photos by Tom Phelan.
Enfield Board of Education member Peter Jonaitis has speculated on a campus-like solution that incorporates Enfield High School. Photos by Tom Phelan.

With the reorganization of the town’s elementary schools ready to be rolled out in the fall of 2011, Enfield’s Board of Education has begun to talk in earnest about addressing education needs at the secondary school level.

As highly charged as the elementary school reorganization became in the public arena, the notion of combining Enfield High School and Fermi High School into a single facility – as yet undesignated and unnamed – promises to eclipse that level of fervor. While straightforward opinions in favor of one high school over another abound in the community and the Board of Education has been careful to declare on more than one occasion that no decision has been reached on the high school combination issue, some members have voiced opinions that lean one way or the other.

At the BOE meeting at which the elementary school reorganization plans were rolled out and adopted, several members, including chairman Greg Stokes, were insistent that the board was a long way from making any decision on the future of Enfield’s secondary education.

At a recent BOE meeting, board member Peter Jonaitis supported the notion that no decision had yet been made. But Jonaitis also spent a few minutes speculating that a campus that combined Enfield High, nearby Enfield Street School and the Headstart facility might work.

Members of the town’s Strategic Planning Subcommittee, which includes town council and BOE members, gathered in Town Hall on Jan. 20 to begin to light the fire under the discussion and planning process. The course of discussion during the two-and-half-hour meeting supported the claims that there, indeed, was no predisposition to locate the single high school on one side of town or the other.

“This is more than moving bodies from two schools into one school,” Stokes said. “It’s about finding a way to create an educational system that outlives us and all the offices we’re in right now.” Stokes pointed out that there would come a time when the student population would drop to a level that could be accommodated in a single building. But Stokes also verbalized his feeling that he did not favor creating a campus-like setting that involved Enfield Street School. That facility, he thought, would undoubtedly need some renovations, and the town may find out in a few years that all the space is not needed.

Pointing to the elementary reorganization plan as a successful effort, Stokes said, “We took the opportunity to improve education [in the move with the elementary schools].” Although he said some would dispute that philosophy, he added, “The high school situation presents us with that same opportunity.”

BOE and subcommittee member Judith Apruzzese-Desroches also does not favor the campus environment. “We want education to dictate the structure, and not the other way around,” she said.

There was general agreement among those gathered at the SPS meeting that the educational future must include enhanced educational opportunities such as vocational training facilities and a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) academy.

Apruzzese-Desroches also pointed out that the current BOE would not be the one to make and implement the secondary education decision. It would be the board that will be elected in November, 2011. “They are the ones who will have to live with it,” she said.

Also under consideration is a concept proposed by a member of the community – that of a ninth-grade academy to initiate the merging of students into a single high school. The ninth-grade class would eventually become the first senior class to graduate from the new secondary school.

The BOE has planned a retreat to focus on this single issue. It will be run by a neutral facilitator, who will help the group stay on topic and hopefully draw out ideas and clarify issues. No date has yet been scheduled, although it was targeted for early March.

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