Bridgeport magnet school hopes for new home
BRIDGEPORT — From its exposed brick and framed art to a life-size suit of armor that stands guard in the hallway, the charm of Classical Studies Magnet Academy is undeniable.
But its students are not shy about exposing the down side to learning in a 123-year-old structure — the oldest school still in use by the district.
Jenecia Oliver-Helly, 13, points up to the windows in her third-floor classroom, propped open in the waning days of December. If not for that, the temperature in teacher Chelsea Crowley’s seventh-grade social studies class would soar into the high 80s, she and her students say.
Classical is a school — serving pre-K through eighth grade — at which cracked blacktop serves as a playground and the basement cafeteria ceiling shakes when students one floor above bound across a hardwood gymnasium floor.
All of that might be tolerable, said Dasha Spell, the school’s Parent Advisory Committee member-at-large, if the babies of the school — pre-K through second grade — weren’t a half-mile away in space rented by the Diocese of Bridgeport.
“We are a family and we are split,” Spell said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”
The annex, a shuttered Catholic School on Beechmont Avenue, was rented by the district in 2013 when the school pushed to add a seventh and eighth grade.
Hernan Illingworth, a Board of Education member whose daughter attended Classical when it went up to only sixth grade, said parents then viewed the annex as an interim step, and expected a facility big enough to accommodate the entire student body to follow.
This year, however, the dis trict was forced to renew its three-year lease on the annex when an effort to move the school was blocked on a 14-6 vote of the City Council. The district wanted to move the school, which draws 407 students from all over the city, to the Catholic Center, a large, former school building on Jewett Avenue in the city’s North End.
Michelle Lyons, a City Council member who lives by the Catholic Center, opposed the plan to buy and renovate the building, and she convinced a majority of council members to reject the idea.
Now that there has been some turnover of council members, the school community is renewing its push, saying the Catholic Center is the ideal, and perhaps only spot for a school that draws students from all parts of the city. Most academy students go on to populate the city’s magnet high schools.
Classical parents have been speaking out at council meetings.
On Dec. 22, the day before Christmas break, Spell took Illingworth, fellow school board member Joe Sokolovic, City Council Member Peter Spain and Joanne Kennedy, a community activist, on a tour through both buildings.
Sokolovic said the tour convinced him the school needs a new space.
A school where instruction is project-based, involving frequent assemblies and presentations, Classical cannot have schoolwide gatherings in its present, fragmented self, Spell said.
Hands shot up in Anthony Cusello’s seventh-grade class when students were asked how many had a younger sibling in the annex.
“I worried if she was safe,” said Sara Matumbura, 12, a seventh-grader whose sister was in the other building last year.
Kindergarten teacher Amanda Finch feels it, too. When the school was together, older siblings could come down and calm teary-eyed kindergarten students in the first few days of school. Now they are blocks away.
Finch misses seeing her former students grow into middle-schoolers.
Having two buildings, Spell pointed out, requires more security, more custodial help, and teachers and equipment that is shared on a regular basis.
In the annex, the ceiling leaks, smart boards do not work, and storage is hard to come by. When Spell’s daughter was there, parents chipped in to buy fans for the classrooms.
The main building has its quirks as well, like an elevator few in the building trust, and a water cooler that fails to live up to its name.
“The water is not cool,” said Camilla Cerrato, 13, said.