Middle school house structure changes put on hold
Updated 11:31 am, Wednesday, May 24, 2017
DARIEN — After backlash that included board members receiving texts during meetings asking them about the plan to integrate a house structure into the middle school, the Darien school board has decided to put the plan on hold.
“I would like to put the concept aside for second,” said Superintendent Dan Brenner. “School districts are in partnership with parents. Our goal is not to alienate, but embrace our parent population. At times we may disagree, but we should disagree with the right information.
“Through a lack of process, I could feel urgency and panic on a possible change in a short time and that’s never the way you want change,” Brenner said during Tuesday’s school board meeting.
Last month, Middlesex Middle School Principal Shelley Somers presented her vision for the middle school moving forward, including integrating “houses” to provide a space for social interactions, in addition to the education-focused teams. Somers said increasing social and emotional growth is a focus for her after her first year at the school, as well as increasing vertical integration to help with curriculum consistency.
“There are many wonderful things about the team model in place,” she said. “We do in some ways create small learning environment for students and we do make school smaller with 12 teams, but with that there are challenges.”
According to Somers and the board, however, many parents voiced concerns about this plan, especially about the social implications of keeping a group of students together for three years. As a solution, Brenner proposed the discussion about the house model continue over the course of the next year and to include parents in the conversation.
Somers said she still feels responsible for ensuring changes are made to the school to help support students emotionally and socially. She relayed an incident from that day where she talked to a student about why the student was using inappropriate language on Instagram. At the end of the incident, the student said she wished she could have had a chance to talk to someone about this sooner — something that might be possible with a house structure in place.
“We have a culture that isn’t dealing with some of the feelings that come into my office which spill over from a weekend from Instagramming,” she said. “Change is going to have to happen to accommodate those programs. I can understand the turmoil of students staying with same group...However, I cannot ignore the social and emotional needs that show up every day at my office door…I’d be remiss as a leader to say there’s not a need. We see it every day in one form or another.”
Somers proposed giving students more input in school decisions, as well as getting parents more involved and replacing homeroom with a “home base” to teach things like study skills.