By Lorraine Connelly
Earlier this month the Operations Committee of Wallingford’s Board of Education voted 8-1 to approve a preliminary feasibility study for a new combined high school on the present site of Lyman Hall High School. This came after Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sal Menzo urged the Board’s Instructional Committee to address the option of one, new high school to serve the entire town before contemplating renovation plans.
Regarding a renovation of the existing Lyman Hall structure built in 1957, Dr. Menzo noted, “Its infrastructure is very old and adding new to old doesn’t necessarily work.” A brand new complex built in phases would retain the Vo-Ag Sciences Center, include a new gym, auditorium, and pool, with options to expand existing parking and fields.
Weary from the challenges of a year of pandemic schooling, Dr. Menzo was forthright in his opinion, “The pandemic, for me personally, has solidified any doubt I may have had. One high school is really what we need to investigate deeply and put in place. I know it may be the kiss of death for my tenure . . . but it is becoming more and more challenging to run two high schools academically.”
Dr. Menzo cited three key advantages to one high school in a recent email. “It will address the ability to offer courses that presently can not run at either school due to low enrollment. The expansion of career technical education classes based on student requests would be very costly to run at two schools. Lastly, more students would participate in the popular certified nursing assistant program but travel and scheduling issues currently result in some passing on the opportunity.” Expanding academic opportunities, while piquing student interest in technical training and nursing careers are sound reasons for a single school.
Appointed in 2009, Dr. Menzo has been a visionary leader, bringing innovation into the school district, not only as an advocate of STEM education, but by broadening his vision to include improving the future of Wallingford as a unified town. When a visionary advises us not to put “new wine into old bottles,” do we heed the summons, or let the advice fall upon deaf ears?
Merging schools is a complex issue, financially and emotionally. If Wallingford decides on one high school, what happens to the rivalries and traditions that have been nurtured over the past 50 years? For perspective, I recently asked Mary Pashley, Sheehan Class of 1979, and a 2005 Sheehan Hall of Fame Inductee, how she felt about the choice at hand. Mary’s brother, Paul, was in the first graduating Class of 1972; all four of her siblings are Sheehan graduates.
A Wallingford native and longtime director of Choate Rosemary Hall’s Community Service program, she served as Choate’s town-gown liaison – most recently as secretary of The HUBCAP Wallingford Board of Directors – until retiring in 2016.
“I loved my own high school experience,” Pashley related, “I had great relationships with my teachers and a strong peer group. But as much as I pine for tradition, if one high school is going to be better for Wallingford students, then I’m for it. The prospect of students being united in an environment that simulates a campus, where they can walk across pathways to different buildings of learning, is exciting. I applaud Dr. Menzo for thinking outside the box and steering the district in the right direction.”
Pashley recalls that while rival athletic competitions and traditional powderpuff football games were fun, “some of the social stuff was not. As an eighth grader transitioning to high school, I would have preferred the opportunity to double up on my friendships in a shared high school experience. Perhaps we have to lose some traditions in order to make new ones.”
She adds, “Bricks and mortar should not define us. It’s the shared bonds that we make that connect us. We have to start thinking about investing in the future of the Town by providing a top-tier education for all high schoolers.”
While merging schools won’t be painless, adaptation is the mechanism by which we learn to adjust to changes in our current, known environment. As a former resident of Wallingford’s west side, I cannot ignore the triad of loss – the closure of the Yalesville Library, the linkage of Our Lady of Fatima parish with Most Holy Trinity, and the possible consolidation of Sheehan with Lyman Hall – yet our hope lies in a unified future. One School, One Wallingford.
Lorraine Connelly is a Wallingford writer and resident. She is a 1971 graduate of the High School of Music & Art in New York City which merged with the High School of Performing Arts in 1984.