A town’s high school should reflect the community and taxpayers in which it serves. Through years of research, our BOE recommended combining Lyman Hall and Sheehan to consolidate and build one high school that will provide access to equitable opportunities and programming for ALL of our students. Though not easy, they came to the most reasonable and most responsible decision for Wallingford.
Equitable access to academic programming should be the biggest priority of all involved. The consolidation of our high schools helps to ensure that all students in Wallingford have the same access to academic opportunities. Core academic courses will always run at both high schools, but when numbers of students decrease, elective courses chosen based on interest can’t run if there aren’t enough students that choose it. According to the school board’s “Restructuring Study Questions and Concerns,” there are 31 courses at Lyman Hall and 25 courses at Sheehan not running due to low enrollment. These include AP Physics, AP Economics, Art Photography, Humanities, Entrepreneurship, Sports / Event Management, and Computer Repair, just to name a few! Similar issues arise when numbers only support one section of a class which could force students to choose between two classes if those classes fall in the same period. By offering two sections in two different periods, students have flexibility with their choices.
The argument to keep our schools separate because some students will never be able to compete in sports at the varsity level is valid, but shouldn’t overturn the argument for equitable academic programming for all students. Otherwise, what do we say to students who chose an elective to find out it won’t run because only six other kids chose it at their school even though another eight chose it at the other high school? “Sorry, varsity athletics comes first because we’d rather save five varsity starters on the basketball team, none of whom will make a career out of playing basketball, then have enough students in one school to be able to run classes and support an effective Advanced Manufacturing pathway that will allow students to graduate from high school and begin a lucrative career in an industry that is struggling to find quality employees? Sports are important, and we learn valuable lessons from them. But combining our high schools does NOT eliminate sports, and the lessons we learn from athletics are not unique to the varsity level. Teamwork, mental toughness, hard work and leadership can be learned through participation in JV, Freshman or recreational athletics. Getting cut from a team? It's hard and it hurts. And parents especially don’t want to see their kids hurt, but getting cut from a team builds character too.
There has been considerable discussion regarding the relationship between a large school and a student’s mental health and a myth that a larger school means larger class sizes. It is unfair to assume that a larger school would cause, be unable to recognize or not have the resources to treat such issues. If desired, there are ways to make a larger school feel smaller by using “teams” and “houses” and the design of such a system should be left in the hands of our central office administration. The idea of “class sizes will increase” is not based on fact. Currently the guidelines from the BOE set high school class sizes at 25 students per class. With the consolidation of our high schools, the BOE has indicated that class sizes in a new high school would be 25 students per class ... there is no change from the current guidelines!
PowderPuff really is incredible so people who haven’t experienced it don’t understand how important it is to our town. But why would one high school cause us to stop this storied tradition? Couldn’t we split the senior class, for one day of the year into “East Side” and “West Side” to continue this tradition? And then reunite on Thanksgiving Day for the football game to create a new tradition?
Putting aside all of these academic reasons to combine our schools, the physical conditions of our buildings prove that we need to start from the ground up. The safety of our students, and the possibility of energy efficient utilities should also drive this decision. We have not built a new school building in over 50 years! A flagship state of the art high school will cost taxpayers on average $180/yr (per Councilor Zandri) but could positively impact our property values and unite our town with a high school that invokes a sense of community pride. The decision that was made by our Board of Education was the right one for all of our students and I trust that the Town Council will support our children and our community by funding this project.
A 1996 graduate of Lyman Hall High School and a mother of four now attending Wallingford schools, Erin Corso is lead school counselor at Ansonia High School. She served on the Wallingford Board of Education from Jan. 2018 to Jan. 2021.