Student center

Greenwich High student center set to undergo $500,000 makeover with COVID relief funds

GREENWICH — The Student Center — a gathering place at Greenwich High that the school’s PPA co-chair has likened to a seemingly penitentiary — is set for a $500,000 renovation.

The Board of Education’s budget committee had requested the funds from the Board of Estimates and Taxation earlier this month, but was told the full school board must approve the spending.

School board member Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony was the first to raise an objection at Tuesday’s meeting.

“My concern takes precedence, especially when we consider the authorization of one-time ESSER funds,” he said. “We hear every day about the significant challenges of learning loss and the social-emotional needs of all of our students, and the only data we currently have at the board level is state tests that show students in many of our schools read below grade level. .”

With more data expected in June, he offered to set aside funds until the council learns more. He also suggested eliminating the school climate consultant position, a cost of $79,500 over three years.

But school board member Karen Hirsh hit back, arguing that the student center and climate consultant would benefit students’ social-emotional well-being.

“School climate is one of the few things we seek to do here that will serve both teachers and students. There really isn’t much here to support our educators,” she said. “The school climate consultant is basically hired to provide professional development in the areas of social and emotional support as well as other indicators that staff see.”

“We are seeing a big increase in anxiety and stress among students. It goes with what we talk about with the student center and helping give these students a place to decompress,” she said.

Greenwich High School vice-principal Dana Tulotta, who came up with the idea to reinvent the student center, said the space could be reconfigured to accommodate groups of students as well as those who want to sit alone.

Board member Joe Kelly said his two children had opposing reactions to the student center.

“One of my children would find it very traumatic to enter the student center regularly. Another one of my kids wished it was a 3 acre student center so he could greet more friends and have more people cheering as he walked in,” he said.

Parents have been supportive and thoughtful about the project, said Stephanie Cowie, co-chair of the Greenwich High School PTA.

Superintendent Toni Jones warned council against postponing the project. “If we know we’re going to do it, we’re just going to get less if we wait another six or 12 months because we’re seeing cost escalation,” she said.

Board member Karen Kowalski said she wished she could ask questions “three months ago” and felt rushed.

“I wonder if we’re spending it in the right place given that I heard we need a literacy specialist at Parkway,” she said.

The split request also includes money for social workers, a math worker, a reading worker, a family and community engagement consultant and other additions to the school district.

The school board narrowly approved the request by a 4-2 vote, with two abstentions.

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