After unanimous defeat, Middletown superintendent says he ‘failed’ on $10M plan

The leader of Middletown Schools told school board members today he “failed” in presenting to them a $10 million proposal earlier this week and now wants to delay a debated Central Academy School project.

The delay announcement came during an early morning, special meeting hastily called by the Middletown Board of Education and followed a public admission by Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. that he “failed his team.”

“My (district administrative) team put together an unbelievable, fantastic package that would benefit the kids in our district,” Styles said of the $10 million plan to expand Central Academy, change the school’s academic program and move its sixth-graders to Highview Elementary.

“Unfortunately I failed the team and I failed the district,” Styles said in response to some board members who had previously complained they were surprised by the scope of the Central Academy plan and didn’t like being rushed into a vote at the board’s Monday meeting.

That meeting saw the board vote 5-0 to reject Styles’ plan.

The $10 million project, which would have added 13 classrooms to Central Academy, will face a new board vote later this year at an undetermined date.

The delay will push back the original construction schedule, which had the expanded Central Academy opening in August 2020, to August 2021 if the board eventually approves the changes.

Styles asked for and received informal permission from the board to allow him to put together a series of public gatherings in the coming weeks to gather public input from not only Central Academy’s community but also from school parents throughout the city schools.

Styles had pitched the Central Academy changes as a way to lessen overcrowding in other elementary schools – citing some classes having up to 28 students – and also a way to bring a more equitable distribution of instructional quality to all schools.

Board member Todd Moore, who had been the most vocal critic Monday of Styles’ manner in presenting the original proposal for board vote, said he was pleased to see the school leader’s new and slower approach.

“I believe in his (Styles) leadership,” Moore said after Styles spoke. “This is not anything personal, this is business. We have to tackle a very important project. (But) when key steps are not presented to us, it leaves us here (meeting) with misunderstandings.”

Chris Urso, president of the board, said after the meeting that “we as a board need to establish some clarity on process and that will help our administrative team as they move forward so they know that they are moving in a direction that is agreeable on all fronts.

“I don’t think we did that in the ways we needed to up to this point. This allows us to get these things right and incorporate community and do things differently that will benefit our schools.”

Central Academy parent Kate Titus said she was “very happy” with Styles’ decision to slow down the proposed project and to gather more community opinions.

“It’s a good idea to take a step back and talk to all of the schools and get everyone’s schools. There has been a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings about our concerns,” Titus said.

“Our concern was not the addition of more students but the proposed changes to the (academic) program we love and the removal of the sixth grade that is such an integral part of the Central Academy community.”

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