STONINGTON — Excitement crackled through the air as first-, second- and third-graders saw their new classrooms in Deans Mill Elementary School for the first time Monday morning.
“I think it looks really cool because everything is new,” said Julianna Matis, a 7-year-old second-grader. “It just felt so awesome. We got new desks.”
Up until last Thursday, Matis and her classmates, who are in second-grade teacher Brittany Sutera’s class, attended class in the school’s 1975 wing, which is slated for immediate demolishment to make way for a parking lot and traffic area.
In August 2018, kindergartners and fourth-graders moved to the newly-constructed wing of the school, which was part of a $67 million plan approved by voters in April 2015 to renovate both Deans Mill and West Vine Street elementary schools, both constructed in 1967, and to add a new wing to each school.
Also on Monday, third- and fourth-grade students who formerly attended West Broad Street School moved into their new classrooms at West Vine Street School.
Sutera, who has taught at Deans Mill for four years, was among the teachers who have moved their classrooms three times since 2017 to accommodate the plan and was now back in the renovated section of the 1967 building, two doors down from her original classroom.
“As a teacher, we are just thrilled,” she said. “It’s been a long two years for the teachers that have been packing and unpacking.”
Principal Jennifer McCurdy said teachers had been “unbelievably supportive and really positive” throughout the moves and were now in their permanent locations in the building.
“As I said to my staff on Friday, we would not have been in this building today if it wasn’t for all of them pitching in,” she said. “As they say, it takes a village, and everybody really came together, so it was really wonderful to see. We had parents showing up to help and retired teachers came back and it was truly remarkable and shows what a nice community this is.”
The changes dovetail with the town’s middle school consolidation, which will move Pawcatuck Middle School students to Mystic Middle School, to be renamed Stonington Middle School, in the fall.
The fifth grade, which has been located in the middle schools, will move to the elementary schools this fall. Pre-K, which is located at both the high school and the district’s Central Office, will also be relocated to Deans Mill and West Vine, respectively.
The addition of pre-K and the fifth grade will increase Deans Mill from 370 students to about 460 or 470, said McCurdy.
Bonnie Cusack, who has been a first-grade teacher for 19 of her 23 years at Deans Mill school and will retire in June, said even though she moved her classroom three times during the project, she was happy to see the results.
“I love my new classroom. It’s clean, it’s bright, it’s safe. We all have new computers, the latest technology, it’s a really spectacular classroom and I’m so excited my children will get to learn in that kind of environment,” she said, standing in the newly-renovated cafeteria where her students were trying out the new round tables.
The project reflected the town’s commitment to its children and their education, she said.
“I feel so fortunate to teach in this district because everyone is so invested in the children,” she said. “I live in Stonington so I feel like the community has really been behind us. They’re on board with wanting what’s best for the children.”
With the mid-year move, Cusack said her students were figuring out where their new lockers were and how to navigate the building.
“It’s all new, it’s exactly like the first day of school,” she said.