It has been announced that John Pettibone School in town is closing. The New Milford Board of Education has decided that due to decreasing enrollment and the school’s aging infrastructure, it is time to shut the doors in June. In the fall of 2015, the kids that would have attended JPS will go to one of the town’s other five remaining schools. Much attention has understandably been focused on the closing and the changes it brings. With third and sixth graders moving locations, it will be a difficult time for those families who have to adjust and sort things out.
Both of my kids went to Pettibone for six years, starting with the Excel program and all the way through third grade. For those years the school was the focal point of our lives. They enjoyed each year and I did, too. We went to concerts, family fun days, chorus field trip days, book fairs, festivals, and all the rest, while getting to know and like the teachers and administrators. For a few of those years I dressed up as a really bad fortune teller for the Halloween party nights. My wife and I always tried to help with the school events when we could find time to do so.
Even though I have lived in New Milford for over 13 years, I still consider myself new to the town. I think of my family’s time at Pettibone as a very small part of the school’s overall history. My children are just two of the thousands of kids who have attended the school. Some past students have probably had the pleasure of witnessing their own children or grandchildren return to the same school to which they went. I can only begin to imagine how much learning, growth, and creativity has taken place inside its walls. And so I wanted to take a moment to remember the school on just the merit of what it has meant to the community: to think of those who started in their paths towards success at the school. I wanted to reflect on the tireless efforts of the teachers and staff who helped these children along on their way.
John Pettibone School first opened in the fall of 1955, at a time when New Milford and the rest of Connecticut was attempting to rebuild after the worst flood in state history. The school itself was constructed to address what was an exponentially growing town population. New Milford had grown to 5,800 in 1950 and would house 14,000 by 1970. In the 1955-56 school year, Pettibone handled third through eighth grades and educated more than half of the town’s school population. The school was expanded within its first eight years, adding twenty more classrooms and two wings.
John Pettibone School is the only town school named after a school administrator. Mr. Pettibone is but one of many who have given their lives to teaching the kids of New Milford. We should make sure we continue to honor him and the many educators who have spent their lives helping our children at John Pettibone School and all of New Milford’s schools. John Pettibone retired as superintendent of schools after 41 years of service in 1944.
It will be hard not to notice that John Pettibone School is closed; it sits on a huge section of land, just south from the center of town, on our busiest road. I don’t know how we will all feel when we pass by for the first time in the fall and realize there are no students attending it any longer. No doubt that the town will continue to thrive and grow without the school. Anyone who has spent time here knows we have too strong and vibrant of a community to let anything other than that happen. But let’s not forget a part of our town history—the red brick school that stood proudly for sixty years in the middle of it.