Fitch Academy, Darien’s alternative high school education program, will be moving to 6 Thorndal Circle for the 2018-19 school year.
Darien Public Schools had previously negotiated to move the program to 1540 Boston Post Road, earning an approval from the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission before the deal fell through. With just a few weeks left before classes start, the district was able to secure the Thorndale Circle location, owned by the Nielsen Company. Jerry Nielsen, president of the company and a former selectman, told The Darien Times recently he’d “love to have them there.”
Fitch Academy was launched last fall at the Darien Library with a dozen students in grades 9 through 12. Though Fitch is not regarded as a special education program, the academy prioritizes students who were struggling to attend class and find success in the traditional environment of Darien High School.
Multiple parents expressed appreciation for the program from the onset and school officials agreed that the student group as a whole was benefiting from the new environment. By Dec. 2017 the Board of Education agreed to remove the program’s pilot status and add dual certified teachers to make scheduling lessons more flexible. Fitch Academy’s enrollment is expected to increase from 12 to 25 for the upcoming school year at its new location.
The Planning & Zoning Commission approved the Thorndal Circle space with little deliberation, as the building will remain largely the same and the surrounding area will not be significantly impacted. Before the program can officially relocate, a sprinkler system must be installed in the building to satisfy state requirements, but the district expects the space to be ready for the start of the year. If not, Darien Library will continue to house the program until the necessary changes are made.
“We anticipate being in that building by the opening of school,” Interim Superintendent Elliott Landon told the Board of Education in late July. “But if not, we will be permitted to stay in the library until it is ready, and then we’re confident that that will be a short time after the opening of school.”
Thorndal Circle is located just around the corner from the library and currently houses a mix of business and medical offices. Fitch Academy will move from the library’s teen reading room to a space of about 3,200 square feet in the office complex with a lease of five years. There is a walking path between Thorndale Circle and the library; students riding the bus will be dropped off at the same location as last year, with a shorter walk to class.
Darien Public School students will return to class on Thursday, Aug. 30.