by Rob Adams


Middlebrook School was empty on a recent afternoon when incoming principal Maria Coleman approached to let a visitor in.

“It’s too quiet here,” she said. “There’s something about an empty building that makes you long for the hustle and bustle of the school year. School is not a school without the energy and enthusiasm of the students.”

For Ms. Coleman, she is prepared for her first class, having replaced Julia Harris, who retired in June.

From Miller-Driscoll to Cider Mill to Middlebrook and Wilton High School, teachers and staff are putting the finishing touches on the summer to prepare for the arrival of students on Monday.

“There’s always something going on,” Ms. Coleman said. “Most people say that it must be very quiet. In reality, summers are very busy. We are hiring new staff, teachers are writing curriculum, there are usually building renovations. We are getting supplies in and we’re ordering supplies.

“It’s a very exciting time. It’s an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming school year. We’re very enthusiastic about the start of the school year.”

The preparations are obvious as Ms. Coleman leads a tour of her school. Staff members are cleaning while new equipment is being installed.

“We’ve had a number of building renovations,” she said. “Parts of the roof have been redone. We have new bathrooms throughout the school.

While work continues around the school, Ms. Coleman is certain all will be ready when students report to school.

“It’s always a busy time but that’s what we expect,” she said.

“We have renovated the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) room, which used to be our Tech Ed classroom. Our family and consumer science room is completely renovated. That’s where the culinary arts students enjoy their classes. Those are things that are really exciting.”

That excitement was tangible for everyone, including Ms. Coleman, who found herself coming in to set up her new office and get to work, but she did eventually get away “for a few days” to Rhode Island with her husband.

Yet despite the big shoes she will fill in taking over for Ms. Harris, she said she is ready.

“I feel very fortunate that I had the time to transition with Julia as well as with many members of the staff and faculty,” she said.

“I think every year brings with it new excitement and new unexpected things that tend to pop up but we’re ready for those. By the time the end of the summer comes, we’re ready to have the students come back.”

Besides the cosmetic changes, there will also be new faces around the district.

“We’re welcoming a number of new staff members,” she said. “We have new staff members coming into family and consumer science and the STEM program, and Spanish as well, and a new half-time PE teacher.”

“We have an incredible team here that bring incredible insight and experience.”

Deans Jory Higgins and Nancy Hasenauer assist in running things at Middlebrook. Damien Whelan is the new dean of students, coming over from New Canaan.

Though the last days of summer are fading, Ms. Coleman says it’s an exciting time for students as well as staff.

“Every new school brings a fresh start, and the possibility that this year can be the best year yet,” she said. “The staff is so committed. They’re content area specialists with middle school hearts, as Julia Harris would say.”

As an incoming sixth grader sat nearby, Ms. Coleman assured him he would be happy in his new surroundings.

“Change can be hard but students are ready,” she said. “For the incoming sixth grader, there are many things that may seem unknown and may cause some worry, but like elementary school, the teachers will support you and care about you. They understand that you’re making a big transition and they’re ready to help you. Kids come here and they love it.”

She looked at a visitor — the incoming sixth grader — and asked him what advice he would offer to new students if had had to speak to the school on Monday, as Ms. Coleman will.

“Keep calm and everything will be OK,” he said.

“I couldn’t think of a better thing to say,” Ms. Coleman added. “Do you mind if I use that?”

With that philosophical discussion out of the way, she turned back to thinking about her school, and her words sounded like they could come from any of Wilton’s principals.

“We strive for excellence for our students,” she said. “We’re working long days to make sure everything is ready.”