Three Rivers/LEARN magnet school on fast track

Norwich - In the week since Three Rivers Community College announced it would open a new magnet high school for juniors and seniors, phones have been ringing with calls from interested students, and about 25 teachers have responded to postings of the new positions.

College officials have been meeting to coordinate space in the community college's B Wing for classrooms, offices, lockers and a new "main entrance" for the high school.

An official from the First Student school bus company already has made a field trip to check out potential bus arrival traffic.

All this is happening because Three Rivers is working on President Grace Jones' dream of opening a "middle college" magnet high school for high school juniors and seniors. The school is a partnership between Three Rivers and LEARN, the southeastern regional educational agency.

A delay in state funding since 2008 had held up the project, but the community college received approval and funding this spring to launch the school in the new fiscal year, officials said.

The high school will have to submit formal applications for state magnet school funding of $7,900 per student, and seek $5,500 per student in tuition from the students' home school districts.

LEARN operates other magnet schools in the region as well as Connecticut River Academy at Goodwin College in East Hartford, which opened in 2010.

"We opened up Connecticut River in three-and-a-half weeks," LEARN Director of Development Doreen Marvin said Thursday when asked how the school can come together so quickly.

The new magnet high school for juniors and seniors interested in engineering technology, business and finance and hospitality management will open for classes on Aug. 29. The school will accept only 30 incoming juniors for the first year, and will expand to include 30 new juniors next year, when this year's students become seniors.

Students must meet grade-level requirements including scoring at the proficient level on the 10th-grade Connecticut Academic Performance Test in their hometown schools.

Immediate interest

Jones said the college received 10 messages from interested students the morning after the initial announcement. LEARN started advertising for six certified teaching positions last week for math, social studies/history, Spanish, science and English as well as for a guidance counselor. LEARN will advertise for a school director this week.

No staff will be hired in time for the open house sessions that start Monday, Marvin said, but students will gather in the Three Rivers library for a presentation on the new school and will be able to tour the Three Rivers Middle College High School wing - on the left side of the college building - and other Three Rivers facilities.

Students at the high school will use the college library, computer and science labs and a 20-station computer lab adjacent to the library. All of those were created new or completely renovated during Three Rivers' $88 million expansion and consolidation project in 2008.

The high school is advertised as having "dual enrollment" with Three Rivers Community College, meaning students would be taking a full year of college coursework during their two-year magnet school enrollment.

Ann Branchini, the community college academic dean, said administrators still have to coordinate schedules between college and high school students for use of the physics, chemistry and computer labs. College students in programs such as nursing need specific lab classes to earn their degrees.

There is a little more time to work out the science lab schedules, since the high school juniors won't be taking lab science courses during the first semester, Jones said.

The school day will run from 7:40 a.m. to 1:50 p.m., hours designed to avoid conflict with bus schedules, Three Rivers officials said.

Space to grow

Finding space as the high school and the community college grow could prove more difficult. During the first year, the high school will occupy two regular classrooms and two office suites near the early childhood education program. Students will have their own bank of lockers and bathrooms in the same hallway.

But the high school could grow to 300 students within five years.

"When we expand, we'll have to find space," Jones said. "We're at capacity for the college now."

The college's original master plan called for a new building on the east end of campus behind the main parking lots. Jones plans to apply for state approval and funding to build a high school building there.

But even as the high school expands in size, Jones is not planning to expand the scope of the program beyond upper high school levels, the so-called middle college model. Marvin said the Connecticut River Academy calls itself an "early college" model because it offers grades nine through 12.

That doesn't mean Three Rivers isn't interested in serving younger students, Jones said. Students who think they might want to attend the magnet school will be encouraged to start early with strong science and technology course work in their high schools. Three Rivers also offers mentoring to students as young as in fifth-grade in laser technology, she said.

"We do a lot of mentoring now," Jones said.

c.bessette@theday.com

Open house sessions

The new Three Rivers Middle College High School will hold open house sessions at the college campus at 574 New London Turnpike, Norwich, on:

• Monday at 6 p.m.

• Tuesday at 6 p.m.

• Thursday at 9:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

• July 31 at 9:30 a.m.

Students can fill out applications in person at the open houses or at the college's main office. If more than 30 students are deemed eligible, a lottery will be held before Aug. 14.

For more information, contact LEARN at (860) 434-4800 ext. 185 or visit the Three Rivers website at www.trcc.commnet.edu.

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