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New London - A group of parents and members of the Board of Education met Thursday in a special meeting for what wound up being a blunt, one-on-one conversation about the status of education in the city.
It was a first for the group, and more such meetings are already on the schedule.
The board decided to dedicate an hour before its regular meeting once a month to the members of the nascent New London Parent Advocates.
The next discussion is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 13, at a location yet to be determined.
The New London Parent Advocates have been meeting since September in an effort to place more of an emphasis on what the school district is doing to improve education.
During the meeting Thursday, group members asked for clarification on a number of subjects, including the possibility of the city becoming an all-magnet school district; why communication in the district is lacking; and what New London students are or are not receiving in the classroom. They also expressed their willingness to help out in the schools' classrooms.
"We would like to be informed about what goes on in the school system so we can ask the right questions and see what we can do to help," parent Mongi Dhaouadi said. "It's also about creating the right environment for our kids and other students. We want to have a better idea about where the school district is going and what as parents we can do to help you achieve the goals that you say you want to achieve."
A 2006 law established the concept of an all-magnet school system in New London. The legislation would allow the city to become the state's first and only all-magnet school district.
Parents and board members expressed concerns about the plan.
"In this moving forward toward the magnet school district, how are we changing the system of teaching and learning that is currently not working for a good number of our students?" resident Mirna Martinez asked. "Instead of changing to shiny new buildings, how are we changing what's going on?"
If New London could create a district of only magnet schools and draw in enough students from surrounding towns to meet state-mandated enrollment numbers, the city would receive an additional $3,000 for every New London student in addition to the money already received in per-pupil expenditures.
The extra state funding would total around $9 million.
Board member Delanna Muse said she would like to see other options for New London besides an all-magnet school district.
"I don't want us to be focused on that just because of the money. Yes, we do need money, we do need resources, but we don't need money to be the main focus," Muse said. "What are we going to do to increase student achievement?"
School board member Peg Curtin said she supports the magnet school concept but is wary of the state's ability to provide the funds.
"I have no trust in the state of Connecticut guaranteeing anything," Curtin said. "Nine million is a lot of money."