By Claire Bessette
Publication: The Day
Norwich - The Board of Education unanimously approved a plan for the John M. Moriarty School to seek grant money to become an environmental science and health elementary magnet school and also supported the Wequonnoc School's desire to study possibly becoming an arts magnet school.
About a dozen teachers and parents from Moriarty applauded the board's vote.
"Now get to work," said board Chairwoman Yvette Jacaruso.
Both magnet proposals will be included in a regionwide federal magnet school grant application to be submitted next week by LEARN, the southeastern regional education agency. Doreen Marvin, director of development for LEARN, said the agency will apply for $4 million per year for three years in the application covering eight magnet schools throughout the region, including two that are just beginning the planning process.
Marvin said the exact budget for the Moriarty application is not yet final. Wequonnoc could qualify for a planning grant of between $75,000 and $100,000.
The Moriarty proposal calls for phasing in the magnet school plan, starting with 25 percent of the kindergarten class coming from other schools in Norwich during the first year, possibly as early as this fall.
None of the existing Moriarty students would be forced out of the school, Principal Rebecca Pellerin told the Board of Education prior to Wednesday's vote.
Students would work on projects with global and local themes, such as energy consumption, food production, waste, climate change and nutrition. Moriarty already has a community garden and hopes to conduct lessons in the neighboring Raymond Ouellet Taftville Recreation Park that includes the Taftville Reservoir.
Nearly 100 parents expressed overwhelming support in a survey, but parents were most concerned that their children might be shut out of the program. Pellerin said a lottery would be used, but she said the school hopes to find a way to allow families within the Moriarty district to come to Moriarty if they wish.
At first, the school would only draw from Norwich students as an intra-district magnet school. Eventually, Moriarty would prefer to expand to become an inter-district magnet school with students from outside Norwich. That would bring more funding to the program, Pellerin said.
During the school board discussion on Moriarty's plan Tuesday, board members expressed some concerns about transportation costs. If 25 percent of each grade level comes from outside the Moriarty school district, it could require three new school buses at a cost of $90,000 per bus, board member Dennis Slopak said.
Becoming an inter-district magnet school would shift some transportation costs to the sending towns, school Business Administrator Athena Nagel said.
Marvin said the three-year federal funding is not meant to be perpetual and could pay for equipment upgrades, professional development and instructional materials.
Wequonnoc Principal Scott Fain said teachers, staff and parents at the school have started exploring becoming an arts-themed elementary magnet school. Planners are considering using the Rotella Magnet School in Waterbury as a model, Fain said.
Wequonnoc School will hold an informational meeting tonight to discuss the proposal.