New London - The Board of Education unanimously approved the goals and strategies of its Strategic Operating Plan last week but eliminated a proposal to develop a program for gifted and talented students.
The approval included the city's transition to an all-magnet school district, which means the board will now begin to develop and implement three K-12 magnet school pathways of themes. Members still could add the development of a gifted and talented program back to its plan because it hasn't yet been submitted to the state Board of Education for approval.
The public comment portion of Thursday evening's meeting focused on questions and concerns surrounding the recent announcement that New London is one of three school districts in the state selected to establish a program similar to the Renzulli Academy in Hartford. Board members still had questions they felt had not been answered enough to place the element in their operating plan.
The Renzulli Academy would be a public school for gifted-and-talented students in the upper elementary school grades. Board Chairwoman Margaret Curtin said she would still like to see a version of the academy move forward in New London.
"I think if the other members got their questions answered they may see a different side," she said, adding she anticipates a full discussion. "I'm glad we got the grant and I think Professor Renzulli is quite a guy, but the grant is just for the training.
"I'd be concerned about the follow through of the future, which (Superintendent of Schools) Nick (Fischer) already explained. The money will follow the student."
Earlier in the meeting, the possibility of rejecting the portion of the $500,000 grant that would go to New London to train its teachers in the gifted and talented teaching curriculum and strategies was discussed.
Board members weighed turning down the grant in favor of reinstating the district's own version of a gifted and talented program and questioned the amount of money it would take to sustain the program beyond its first year. They also asked whether the Harbor School facility is appropriate for the number of students who would enroll in the Renzulli program and why the program can't be housed in another operating facility.
Curtin said during the meeting that the city may be looking to sell Harbor School once the new Nathan Hale School is built and students move from Harbor to Nathan Hale.
Special Master Steven Adamowski said the board would have to take specific action to turn over Harbor School to the city and advised against it, saying the district will need "every square inch of space it has" for future use.
"There are too many issues wrapped up in this to have it be culled out tonight," Adamowski told board members before the vote, reminding them that they have a state mandate to develop a reform strategy this year. "...We have spent several months now working on this plan... There's a lot that will be changed. You need to set some direction here that will allow your staff to build this out."
He plans to present the district's operating plan to the state Board of Education in June and said the district is about 45 to 60 days away from having something "coherent" enough to present to the public.
Board member Bill Morse was concerned about committing to a magnet school program without parent input on the pathways and grade configurations first.
"I am willing to support this once we have in place a timetable for when this is going to be vetted with the public as far as them getting, us as well, a pretty good idea of what the K-12 magnet plan will look like," Morse said. "We haven't established a date for a public hearing or a date for a forum so the public will know what's going to happen. We're creating anxiety by going through with this."
Adamowski and Fischer reassured Morse that parents have had and will have the option of participating.
"This is a plan. This is not locked in stone," Fischer said. "We're facing a potential physical crisis and we need to come to grips with that reality and that's paying for our schools. Magnet is one way to do fix that, but it doesn't mean we can't change it."