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I am not a superintendent of schools, which might be an appropriate person to respond to Tim Egan's March 29 commentary, "NL school choice won't help students," but maybe someone working in the trenches of New London can provide a useful perspective.
I am grateful to Mr. Egan's commentary on New London Public Schools because it elucidates where the wider community might have need for more information and greater understanding. As a teacher in New London for 14 years, I care a great deal about these students, their needs, and their dreams. I have experienced education as a parent and grandparent as well.
Thankfully, we now make education policy decisions based on research, not whims or "cool ideas." Magnet schools make sense for many proven reasons. But ?rst I want to respond to Mr. Egan's basic premise that because New London students often come from challenging circumstances that we should not move ahead until those problems are solved.
Problems are not solved by doing one thing. If someone is ill they seek medical attention, take medication, get exercise, eat a healthy diet, wash their hands, etc. Many of the issues for New London students are being addressed and the presence of poverty at home should not preclude an enriched environment at school. In fact, I believe most would say it demands the schools provide more than just basic reading and math.
What if the New London schools could operate as dynamic centers of stimulating experiences where students develop communication skills, love of learning, creative problem solving skills, while reading and doing math? Research indicates that less advantaged students increase their IQ when the opportunities are enriched.
In my experience New London students are "lit up" by interesting and engaging activities. They care tremendously and work hard. Every opportunity provided by caring and creative teachers is met with great enthusiasm. That enthusiasm helps them learn.
Magnet schools are not pre-vocational schools, but merely provide a theme in which the same skills are taught within a different frame. Some students may demonstrate a musical talent, for instance, and read a biography about Mozart; but others may be inspired by looking under a microscope and read a biography about Madame Curie. The goals are the same, the means are different. If we want well rounded citizens this is the way, not narrowing the experience of education to basics. The current process of constructing instruction around the "common core" of national standards means every state will use the same language and measurement of goals. That shift will happen regardless of individual themes that communities choose across the country.
I spent most of my life in Connecticut and love all the variety of communities, but it doesn't work well for education. We have the worst record in the country for educating all children well. Let's be practical. Education is not ef?cient, economical or effective in little communities. Magnet schools solve this problem without disturbing the individual autonomy of towns and it allows individual families to make a choice. That looks like a win-win to me.
The "unfair distribution" of money is the most baf?ing statement Mr. Egan made. What seems unfair to me is why a large town that houses a nuclear power plant and benefits from the taxes it generates deserves better schools than a city that is less than 7 square miles and has 48 percent untaxable land. Waterford will actually bene?t from the magnet system as more Waterford students will be able to seek opportunities not presently available in Waterford. The Science and Technology High School, the Marine Sciences High School, Ella Grasso Technical High School and Ledyard High School Agricultural Sciences program all serve Waterford.
We have many resources in southeastern Connecticut. Be nice. Share.
Deborah Eskra teachers in New London and lives in Groton.