New London Board of Education approves strategic plan

New London - The school board Thursday approved a three-year strategic plan that maps out steps to turn New London into a magnet school district that would focus on arts, science and foreign languages.

The Board of Education, which has been working on the document for more than eight months, reviewed the final 41-page plan line by line Thursday night before passing it 6-0. Member Barbara Major did not attend the meeting.

The plan, which is in effect a blueprint for improving student performance, calls for the creation of three new schools for grades 6 to 12.

The Science and Technology Magnet High School could be expanded to include grades six, seven and eight, and could become part of a new New London High School. Another school could be located in downtown New London, in partnership with the ISAAC charter school and the Garde Arts Center.

Steve Sigel, executive director of the Garde, attended the school board meeting Thursday and said he endorses the concept and looks forward to working with the schools.

A third school would concentrate on international language study and could be located at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School. It would be for grades 6 to 12.

The plan calls for the possible construction of a fourth magnet program for grades 6 to 12, which would be located at New London High School.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who attended the meeting, gave his endorsement of the magnet school concept and pledged to support and help with funding for new facilities and to maintain school buildings.

"The prospect of converting to an all-magnet system is a huge step forward for our schools," he said.

The plan also includes a step to look into bringing the Teach for America program to the city as a source for new and resident teachers. Another goal is to consolidate the school finance department with the city's finance department.

There was a provision to use Harbor School as a site to expand special education offerings, but the board removed Harbor School from the plan and opted to explore "other alternative sites."

At one point, the meeting became heated when Chairwoman Margaret Curtin proposed some changes that Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer told her were unacceptable.

"We don't have a lot of latitude in what we can do," he said. "This plan is required by the state, and it has to meet the state's expectations."

Curtin called the document "foggy" and questioned why the board was reviewing it if it couldn't be changed.

But member Jason Catala said the board has been working on the plan for eight months and has had opportunities to edit and adjust it.

"We have to look at the reality of this,'' Catala said. "We've had this document in front of us for months. ... It's a plan. Some things will change along the way."

The Strategic Operating Plan is a condition of the state's intervention in the school district.

State-appointed special master Steven Adamowski, who helped the board write the plan, is expected to give a report on the school district to the state in July. He will bring with him the board's plan for improvement.

Adamowski was appointed to oversee the district last July after a state audit report offered a scathing critique of New London's school board and district and faulted board members for micromanaging administrative functions and not devoting adequate attention to policy making and student performance.

The report also described a New London political culture in which members cycle on and off boards and cited examples of uncivil behavior at public meetings. Four of the school board's seven members were newly elected last year.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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