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New London, Norwich get magnet school grant funds

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published September 30. 2013 2:00PM   Updated September 30. 2013 11:43PM
Waterford also one of seven districts to share $11.8 million

The Science & Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut in New London plans to expand its biomedical program, and two Norwich elementary schools will become magnet schools after the two cities received part of nearly $4 million in federal funding allocated for magnet school programs in eastern Connecticut.

The grants are part of a three-year, $11.8 million application filed in March by LEARN ­— the southeastern Connecticut regional education entity — for seven magnet schools in Norwich, New London, Waterford, East Hartford, Windham and Danielson.

“I think this speaks to the type of programs we have in the region, the commitment on the part of the state and local public schools and the community to improving school choices and diversity across the region,” said Doreen Marvin, development director for LEARN.

The seven schools that will receive funding are the Goodwin College Early Childhood Magnet School in East Hartford, Quinebaug Middle College in Danielson, the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy in Windham, the John M. Moriarty School in Norwich, the Wequonnoc School in Taftville, the Science & Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut in New London and the Dual Language & Arts Magnet Middle School in Waterford.

The grant, administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, is part of the $89.8 million Magnet School Assistance Program and will provide funding for up to three years as long as the schools meet the goals established when they applied for the funding.

The amount of money each school receives will change each year based on the school’s needs, according to Marvin.

Norwich plans to use more than $675,000 in the first year to convert two existing kindergarten-through-grade-five elementary schools into magnet schools. The 423-student John M. Moriarty School will receive funding this school year to start implementing its plan to become a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, magnet school. Moriarty plans to concentrate on health, nutrition, environmental science and physical education, officials said.

The Wequonnoc School in Taftville, which has 248 students, will receive some of the grant money this year to start planning its conversion into an arts and technology school, focusing on fine arts, performing arts, computer graphics and other technology-based skills.

Moriarty administrators, teachers and some parents did the planning for their magnet school plan without the benefit of grant money. School officials had hoped to receive approval of the grant in time to start the conversion at the start of this school year but were forced to wait.

“We are so excited,” Moriarty Principal Rebecca Pellerin said. “We’re going to be very thoughtful about what we do. Until we actually got the grant, we couldn’t expect to move forward.”

But Pellerin and Superintendent Abby Dolliver said the delay turned out to be advantageous, because the entire school system already was implementing new reading and writing curriculums along with new teacher and administrator evaluation systems as part of the new Common Core educational standards. With those programs settled in, the magnet school conversion can be smoother, Pellerin said.

The grant will pay for staffing, professional development for teachers, instructional material and technology equipment for the conversion. Dolliver doesn’t anticipate major staffing changes, but some shifting might occur. For example, Moriarty likely would want a full-time physical education teacher, rather than a PE teacher shared with other schools, the current arrangement.

Wequonnoc officials hope to start implementing the plan at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, while Moriarty would like to start implementing magnet school programs later this year.

Wequonnoc School Principal Scott Fain said there’s money in the planning grant budget to hire a part-time arts coordinator three days a week, visit similar magnet schools and purchase supplies.

Both schools would start as intra-district magnet schools, gradually opening up enrollment to students from throughout Norwich and in future years allowing non-Norwich students to attend.

Pellerin stressed that no current Moriarty students would be displaced by the magnet school conversion. About 25 percent of incoming kindergarten spots would be open to all Norwich kindergarten students at the start.

At the Science & Technology Magnet High School in New London, grant money will be used to expand its biomedical program, further develop its college-level class offerings and update some specialty classroom equipment.

“With the increased interest in the biomedical field, it really gave us reason and justification to expand that program and stay abreast of the changes in the biomedical field,” magnet school Director Louis Allen said. “I think we have a very good program right now, but this will let us evolve from very good to exceptional and something we can sustain.”

c.bessette@theday.com c.young@theday.com

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