Two Norwich schools prepare for transition

Norwich - Staffs at the John M. Moriarty and Wequonnoc elementary schools have been busy since summer planning the transformation into federally funded magnet schools by the start of the 2014-15 academic year.

The two schools were part of an $11.8 million, three-year regional magnet school grant obtained by LEARN, the southeastern Connecticut educational agency.

Wequonnoc received just over $1 million to start planning to become an arts and technology magnet school, while Moriarty received $1.4 million to convert into an environmental science, health and fitness magnet school.

Both schools have already started professional development to train teachers in their respective specialties. Moriarty is further along in the planning process, so the school has started purchasing computers and other equipment, hiring some staff and has installed a rock climbing wall in the gymnasium. Murals are being painted on the walls, Principal Rebecca Pellerin told the Board of Education Tuesday.

Moriarty plans to create a community garden and a science lab/demonstration kitchen to teach students how to make healthy meals.

Wequonnoc hopes to attract visiting and resident artists to the school with "rigorous professional development" for staff in all curriculum subjects.

Moriarty is planning a "kick-off" environmental sciences unit this spring and will start the full program in the fall, while Wequonnoc plans a fall opening.

Doreen Marvin, who is coordinating the magnet school activities for LEARN, said the next step will be to host community meetings to inform parents about the new opportunities starting next school year. Public meetings will take place from March 1 to April 30.

All current students in grades kindergarten through four at the two schools will have preference to attend the magnet schools. New students within the traditional school districts also will have preference. After those students make their decisions about whether to stay at their current schools, parents of students outside the Moriarty and Wequonnoc districts will be able to apply.

A lottery will take place May 5, and parents will have from May 6-20 to make final decisions on whether to attend the magnet schools or request to move to another Norwich public school.

School administrators will have to keep a centralized database of school enrollment and class size throughout the year to track students moving in and out of the two districts and to determine whether new students can enter the magnet programs.

Norwich also will be part of a national magnet school evaluation system by Magnet Schools of America. Marvin is the incoming president of the organization.

c.bessette@theday.com

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