Groton wants to build new middle school, convert others to solve its racial imbalance

Groton — Superintendent Michael Graner will send a letter to the state education commissioner today saying Groton plans to solve its racial imbalance issue by building one new middle school, converting its existing middle schools into elementary schools, and closing three older elementary schools.

Graner provided a draft of the letter he will send to Stefan Pryor during the Board of Education Monday night. The letter also included a summary of the district's long-range plan recommended by a stakeholders group in May 2014, Graner explained.

The plan would build a new middle school for students in grades 6 to 8, preferably adjacent to Fitch High School or as close as possible to it. The town would then turn Carl C. Cutler Middle School and West Side Middle School into elementary schools for students in pre-kindergarten through grade 5. Finally, the plan would close three elementary schools that need substantial renovation: Claude Chester, Pleasant Valley and S.B. Butler schools. Students in those schools would be reassigned.

In May, the state cited the school district for a racial imbalance at Claude Chester Elementary, less than a year after it moved 16 percent of its elementary school students to correct a racial imbalance at another school, Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School. The district was required to submit a plan to address the latest problem by Sept. 12, which the State Board of Education must approve.

The state considers a school out of racial balance if the percentage of minority students there is greater or less than 25 percent of the district average. Groton has an average of 43 percent minority students at the elementary level. The average at Claude Chester is 68.2 percent.

The first step of Groton's plan would be building the middle school, which must still go through a facilities committee to look at basics such as costs and sites before it can begin the lengthy process that would lead to a referendum vote.

"If it doesn't get passed by the voters, that's a whole different matter," Graner said.

The new middle school would accommodate 938 students during the 2017-18 school year, when enrollment is expected to peak, according to a summary attached to the letter. The school would be organized with four teaching teams at each grade level, with the capacity to instruct 80 to 100 students. The theoretical building capacity would be about 1,200 students.

Building a single middle school would then allow the town to convert its two middle schools into elementary schools that could accept students from within the district and possibly outside Groton, the plan said.

The district is also considering whether to allow some school choice to maintain racial balance, the plan said.

One board member questioned Monday whether the board had actually adopted an overall plan. Board member Mary Kelly said the board approved educational parameters for the new middle school building, not a districtwide plan.

Graner said he spoke earlier to Laura Anastasio, the attorney who handles racial imbalance cases for the state Department of Education, and he explained that the solution in Groton would take time. He said she understood that and indicated it would be acceptable.

d.straszheim@theday.com
@DStraszheim

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