Grant will fund new intradistrict magnet schools in Norwich, Groton

Old Lyme — U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, joined by administrators and staff from LEARN and schools in Groton, Norwich, New London and East Hartford, cheered on Friday afternoon the announcement of a nearly $15 million federal grant that will help create intradistrict magnet schools and bring educational programs to the region.

The funding will allow Groton and Norwich to each create two intradistrict magnet middle schools for students within those respective towns and enable the Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London to become an International Baccalaureate candidate school, according to the announcement.

At a news conference outside LEARN Regional Educational Service Center's headquarters, LEARN Executive Director Eileen Howley said the grant, to be received over a five-year period from the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program, will "expand choice through the development and support of a consortia of inter- and intradistrict magnet schools across Eastern Connecticut with the dual goal of reducing minority and socio-economic isolation and increasing academic achievement."

Courtney said LEARN and the magnet school model bring together "the goals that will make sure that we as a country succeed," including the primary goal of quality. He said the schools are focused on the workforce needs of the future and ensuring young people have the tools to succeed in life.

The magnet school model is successful in breaking down barriers and reducing racial isolation, he said.

"I don't think any of us need to be reminded much of the fact that we still have work to do as a country in terms of trying to achieve that goal, and I think the Supreme Court in (Brown v. Board of Education) told us ... educational rights is also about civil rights," Courtney said. "It's about making sure children have a fair opportunity to succeed and that we also bring together groups that inevitably are going to be together throughout their lives one way or another, whether it's in employment situations, whether it's in communities, or whether it's just as citizens."

Groton

The grant will create an intradistrict magnet school for Groton students at Carl C. Cutler Middle School, to be called the Cutler Arts & Humanities Magnet Middle School, and an intradistrict magnet school for Groton students at West Side Middle School, to be called West Side STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) Middle Magnet School, according to the news release.

Groton Assistant Superintendent Susan Austin said that offering choice to students and families helps break down barriers to bring students together from different parts of the community sooner than when they attend Fitch High School together. The students and families will choose a school based on the theme that interests them, or they may choose their neighborhood school.

Groton Superintendent Michael Graner said in the news release that the grant allows partnerships with local businesses and organizations and "sets the schools on the path to candidacy as International Baccalaureate (IB) Schools." The grant would apply to IB's Middle Years Programme for grades six through 10.

With an IB program already at Fitch High School, "the idea is to really grow the interest for all of our students in Groton by having all of our middle school children and into tenth grade be part of a Middle Years Programme International Baccalaureate," Austin said.

In addition to the partnership with LEARN, Austin noted the work of both the Groton Board of Education in studying the middle years, and grant writer Shannon Weigle.

Austin said each school will have a magnet coordinator, and someone also will oversee the entire grant. This year will involve planning to have the magnet schools ready by next year.

With Groton still awaiting the state's budget, Austin pointed out that the grant is tied to a specific purpose and can't be used toward the school district's operational costs.

Norwich

With the grant funding, Norwich plans to create two different themed intradistrict magnet schools for students in grades six through eight. Norwich will receive $2 million for each school, spread over five years, for the plan to create the Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School and the Teachers' Memorial Global Studies Middle Magnet School.

"With their ability to focus on Global Studies or STEAM, they will engage with us in opening many new doors, exposing our students to transdisciplinary and community-based learning opportunities," Superintendent Abby Dolliver said in a statement.

The plan will return the two schools to traditional middle school grades, six through eight. Due to budget cuts, Norwich converted Kelly Middle School into the city’s only seventh- and eighth-grade school and Teachers’ Memorial into a sixth-grade academy in the 2015-16 school year.

The changeover for students will start next school year, said Curriculum Director Thomas Baird, who wrote the grant applications along with school staff. But planning and some staff hiring will start this year.

Magnet coaches for teachers and parent liaisons to inform families of the changes will be hired at each school this year, Baird said. Teachers’ Memorial already has hired a library media specialist this year, hoping to pay for the position through a state grant that now could be in jeopardy.

Next year, Kelly will add a performing arts teacher and a coding and robotics teacher through the grant. Teachers’ Memorial will add an additional world language teacher, Baird said.

All sixth- through eighth-graders will be able to choose which school to attend based on capacity. The larger Kelly school now has about 700 students, and Teachers’ Memorial, 335. School officials haven’t yet set school capacity levels for the new program.

New London

Susan C. Iwanicki, the principal of LEARN's K-5 Regional Multicultural Magnet School, an interdistrict magnet school, which pulls in students from across the region, said the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme will provide "the framework to broaden our curriculum to a more global perspective for our students."

Components of the program include the continued bolstering of the school's world language program, additional types of STEM offerings and connections for parents — for example, having guest speakers from other countries speak to not only students, but also parents.

The program uses a methodology that teaches students to respect other people's uniqueness and become "change agents to make the world a better place," Iwanicki said. Each unit in the IB program also allows students to inquire around a theme and they are able to ask questions and find answers.

"I think it allows students the ability to have ownership over their learning, and I think when they have choice, they are more motivated to be engaged," she said. "There is a huge increase in engagement over their learning."

She said the school hopes to access the grant this year to start more professional development for staff, provide more materials for students and upgrade technology and support for students.

In addition to the initiatives in the three area municipalities, the grant will enable Connecticut River Academy in East Hartford, an interdistrict magnet high school that is a partnership between LEARN and Goodwin College, to add an advanced manufacturing theme to the school's existing environmental studies theme.

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, John Larson, D-1st District, and Courtney issued a joint statement about the federal funding for LEARN, along with additional grants awarded for schools in Hartford and New Haven.

“A well-rounded, enriching educational experience goes a long way in preparing our children for the jobs of the future," the lawmakers said. "Whether it’s STEM, the performing arts, or public policy, our magnet schools in Connecticut offer exciting and engaging curriculum for students. We’re proud to help advocate for Connecticut magnet schools so they can continue to enlighten and educate students for years to come.”

k.drelich@theday.com

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