True state of New London Public Schools cause for celebration

On Sunday June 11, The Day printed a piece entitled "True State of New London schools cause for alarm." It claimed that the state scores of every New London school except for the Science and Technology Magnet High School dropped. The writer referenced the information “as reported by The Connecticut Mirror.”

A search for the CT Mirror and Connecticut school scores brought up a February 28 article, “State Releases Revamped Grades for Every School – And Most Drop.” This created some local concern about the state of our New London Public Schools. Please, take the word of Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell in the article above that the “drop” is not a measure of district performance decline. The criteria by which we measure our schools is new.

But within the confines of our still limited resources, our district is improving. We are reaping the benefits of a magnet district. The magnet monies, rightfully earmarked to enhance programing for the pathways, are creating more dynamic school environments that are not only drawing students from other districts, but are also bringing our own New London students back to town. We have approximately 147 new New London students since October 2013. My daughter, as well, will be coming back to our New London Public Schools in September.

Our schools continue to need improvement, as all places do. I believe that it’s imperative for us to continually identify those areas that we need to develop, like class size. I would like to see smaller class sizes and I have advocated for those. Do know, that in order for this to happen, we would need more classrooms, which means bonding for larger school construction projects. This is where the tax chicken-and-egg situation comes in.

Regardless, in contrast to the false implications from the numbers pulled from the new accountability system, Jennings, Winthrop and Nathan Hale all outpace the state average on growth in the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment) test for high-needs subgroup; 84% of New London students fall into this category (English Learners, students with disabilities and students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch).

We have seen drastic reductions in chronic absenteeism. In Winthrop alone, we were at 42% in 2012 and we were down to 14.8% in 2016. Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School went from 22.6% to 13.1% in those same years. Our graduation rate is 12% higher than it was.

Due to our demographics and municipal circumstances we were plaintiffs in the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding court case. CCJEF has advised and advocated for an education adequacy cost study in order to identify the true cost of educating students learning English, students in poverty and students with special learning needs. Our General Fund budget, not magnet money, is running without the benefit of this data. Yet we are experiencing growth.

Schools that are improving and driving our own young residents back to town are a cause for celebration. Let's unite in our celebration and unite as a community for further support of our schools.

Mirna Lis Martinez is a member of the New London Board of Education.

 

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