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New London wins grant for gifted-and-talented academy

New London — A public school for gifted-and-talented students in the upper elementary school grades is the newest addition to plans to revitalize New London's educational system.

On Thursday, Joseph Renzulli of the University of Connecticut announced that New London is one of three school districts in the state selected to open an academy named for his pioneering model for educating gifted-and-talented students.

"We're very excited about the possibility to create a Renzulli Academy in New London," Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer said. "It's a great chance to highlight and encourage the potential of the young people in New London."

New London's version of a Renzulli Academy will begin its focus in the fourth and fifth grades next fall, eventually expanding to sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

About 50 students — 25 in fourth grade and 25 in fifth grade — are expected to attend the New London academy this fall, Fischer said. Admission requirements could include teacher recommendations and Connecticut Mastery Test scores, but final admissions requirements haven't been established yet. He said the district is hoping to house the program in Harbor School, but that depends on the availability of the building.

Either way, he said, the district is "definitely" going to open the academy.

Willimantic and Bridgeport are the two other districts expected to begin training their teachers under the "schoolwide enrichment model" this summer. Renzulli said all three will open this fall.

The Renzulli Academy — a public school in Hartford — serves 115 gifted-and-talented students in kindergarten and fourth through ninth grades. It was founded four years ago.

The schoolwide enrichment model is a learning approach developed by Renzulli, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut and director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

When several New London teachers begin their professional development this summer, they'll study learning strategies that will allow them to develop the talents of their students, improve academic performance and develop their own unique programs based on local resources, student populations and school leadership dynamics.

In the model academy in Hartford, classes include weekly enrichment clusters on topics that appeal to the teacher and students and stimulate investigation and creativity, making learning fun.

Fischer said he expects teachers will share what they've learned with other staff throughout the district so the quality of learning at the academy can spread throughout the schools.

The three academies are funded by a $500,000 grant to the Renzulli Academy from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. That money will be split among the three cities to help train staff in the Renzulli curriculum. The money will not be used to sustain the program or build new schools.

As New London works on its 2013-14 budget, Fischer said, the district plans to introduce a formula whereby "the money follows the student." This would allow a program such as the Renzulli Academy to operate within normal funding levels.

The current cost of educating an elementary student in New London is about $6,576. As that student moves to middle school, the cost rises 25 percent, to about $8,221. By high school, there is a 50 percent increase over elementary costs, to $9,865. Renzulli has said the gifted-and-talented program requires "few extras" and that it should be possible to sustain within the budget.

New London currently does not have a gifted-and-talented program. The district is moving forward on a plan to have all its schools become magnet schools; a gifted-and-talented program would complement that plan. The Renzulli Academy will be a city public school, not an interdistrict magnet school.

The University of Connecticut's Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talented Development is expected to make a formal announcement on the academies within the next week.


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