Lyme-Old Lyme schools see plenty of changes

Old Lyme - As Lyme-Old Lyme students settle into new classes and after-school activities, the school year has brought a long list of changes to the district.

A renovated high school is greeting students, as well as an ongoing transition to state academic standards, a new teacher evaluation system and the third year of the elementary school redistricting plan.

The high school renovation project has come in $4.6 million less than budgeted due to lower construction costs, energy grants and a higher estimated state reimbursement, according to a Building Committee presentation to the Board of Education. It now stands to cost $35.26 million.

The renovation project calls for more athletic field space, geothermal heating and cooling, and exterior and interior remodeling, among other items, according to a school press release. Construction on the 123,000-square-foot high school with a remodeled auditorium, gymnasium, library, art studios, laboratories and a new commons area began in 2010.

The renovations are 99.5 percent complete, said Superintendent Ian Neviaser, and students will lead tours of the renovated school following a public ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the building at 9 a.m. on Sept. 19.

Only a one-page list of tasks, such as touch-up painting, remained for the late-August opening of school, after contractors this summer repaved the parking lot and sanded and polished the hallway floors, he said.

A new elective on "marine outboard engine repair" is replacing the former automotive engineering course at the high school. Principal James Wygonik explained last year that the remodeled high school won't allow the same access for cars. The new course will also reflect students' interests and take advantage of the town's proximity to the shoreline, he said.

Neviaser said the marine engineering class calls for students to repair 15- to-30-horsepower engines, which will enable them to both explore an industry with numerous available jobs and learn engineering and mechanical skills.

Along with Smart Boards in every classroom, the 2013-14 school year could bring a new standardized test aligned with the Common Core State Standards, the recent state academic requirements for math and language arts.

The state is awaiting federal approval to allow school districts the option to opt into the new test, called the Smarter Balanced Assessment, this year instead of next year. If approved, Lyme-Old Lyme would likely take advantage of the option and give students the new test to assess the new skills they are learning.

"We want to move forward, not backward," said Neviaser. To support the transition to the standards, the district already developed its own language arts program and implemented a new math program.

The district is phasing in a new state-mandated teacher evaluation system by evaluating one-third of staff this year, said Neviaser. This year, the system - which follows the state model except for slight modifications - will evaluate educators in non-tested subjects, such as art or physical education.

The elementary schools are also entering the third year of a five-year redistricting plan. The plan includes continuing to move students in redesignated sections of Old Lyme to the Lyme Consolidated School, a kindergarten through fifth-grade school.

This year will be the first year third grade is held at Mile Creek School, formerly a preschool to second-grade school, and three teachers will start instructing the third-grade classes at Mile Creek. Center School, which is slated to house pre-kindergarten and administrative offices for the 2015-16 school year, will still hold fourth- and fifth-grade classes this year, but not third grade as before.

This year for the elementary schools, there will be one fewer second-grade teacher, two fewer third-grade teachers and one additional fourth-grade teacher districtwide, because of "smaller enrollments at K-2 consistent with projections, the redistricting plan and differences in the sizes of grade level cohorts from year to year," according to Neviaser. Some teachers retired or moved on to serve as administrators in other districts, for instance, so the district didn't need to cut any jobs, he said.

The district will also update its strategic plan over the next several years. A steering committee of about 30 students, parents, teachers, administrators and school board members is working on determining the core values that should guide the district's curriculum and offerings, he said. The community will then weigh in through surveys and forums.

"We hope to get a lot of feedback," said Neviaser.


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