Would it be better to send Wheeler High students to Stonington?

Could North Stonington decrease its cost and provide more opportunity to its students by sending some of them to another school, possibly Stonington or Norwich Free Academy?

Two years ago, Stonington's decision to unveil a study reflecting the potential impact of bringing Wheeler High School students to the district upset North Stonington officials, with North Stonington Superintendent Peter Nero calling it an "ethical breach."

Stonington officials said at the time that if Wheeler High School students were sent to Stonington High School they would have access to wider range of courses, sports and extracurricular activities. The North Stonington Board of Education dismissed the possibility of considering the option a few weeks later and said the study contained some flawed data about the per-pupil costs. No study has been released by North Stonington about the cost, benefits/drawbacks and issues involved in sending its students to another district.

Stonington has said it is still open to meeting with North Stonington to discuss the possibility of accepting Wheeler students but only if North Stonington is interested and initiates those discussions.

Meanwhile, some North Stonington residents continue to question whether it would make more sense to send their students to Stonington.

There has never been discussion about Stonington accepting North Stonington students in grades kindergarten through 8. Stonington is currently spending $67 million to expand and renovate two of its elementary schools and just approved a consolidation of its two middle schools.

Stonington High School, though, has a capacity for 900 students with 670 students enrolled. Wheeler High School has slightly more than 200 students. At an estimated per pupil tuition of about $12,000 a year, the number floated in the past by Stonington officials, it would cost North Stonington about $2.4 million a year to send its students to Stonington High School.  

North Stonington's school budget is $12.8 million a year. If students were sent to Stonington the town would not only save the money of operating a high school, including salaries and utilities, but not have to bond money to upgrade Wheeler High School. Exact figures on the cost to run Wheeler were not available. North Stonington officials also have concerns about the length of bus rides to Stonington High School.

Wheeler currently offers students 10 advanced placement courses compared to Stonington’s 13. AP classes not offered at Wheeler but offered at Stonington include Environmental Science, European History, computer programming and chemistry.

In the areas of math, science and social studies, Stonington offers a total of 67 courses compared to 31 for Wheeler because of its larger teaching staff and student population. 

Wheeler offers students an opportunity to take virtual classes with students currently enrolled in 12 courses including three additional AP classes and preveterinary medicine.

Nero said Wheeler is currently working with the Westerly Education Center to allow selected students to earn credit for training in the areas of sheet metal, electrical and pipe fitting, which will allow them an opportunity to work at Electric Boat.

Stonington offers 27 courses to earn college credits at the University of Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College and New England Institute of Technology. Wheeler offers a total of seven at UConn and Three Rivers.

In a comparison of athletic offerings, Stonington offers 15 sports not offered at Wheeler. These include football, cheerleading, field hockey, sailing, gymnastics, boys' and girls' indoor track, swimming, unified basketball, boys' and girls' crew, boys' and girls' tennis, and boys' and girls' outdoor track. Stonington does not offer volleyball, which Wheeler does.

As for clubs, Stonington offers 22 clubs such as drama and robotics compared to more than 20 for Wheeler. Both schools offer band and chorus.

Nero stressed the high quality of the town’s schools as compared to others across the state.

“As a public educator of 42 years, I can honestly say that the climate and culture of our schools are something that I have never seen after being an educator in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and now Connecticut,” he said.

He pointed out that North Stonington Elementary School and Wheeler High School were two of the 116 schools in the state named as Schools of Distinction, with Wheeler named as one of just five public high schools to receive the honor. He also stressed the elementary school's high test scores.

“I believe the data demonstrates that there isn’t a school in our area that performs as well as our schools do,” he said.

Editor's note: This corrects an earlier version.




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