With lottery and course proposals, Groton moves ahead on magnet transition

Groton — With the recent completion of their first-ever lottery and new proposals for arts and humanities courses, West Side and Cutler middle schools are moving ahead with their transition to themed magnet schools.

West Side is implementing a STEM theme while Cutler is focusing on arts and humanities.

"It's been a dream for a long time that we would say to children that, if you live in Groton and you're in interested in STEM, you can go to a school on the west side of town, or of course to your neighborhood school," Superintendent Michael Graner said, "or if you're interested in arts and humanities, you can come to Cutler."

With the start of the 2018-19 school year, each will be an intradistrict magnet school, meaning that students districted to West Side can now go to Cutler, and vice versa — if they're successful in the lottery.

The themed magnet transition is entirely funded through a five-year, $4 million grant from the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program.

According to data provided by Middle Years Programme coordinator Kathy Wilson, there are 16 sixth- and seventh-graders at Cutler who are going to West Side next year, and 21 sixth- and seventh-graders at West Side who are switching to Cutler.

Of the current fifth-graders, 48 districted to West Side will be going to Cutler, and 11 districted to Cutler will be doing to West Side.

Wilson said Friday the wait list includes 20 students who want to go to Cutler and one who wants to go to West Side. She noted that without the lottery, the incoming sixth-grade class at West Side would have been over capacity.

Asked about the larger interest in Cutler, Wilson said, "Parents in general like to think of their kids as entertainers and artists, and it's something new."

At the Groton Board of Education meeting on Monday evening, arts and humanities coordinator Leslie Forbes proposed four new Cutler classes for the fall: theater, screenwriting, broadcasting and multimedia design.

The board voted to have curriculum for these classes be developed.

Forbes explained that because of the grant requirements, Cutler must offer "discrete magnet classes" that are unique from what West Side offers, and vice versa.

Forbes was hired in January, and arts and humanities offerings so far — like African mask-making, Chinese poetry and puppetry — have been integrated into existing classes.

She said when grant officials visited Cutler in April, their feedback was, "Where are your discrete classes?"

Graner later said that federal Department of Education regulators "go through line by line, and they don't mind telling us, 'You're not meeting the requirements,' so this is an important step forward for us."

Amy Murphy, STEM coordinator at West Side, said her school has received the opposite feedback: It's doing well with discrete classes but needs to be creative integrating STEM into its courses.

West Side is implementing its discrete STEM classes through Project Lead The Way, a nonprofit that develops STEM curriculum for schools.

Murphy said there will be classes focused on basic coding in sixth grade, "computer science for innovators and creators" in seventh grade and app creation in eighth grade.

Forbes said the requirement for "magnet dosage" is now three hours per week but will become six hours per week come Oct. 1, and 12 hours per week by year five.

"I thought I'd died and gone to heaven" was the reaction that Jane Giulini, a school board member and former principal of Pawcatuck Middle School, had when first hearing about how STEM and arts and humanities are being integrated into classrooms.

"It's changing the way kids are learning, and they're going to be so interested in what they're learning," she said.

e.moser@theday.com

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