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School district contemplates future for Harbor School

New London — Shuttered five years ago with the opening of two new themed elementary schools, Harbor Elementary School closed for just one year before it was clear that hundreds of new students entering the district would need a home.

Harbor continues to undergo updates and renovations and has a student population projected to increase by 120, to a total of 400 students, in the upcoming school year.

The growth of the school comes as education officials ponder its role in a planned all-magnet school district.

Harbor was supposed to be a feeder school for a leadership magnet pathway that was just beginning to blossom at the middle school level.

A recent directive from the state Department of Education, however, halted plans to continue the leadership pathway in favor of just three themes: science, technology, engineering and mathematics; visual and performing arts; and international education/international baccalaureate.

The state Department of Education solidified those plans in a July 5 letter, notifying the district it had conditional approval of a grades 6-12 operational and governance plan linked to the $150 million school building project.

The school district, as a result of the future loss of the leadership pathway, will have four elementary schools feeding into three themed pathways.

The intent of the district is to continue its plans to welcome out-of-district students into all its schools, said Kate McCoy, executive director of strategic planning, government and media relations.

“The development of that plan is ongoing. We’re going to seek to develop a plan for Harbor that provides the foundation for those students to select one of the three secondary themes,” McCoy said. “There are lots of opportunities. We could design a program that embraces two or more of the secondary themes. That’s the work we need to engage with our school community.”

In the meantime, the district will continue to maintain the building and perform improvements with school district operational funds combined with grants while it hires new staff to accommodate a growing number of classes.

The Board of Education this year approved a $1 million increase to Harbor’s $3.04 million budget and continues to hire staff.

After its closing in 2013, Harbor reopened a year later as the Early Childhood Center at Harbor School for kindergarten and pre-k students. The Montauk Avenue school now is open to New London students from pre-k through fifth grade. In 2016, the City Council was presented by the school district with a proposal to add $40 million into its capital improvement plan for the school — an idea that quickly was deferred and never revisited.

Ongoing projects at Harbor include rehab of a parking area, movement and expansion of a playground, a recently approved $135,000 roof replacement project and a future grant-funded window-replacement initiative. The district removed an underground fuel oil tank this week, since it has converted to natural gas.

Harbor is the smallest and oldest school in the district, and the only school building that is home to only New London students.

Jennings, which has a dual-language program and is in the candidacy phase for an International Baccalaureate World School program, will be open to out-of-district kindergartners and first-graders in the upcoming school year and eligible for state magnet school funds if it can attract enough students from the region.

The plans for the future of the magnet district will come under leadership of new Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie, who started in the district on July 1. Harbor School Principal Jason Foster started in the district just last year.

Harbor school parent and volunteer Olga Vokolou said perhaps because of its diversity, or maybe because of its smaller population, the school environment at Harbor is one of a neighborhood school. Vokolou attended Harbor, has a son in first grade and a daughter in the lottery to attend Harbor for pre-K classes.

“The building. The environment. It’s multicultural with a more urban feel. I can’t explain it,” she said. “Everybody works together. It’s a family.”

Vokolou said she also has seen dedication from teachers that led to high performance from her son, who was reading at a second-grade level in kindergarten.

“It’s remarkable what they’ve done with these students,” she said.


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