New school year to bring major changes to Groton Public Schools

Groton — The start of the new school year is just around the corner and with it, the debut of some major changes in the school system.

When students kick off the 2018-19 school year on Sept. 4, it will be the middle schoolers who are in for some of the biggest changes.

That's because this is the first year since the town converted its two middle schools to intradistrict magnet schools. West Side Middle School is now the West Side Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Magnet Middle School, and the Cutler Middle School is now the Cutler Arts & Humanities Magnet Middle School.

But while both schools continue to be open only to students who live in Groton, the change has still brought with it new opportunities.

"It really is going to be a vibrant, exciting time for both of those schools," said Superintendent Michael Graner, who lauded the new state-of-the-art engineering program at West Side and some of the new learning opportunities at Cutler as the school partners with the Mystic Seaport Museum and Mystic Museum of Arts. "Giving kids that choice has really led to some vibrant conversations."

Graner said that allowing students the chance to go to a school not in their area of town has bolstered excitement as well because it has led to students at each of the schools coming from more areas of town than in the past.

For instance, Graner said that about 40 children who are from the west side of town - military housing and Groton City - have opted to go to Cutler, whereas previously they would not have been able to.

Giving students the option to go to a school outside their typical area is also expected to help address the school system's ongoing problem with racial imbalance.

"I'm very confident that by taking students from each side, schools will be closer to racial balance," Graner said.

This year, the school system is also welcoming more than 40 new teachers and introducing new curriculum and programs, including expanding the International Baccalaureate program with the Middle Years Programme that will be implemented at the middle schools and Fitch High School.

Teachers are heading to school this week for additional training for the IB program.

"It is an education that really facilitates the engagement of each kid to stimulate learning and ... promote inquiry," Graner said of the IB program. "We are really looking for kids to walk away understanding how they learn."

Graner added that the IB program, and ultimately the possibility for students to earn an IB diploma, raises the expectations for all students and should have a positive impact on college admissions, scholarships and financial assistance. He said it also could enable students to enter college already carrying some college credits.

The implementation of an IB program also factors into Groton Public Schools Vision for Groton 2020, which Graner said is making "significant headway."

State officials have given Groton the go ahead to build two new elementary schools rather than renovating them after building new proved to be more cost-effective. Also the design for a consolidated middle school, which administrators hope will open in the fall of 2020, has been approved by the state as well, said Graner.

Also, the final decision on conversion of the Merritt Property, the proposed site for the new consolidated middle school, is expected in the near future.

Town Council has scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Tuesday, Sept. 4, and the expectation seems to be that the conversion will go ahead as planned.

"As far as we are concerned, we are moving ahead," said Graner, who also offered praise for the commitment and hard work of the Town Council in supporting Groton 2020.

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