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Norwich school board approves adding Griswold High School as a choice

Norwich — Students will have another high school option starting next academic year, with the Board of Education’s approval Tuesday to add Griswold High School to a growing list that now has 13 schools.

The board heard a presentation in fall by Griswold school officials on the programs and demographics of Griswold High School, but the Norwich board delayed action twice to allow time to work on transportation logistics and details of the proposed contract with the Griswold school system. The Norwich board approved the proposed contract 5-3.

Tuition rates are not yet set for the 2020-21 school year. This year, Griswold’s high school tuition is $12,317 for regular education and $24,748 for special education.

The contract is initially for one year, with an automatic two-year extension unless one of the parties is dissatisfied.

Board members expressed differing opinions about adding another high school to the city’s list of options, with those in favor saying they wanted to offer students the opportunity to choose the program they wish, while opponents said they were concerned about potential rising costs at Norwich Free Academy, the city’s main designated high school.

Board member Christine Distasio said she was concerned that with so many high school choices, the city is “spreading ourselves so thin” that students will lose a sense of community with Norwich. She also said if Norwich continues to allow more high school choices, it would decrease enrollment at Norwich Free Academy, and that could lead to tuition increases there.

Board member Patricia Staley said she agreed with both Distasio’s points, especially concern about potential tuition increases at NFA with fewer students attending the academy.

“I don’t know if I want to fracture the community any further,” Staley said.

Staley said she also wanted more demographic data on the number of Norwich students, where they are attending high school and the financial ramifications of tuition costs at NFA.

Board member Aaron “Al” Daniels said the Norwich school board needs to be concerned first about the needs of Norwich students. “This is an option we have,” he said. “We could try to figure it out financially, but when it all comes down to it, this is an option for our kids. If they feel NFA is not for them, let’s give them a shot.”

Board member Mark Kulos noted that the proposed contract is for one year, and the school board can revisit the issue next year.

Griswold school officials said they could take up to 15 Norwich ninth- and 10th-graders and up to five 11th-graders and five 12th-graders in the coming school year.

Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow told the board Tuesday that transportation would be “cost neutral,” with Norwich students being transported to Norwich Regional Technical High School, where a school bus transporting Griswold students to Norwich Tech will pick up the Norwich students going to Griswold High School.

Stringfellow said Griswold and Norwich transportation officials met to work out the plan.

She said if the arrangement works smoothly, the same plan could be tried for Norwich students attending Bacon Academy in Colchester or Ledyard High School's agricultural science program.

“I think there are kids that benefit from a smaller school,” Stringfellow said prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, “and there might be kids who are interested in specific programs, like the theater program in Griswold.”

Parent Timothy Moore of Norwich told the school board during public comment prior to the vote Tuesday that his children have been attending Griswold schools “forever” as tuition students. One son currently is in seventh grade and another is in 10th grade. Moore said the 10th-grader is involved in Griswold's popular theater program.

“We’ve been very happy with the administration,” Moore said of the Griswold school system. “I’d be very happy if that would be a place where Norwich students could attend.”

Board Chairwoman Heather Romanski and members Kevin Saythany, Daniels, Kulos, Swaranjit Singh Khalsa voted in favor, while Staley, Carline Charmelus and Distasio voted against adding Griswold High School. Following the vote, the board directed Stringfellow to put a hold on consideration of any additional high school choices until the school board and administration complete a long-term strategic plan.

c.bessette@theday.com

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