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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    Cutler, West Side middle schools promote their final eighth grade class

    After receiving his certificate of promotion, Richard Davis, center left, watches West Side Middle School Principal Jeff Kotecki show him a few other items in his promotion package Thursday, June 11, 2020, at his home in Groton. Richard's mother, Sofia, looks on while Vice Principal Jemal Davis, left, waits to place the yard sign in their garden. Kotecki, Davis and the teachers drove to the eighth-graders' homes delivering their promotion packages and yard signs. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton — After decades in the community, West Side and Cutler Middle Schools promoted their final eighth grade classes on Thursday.

    For many, it was a “bittersweet” moment as teachers, students and parents said they would miss the schools but looked forward to the new Groton Middle School next year.

    In virtual promotion ceremonies on Thursday evening, Superintendent Michael Graner said the students persevered through unprecedented personal and academic challenges.

    The eighth-graders and teachers also played a unique role in developing Cutler and West Side into magnet schools, he said.

    In the fall of 2017, when they were in sixth grade, Groton was awarded a grant to develop a STEM magnet program at West Side and an arts and humanities program at Cutler and to prepare the schools to become part of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme, Graner said.

    In the fall of 2018, West Side STEM Magnet Middle School and Cutler Arts and Humanities Magnet Middle School opened their doors to children throughout the Groton community, he said. Those programs will form the foundation of the new consolidated middle school slated to open this fall.

    “These students literally and figuratively laid the foundation for Groton Middle School,” Graner said. He called the current students and staff “plank owners” of Groton Middle School — a term in the maritime services referring to original members of a ship’s crew.

    He also noted that they are bidding farewell to schools that have served the communities for more than a half-century, with West Side Junior High School opening in 1955 and Carl C. Cutler Junior High School opening in 1961. New elementary schools will be built on their sites.

    Though the pandemic canceled most end-of-year festivities, the schools held virtual ceremonies to celebrate the students’ accomplishments.

    “You’re making history tonight,” West Side Principal Jeffrey Kotecki said. “You will be the last eighth grade class to be promoted from West Side Middle School and the first class to be promoted virtually to high school.”

    Cutler Middle School Principal Peter Bass said the final class to be promoted from Cutler “will always have a special place in my heart.”

    “I know I will always cherish the memories I have of the times we have spent together at Cutler,” he added.

    In interviews, staff, students and parents looked back fondly on their years at the two middle schools.

    Cutler Teacher Linda Cady was a student at Cutler in the 1970s and has served as a teacher there for the last three decades. She remembers as a student that no one had a backpack: “The boys, if they liked you, they’d carry your books to class for you,” she said.

    When she became a teacher, she joined many of her Cutler teachers who still taught at the school. “It was a place that a lot of people really liked to go to so many of them stayed there throughout their entire careers,” she said.

    She also recalled PTO luncheons and breakfasts for the staff, social gatherings among staff, and fun assemblies, like when Tony Orlando recently visited the schools.

    Robert Welt, a retired Cutler social studies teacher and former Cutler student, recalled being in ninth grade when he and his classmates, long before computers were in popular use, had to research American foreign policy toward various countries. He remembered doing a lot of his own research, writing letters to embassies and reading newspaper articles.

    He noted that the school was named after one of the founders of Mystic Seaport Museum and had an “incredibly good music program that continues to this day.”

    Cutler parent and PTO President Valerie Riley fondly remembers cross country meets, meeting the teachers at parent night and listening to her kids come home and talk about their day at Cutler Middle School. She said Cutler is a nice community school: “Everyone was just friendly and welcoming and it’s just a nice middle school in our community.”

    She said it’s sad that Cutler won’t get a “proper send-off” with “students, teachers, staff, alumni or community members walking through the halls one last time saying goodbye or reflecting on old memories.”

    “It didn’t end in the traditional fashion, but what an honor to say you were the last graduating class, Cutler Class of 2020,” she added.

    “While it’s very sad to say goodbye to the rich history of this school building, it’s a significant milestone in the Groton community to open up Groton Middle School and be able to have all middle schoolers from across the town and city attend in one location,” added Bass, who will be the principal of Groton Middle School.

    Kotecki will serve as an assistant principal and athletic director at the new middle school. Cutler Assistant Principal Keith Danieluk and West Side Assistant Principal Jemal Davis also will be part of the administrative team, Graner said.

    Nathan Virtue, an eighth-grader, said his teachers were the most significant part of his time at West Side. “They’re always there to support you no matter what and they all want you to do the best that you can and succeed,” he said, “and so when I look back on it, the one thing that was really positive at West Side was just knowing that the teachers would always be there for you.”

    PTO Treasurer Lisa Virtue, mother to Nathan and Katie, a sixth-grader, said staff, teachers and administrators went above and beyond to provide the personal touch.

    West Side eighth-grader Nae’King Wise enjoyed extracurricular activities, such as robotics, and the focus on STEM, along with the school’s arts program. “It’s both an honor but sad at the same time,” Nae’King said of being part of the final eighth grade class.

    Portia Bordelon said that as a former West Side student, this is an emotional year. Her son, Aiden, is in the last class to graduate from the school before it closes.

    “While I feel excitement and encouragement feeding my hopes and dreams for my son as a freshman, I can’t help but reflect back on my time as a student looking through that same awesome mirror in the hallway,” said Bordelon, who also is a Groton town councilor. “I’m excited for the change that is coming with the closing of West Side, as it marks the beginning of an era that will bring together all the sixth through eighth grade students of Groton in the new Groton Middle School.”

    “Mr. Kotecki did an amazing job stepping into his role, steadying the ship and setting forth a bold agenda as West Side evolved into a STEM magnet school,” she added. “I also feel incredibly encouraged by the hiring of Mr. Davis, as he represents a successful exercise of minority recruiting and I know, as a former student and a parent of a graduating student, that his presence is an inspiration for students and families on this side of town.”

    Alicia Ross, a school psychologist at West Side, said the school is a “magical place” with caring and accepting staff and students who are hard-working, caring, accepting of each other and always welcoming of new kids.

    She said the West Side staff members thank the kids and families for providing a wonderful experience for everybody, but look forward to the new middle school.

    “We’re going to be a STEAM magnet school,” she said. “Kids have the opportunity to learn about science, technology, arts and engineering and it just gives us an opportunity to also diversify our school system so it’s definitely an opportunity for us to grow as a community, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

    k.drelich@theday.com

    After receiving his certificate of promotion, Kenneth Carter, center, West Side Middle School Vice Principal Jemal Davis, left, and Principal Jeff Kotecki, right, pose while Carter's mother, Crystal Alvarado, right, takes a picture Thursday, June 11, 2020, at their home in Groton. Kotecki, Davis and teachers drove to the eighth-graders' homes delivering their promotion packages and yard signs. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Jacob Goes, center left, receives his certificate of promotion from West Side Middle School Principal Jeff Kotecki on Thursday, June 11, 2020, at his home in Groton. Jacob's mother, Dawne Swietek, left, captures the moment on her phone while Vice Principal Jemal Davis, right, waits to place the yard sign in their garden. Kotecki, Davis and the teachers drove to the eighth-graders' homes delivering their promotion packages and yard signs. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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