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Plans move forward for all-magnet elementary schools for Groton children

Groton — The Board of Education took a “big step forward” this week toward realizing an all-magnet elementary school district for Groton children next year.

The Board of Education on Monday approved neighborhood zones, magnet themes and names, as the school district prepares to open two new intradistrict magnet elementary schools next year as part of the Groton 2020 plan to achieve racial balance.

Under the plan, three elementary schools — S.B. Butler, Claude Chester and Mary Morrisson — will close at the end of this school year, and two new intradistrict magnet schools, currently under construction, will open for the fall of 2021. Charles Barnum Elementary School will become an intradistrict magnet school next fall. Northeast Academy Arts Magnet School and Catherine Kolnaski STEAM Magnet School already are intradistrict magnet schools.

That means that in the fall of 2021, all five elementary schools will be intradistrict magnet schools open to all children in Groton, Superintendent Michael Graner said by phone. Each school will have a defined neighborhood zone but also will have spots, available through a lottery, for Groton children in other neighborhoods.

The new school, being built on the former West Side Middle School site, will be called Thames River Magnet School, while the school being built on the site of the former Cutler Middle School will be Mystic River Magnet School.

The board’s naming decision follows a survey with feedback from staff, teachers, parents, students, community members, and local officials, as well as work by the naming committee, which included Town Historian James Streeter. From a historical perspective, Streeter said he thought the Thames River and Mystic River, coupled together, served as a common denominator of Groton's rich maritime history. The two schools, though geographically distanced from each other, also would be unified through the river names.

Themes

The Board of Education chose three magnet themes to be assigned later to the two schools under construction and Charles Barnum Elementary:

• "Environmental/Marine/Life Science," a program that would “engage students in daily instructions in core content areas combined with an environmental/life/marine sciences focus,” according to a presentation by Assistant Superintendent Susan Austin. The program could include local partnership, such as with Project Oceanology, New England Science and Sailing, Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport Planetarium, and hands-on fieldwork.

• “Active Exploration: Play and Ingenuity,” a program that “would find new ways to engage students meaningfully in interest based learning”: “Students would benefit from making social emotional connections in creative, hands on learning environments while working collaboratively and thinking critically with their peers.”

• "Discovery Magnet: Nurturing creativity and curiosity," a program that “would encourage student voice and choice in an exploratory setting. By nurturing creativity and curiosity, it could foster a lifelong passion for learning and build social-emotional and academic skills, while promoting purposeful and reflective patterns that empower students to reach their full potential.”

Graner said each school will follow the district’s curriculum for literacy, math, science and other subjects, but the themes will be an engaging way to differentiate the schools and allow parents to decide whether they want their children to go to their neighborhood school or another magnet school.

Graner said he will present more detailed information and likely make a recommendation for assigning the themes at the Board of Education’s Nov. 9 Committee of the Whole meeting. Once a theme is assigned to each school, the faculty then will develop the themes further.

Teachers from the three schools that will be closed in June will express their preferences and school officials will assign teachers to a new school, Graner said.

Neighborhood zones

After years of planning, the board established the neighborhood zones for the two new elementary schools. Essentially, S.B. Butler and Claude Chester children will go next year to Mystic River Magnet School, while Mary Morrisson students and the children living adjacent to Thames River Magnet School will go next year to Thames River, Graner said.

When the two new schools open in September 2021, they are slated to be racially balanced with a population of about 48% children of color, which mirrors the district’s overall demographics. He said the goal is to open the schools racially balanced and then continue to maintain the balance through magnet choice.

The Groton 2020 plan, which also included the building of the consolidated middle school that opened in September, calls for ensuring the district's schools are racially balanced without redrawing district lines, he said.

Board of Education Chair Kim Shepardson Watson said at the end of Monday's meeting that she was excited the board put down "footprints" for the district to then take off and do the work needed for the elementary schools.

Graner said the board's three votes this week are the foundation for the elementary part of the plan.

“We took a big step forward,” he said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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