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Groton prepares for all intradistrict magnet elementary schools next year

Groton — The Groton school district is getting ready to shift to all intradistrict, themed magnet elementary schools next school year in a plan the district says will help the school communities mirror the community at large and engage students in new ways of learning.

Families are deciding whether to send their children to the school they are zoned for, or to apply through a lottery process to one of the schools in a different part of town.

Under the Groton 2020 plan, the district will open two new intradistrict magnet schools in September on the sites of the former West Side and Cutler Middle Schools and transform Charles Barnum Elementary School into a themed magnet school. Northeast Academy Arts Magnet School and Catherine Kolnaski STEAM Magnet School will continue as intradistrict magnet elementary schools, while Claude Chester, S.B. Butler and Mary Morrisson elementary schools will close at the end of this school year.

The Groton 2020 plan also called for a consolidated middle school, which opened in September adjacent to Robert E. Fitch High School, to create an International Baccalaureate campus, Superintendent Susan Austin said.

She said the plan will create well-balanced schools, both socio-economically and racially, and promote “excellence, equity and efficiency.”

Each elementary school will follow the same core curriculum but have a unique magnet theme, Austin said. She added that this will help re-engage students in face-to-face learning.

“I think it’s an opportunity for our families, and I keep saying this is an exciting time to be a kid in Groton,” Austin said.

The elementary schools will be neighborhood schools as well as intradistrict magnet schools. That means each school has a neighborhood zone, but there also will be seats open for Groton students who live in another part of town, school officials said.

Groton families can either send their children to the school they are zoned for — in which case they don’t need to take any action — or they can apply to attend one of the other schools through a lottery process, said Rebecca Beyus, communications specialist. Applications for the lottery are due April 16 and families are asked to indicate their first and second choices. The applications are available in both English and Spanish, and the district has developed a school locator map where families can see which school they are zoned for and posted more information on its website, grotonschools.org.

The district is encouraging families to take a look at the schools — especially the two new ones — and explore their choices, Beyus said.

Austin also pointed out that the district is hoping to bring back more students who currently go to magnet schools in other towns. A survey years ago found that parents wanted neighborhood schools as well as the choice to go to another school.

Magnet themes

To develop the themes, families were surveyed, and staff and administrators have been working to further design the new schools, which are expected to continue to evolve, district officials said.

The two new schools, which will have an enrollment of about 604 students each, will house not only students in kindergarten through fifth grade, but also the district’s preschool students, Austin said.

Jamie Giordano, who will be principal of Thames River Environmental and Marine Sciences Magnet School, said the school on the former West Side site will feature partnerships with Project Oceanology and New England Science & Sailing Foundation.

Project Oceanology has developed a project-based curriculum with a yearlong unit for each grade level that incorporates class and lab work, and potentially boat trips for all grade levels, as well, she said. Each grade level will have a Project Oceanology leader, and the unit will culminate in a “take action event,” such as a beach cleanup day or a greenhouse project.

Through the partnership with NESS, four AmeriCorps members will be stationed at the school to deliver STEM-based activities and curriculum and serve as role models for the students.

Plans are also in the works to develop a greenhouse, trail system, aquaponics and hydroponics, and enrichment activities based on the concept of recycling, she said.

The school also will have “enrichment throughout the year to connect the various themes through Art and Technology,” according to the district’s website.

Steve Wheeler, who will be principal of Mystic River Active Exploration - Play and Ingenuity - Magnet School, said the school on the former Cutler site will be the first of its kind in the Northeast.

The school will have an active exploration piece, which for children in preschool through second grade features developmentally appropriate play-based learning in which students will explore topics within every academic discipline.

“We’re really focusing on trying to build and strengthen their brain pathways,” he said. “Children will be creating and learning through play and problem-solving within the classroom setting, too.”

In grades three and five, the active exploration piece will feature games that promote mental and physical play and children will learn through a problem-solving framework that helps them understand information across all content areas.

Students will be able to select elective activities, which are being developed and likely will be based around topics such as technology, math and science, music, drama and the visual arts, he said.

The school is partnering with Life is Good, a Boston-based company, which is providing the social-emotional curriculum and helping develop the play theme, he said. The school also is looking to partner with the Niantic Children’s Museum.

While not a new school, the existing Charles Barnum elementary school will be transformed into a magnet themed school that embraces “individual student discovery through enrichment opportunities,” Beyus said.

The Charles Barnum Discovery - Creativity and Curiosity - Magnet School “encourages student voice and choice in an exploratory setting.  By nurturing creativity and curiosity, it will foster a lifelong passion for learning and build social-emotional and academic skills, while promoting purposeful and reflective practices that empower students to reach their full potential,” according to the district’s website.

“We are excited to now embrace individual student discovery as our magnet theme,” said Seth Danner, principal of Charles Barnum. "Throughout our curriculum, we will encourage all students to explore their primary interests in the ways they prefer to learn and how they enjoy expressing themselves — promoting the general curiosity and creativity of everyone!”

Catherine Kolnaski STEAM Magnet School and Northeast Academy Arts Magnet School will continue their existing themes.

Catherine Kolnaski “provides a strong STEM foundation and opportunities to engage in real world problem solving using a multidisciplinary approach and the integration of technology and the arts. In addition to problem solving, an emphasis is placed on providing students an opportunity to express their creativity, and discover talents and passions that lead to lifelong learning,” according to the district’s website.

Northeast Academy students “engage in challenging and complex instruction designed to develop creative thinkers and innovative learners. In addition to opportunities to explore their talents and skills in the arts, students are engaged in our Journey to Success program focused on their personal development and respect, responsibility, safety and honesty," according the district.

More information on the magnet schools and the lottery is available at bit.ly/grotonmagnets.

k.drelich@theday.com

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