Education commissioner: If Groton can't make racial balance plan work, it will need another
Hartford — If Groton is unable — for any reason — to succeed with the plan it presented to the State Board of Education to create racial balance in its schools, the district will have to come up with a new one and present it to the state board, Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell said Wednesday.
Speaking during a recess of the State Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, Wentzell said different communities come up with different solutions for dealing with racial imbalance, and those solutions must be local.
"To be clear, our role is in the approval of the plan," she said.
But legally each school district must strive to be in balance. The state of Connecticut does not believe segregated or racially isolated schools are in the best interests of students, she said.
Three of the 22 schools in Connecticut flagged as having an impending racial imbalance are in Groton, according to a report presented by the commissioner and accepted by the state board on Tuesday. The report showed no schools newly identified as racially imbalanced. Five in the state that were identified last year continue to have the issue.
In Groton, the three schools with pending imbalances are Claude Chester Elementary School, Northeast Academy and Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School.
The state cited Groton for a racial imbalance at Claude Chester last year, and the district submitted a plan in January in response. The plan is to build one new middle school for all students, then construct two new large elementary schools at the site of the current middle schools.
The schools would use magnet programs to attract students east and west across town. A consultant recently told the task force developing the plan to upgrade Groton schools that only involves redrawing boundaries and building bigger schools would not be enough to correct the imbalance.
The plan would go into effect only if it passes at referendum, possibly in May 2016. Whether it would solve the imbalance would not be known until the new schools open.
But even among members of the task force, there's frustration over whether the law is fair to students or the community and concerns over the cost of the plan, with an estimated cost of $175.5 million to $196.3 million — and local cost of $78 million to $97 million after state reimbursement
State Board of Education member Estella Lopez said people sometimes assume that if their child is doing well, nothing needs to change and they don't have to worry about their neighbors' children.
"The notion that if it doesn't impact my child, I shouldn't worry, is really thinking of it in isolation, as opposed to the greater good," she said. The state board's job is to look at the greater good, the benefit of blending all students and closing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students, she said.
Diversity and different opinions teach students new ways of looking at issues and ultimately how to have more of an impact, she said.
"We need one another. I need different types of thinking, different types of approaches," she said. "... When you isolate yourself, when you become homogeneous, you really become weaker."