The Board of Education formally adopted a proposal to convert New London Public Schools into an all magnet district Thursday, adopting the strategy as one of several toward improving student achievement.
Board members voted to approve the strategy of creating K-12 magnet school pathways in science, technology, engineering, and math; visual and performing arts; and dual/multiple literacy and culture as a way of achieving the goal of creating a “regional system of high performing, effective schools” in New London. The strategies were adopted as part of a three-year strategic operating plan which the board has been developing in consultation with Dr. Stephen Adamowski, a special master appointed to the district by the Connecticut Department of Education.
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Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of New London Public Schools, said the district will work in the coming months to develop steps on how the strategies can be implemented. Fischer said the implementation steps should be completed by May, and Adamowski said the strategic operating plan will be presented to the State Board of Education in June.
“We need to take a step forward”
Adamowski first proposed the magnet school plan idea to the board in September. He said New London has a unique advantage in creating a magnet school district since special legislation in 2006 allows it to have magnet schools with 15 percent of out-of-town students—lower than the state threshold—and also permitted the possibility of a conversion to an all magnet district. Adamowski said that magnet school funds are allocated before Education Cost Sharing dollars, and that the district would be eligible for $3,000 per student in an all magnet district—about $9 million per year.
The Winthrop School and Science and Technology Magnet High School currently operate as STEM magnet schools. The Nathan Hale School is being converted into a visual and performing arts magnet school.
The proposal has met with some skepticism from parents and board members who question the reliability of the state funding and whether the plan would address issues such as the need for repairs in some school buildings. Board member Bill Morse said he supported the plan but wanted more input from the community before putting it to a vote, saying there was no timetable for public input and that members of the community have raised questions about the details of the proposal.
“I think to approve this at this time without a public hearing is backwards,” said Morse.
President Margaret Curtin said the vote was on the concept of the all magnet district as a starting point. She also questioned the timing of Morse’s concern, saying he could have brought it up at a prior meeting.
“Is there any reason why you didn’t mention this during two, four, six, maybe eight hours of this?” Curtin asked.
Adamowski said the strategies adopted Thursday would allow the district to determine a general direction for the future of the schools. He described the standard operating plan as a “living document” with an annual revision process, estimating that it will be 45 to 60 days before the district has developed the plan to a cohesive enough point that it can be presented for public input.
“You need to get those [strategies] in place, at least tentatively, in order for your staff to be able to develop implementation steps,” said Adamowksi.
Adamowski also warned that the board is obligated to present the state with a strategic operating plan and that he is required to do so on his own if the board is incapable of doing so.
Fischer asked that the board approve the strategies with the understanding that the district would address any questions during the development of implementation steps. He said the strategic operating plan is not finalized at this point and won’t be until it is sent to the State Board of Education. Fischer also said one goal of the strategies is to address the ability of the city to support its school system and that the all magnet district is part of that process.
“As a district we’re facing a potential fiscal crisis over the coming years, and I think we need to come to grips with that reality,” said Fischer.
Fischer also said residents have been able to contribute to discussion on the strategic plan at several public meetings in recent months and challenged any citizens with an interest or concern in the process to take part.
“If you really want to be involved in this, show up,” said Fischer. “If you really want to talk about what’s going on, let us know. But at one point or another we need to take a step forward.”
The board voted to omit a strategy on creating a district charter school for gifted and talented students due to concerns over the complexities of the topic. The final vote on adopting the strategies was a unanimous voice vote, with some board members not voicing their support but none voting against it.
Prior strategic operating plan vote
In December, the board adopted a for the plan. The vision statement specifies where the board wants the district to be in five years, while the theory of action sets a strategy toward achieving these goals. The performance targets specify annual benchmarks the schools should work toward during the plan.
The vision statement says New London should be a “regional center for educational excellence” with parental involvement, diverse staff, a rigorous academic curriculum, and college and career readiness upon graduation. The theory of action follows the managed performance empowerment mode, allowing a greater degree of autonomy in higher performing schools while low performing schools will be subject to district intervention.
The performance targets seek regular improvement in standardized test performance as well as the District Performance Index and percentages of students who graduate high school and attend college. The targets also seek to have English Language Learners and students with disabilities achieving at the same rate as their peers.
The strategies portion of the plan outlines options for how to achieve the goals, while the implementation steps will provide methods of following through with the strategies. Other strategies adopted on Thursday include:
- Developing a talent management strategy to improve teacher and principal effectiveness
- Develop a teacher and principal evaluation system “based on achievement, growth of students and client satisfaction”
- Create a college-ready K-12 curriculum based on Common Core standards
- Improve the effectiveness of special education programs
- Develop strategies with local colleges, businesses, and community organizations to expand student learning opportunities
- Provide additional learning time to help close the learning gap
- Develop a 10-year facilities master plan for the long-term stewardship of school buildings
- Develop financial and information technology systems that can be jointly administered with the city of New London to reduce costs