Parents with children in the New London Public Schools spoke with members of the Board of Education on Thursday in a special meeting to share concerns about the district.
The meeting was scheduled at the request of New London Parent Advocacy, which is dedicated to improving education in the district and increasing parental involvement in the schools. Last month the group issued a statement saying that did not think parents were being sufficiently involved in the process to create a three-year strategic operating plan for improving student achievement.
Mirna Martinez, a founding member of New London Parent Advocacy, said she was concerned that the board was proceeding with Dr. Steven Adamowski’s proposal of transitioning New London to an all magnet school district without taking the time to consider other options. She also said she thought the discussions did not address the underlying issue of how curriculums and other aspects of the district will change under an improvement plan.
“We’ve heard plenty about the magnet schools and the need for money, but not enough about the change in how we educate our children,” she said.
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Some members of the Board of Education said they also had concerns about the magnet proposal. Board member Delanna Muse said commitment to a magnet district was removed from a proposed vision statement being considered by the board, and said other options should be considered as well.
“I don’t want us to be focused on the magnet school thing just because of the money and we don’t focus on student achievement,” she said.
Board member Sylvia Potter said she thought the discussion had not looked into potential drawbacks with the proposal and said she was researching this issue. Board member Margaret Curtin said she is supportive of the idea and has received positive feedback from the public on it. Adamowski has said a magnet district could receive an additional $9 million per year in state funds, However, Curtin said recent state budget difficulties have led her to question whether the $9 million in state funds Adamowski has said could be provided to to the district under the model would still be available.
“Do we start the magnet schools and get it going and suddenly they have no money to give us?” she asked.
Superintendent Nicholas Fischer said updated teacher evaluations are serving as an indicator of what methods are best in improving student achievement. He said the magnet model is meant to address the district’s financial situation, saying New London is straining to fund its share of the budget through local taxes.
“The magnet idea is primarily a way of bringing revenue into the schools,” said Fischer.
Other parents said there is not enough cooperation between parents, teachers, and administrators. Mongi Dhaouadi said parents and teachers have been able to build trusting relationships, but said he thought teachers do not speak their mind in front of administrators.
“Sometimes we feel like we are getting talking points, ready-made answers, rather than an actual, frank answer,” he said.
Regina Nicholson said the level of respect between the administrators and faculty needs to improve.
“That’s because there’s such a high turnover here,” she said. “I don’t think it’s just money.”
Christa DeVega, who has a son attending seventh grade in the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, said she has met challenges trying to set up meetings with teachers on how to improve his grades. She said one teacher told her through her son that she should stop sending e-mails on the subject.
“This teacher is basically telling me I don’t need to be involved in my son’s education? That is ridiculous,” she said.
President Bill Morse said the board should hold a similar conversation with interested parents an hour and a half prior to regular 7 p.m. meetings. The next such meeting will take place before the regular meeting on Dec. 13.