Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School would be subject to a significant shift in its grade levels and mission under a proposed plan to make New London Public Schools an all magnet school district, Dr. Steven Adamowski said on Thursday.
Adamowski, a special master appointed to the district by the Connecticut Department of Education, has proposed the magnet school district as a way of improving student achievement as well as increasing revenue from the state. The district currently has a magnet elementary school and high school for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics topics as well as an elementary school that is being converted into an arts magnet school.
The proposal has raised some concerns about the role of the middle school in linking elementary and high school magnet programs. Adamowski said the Board of Education must determine whether the district should keep its current model of grades K-5 in elementary school, 6-8 in middle school, and 9-12 in high school or whether it should shift to a K-8 model for the lower schools.
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Adamowski said BDJMS could operate as an additional elementary school serving kindergarten through eighth grade. He said the building could also house a magnet program for grades six through 12 or provide three magnet academies for grades six through eight to offer courses in STEM, arts, and possibly language arts.
An architectural firm is currently analyzing the building to determine which options are the most feasible. Adamowski said the board’s determination on grade configuration will decide BDJMS’s future.
“That building can do a lot,” he said. “It’s a sufficient size and it’s been used for various purposes before.”
Secretary Jason Catala asked if research has determined which grade configurations are most beneficial for student achievement. Adamowski said it is ultimately a lesser factor next to issues such as teacher quality and curriculum, but that urban districts have started to favor a K-8 configuration as a way to improve student behavior and school climate.
“I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter, but I don’t think there’s research to suggest it’s a dominant, significant factor,” said Adamowski.
Vice President Delanna Muse said she understood the need for the middle school as a connector between the elementary and high school magnet programs, but was concerned with the possibility of students being excluded if they are not interested in the established magnet programs.
“We don’t want anyone to be left out,” she said.
This and other concerns were also raised at a meeting between the board and New London Parent Advocacy on Nov. 29. The parents’ group questioned whether a magnet district would result in a fundamental change in how New London children are educated and whether the anticipated state funding could be guaranteed.
Adamowski said the performance of students in magnet schools is reflected in data on standardized test scores and graduation rates and that magnet schools outperform other schools, including on the local level when the Science and Technology Magnet High School's results are considered against those of New London High School. He said the current state funding model also has magnet programs funded before Education Cost Sharing money is distributed and that there are no plans to change this.
“It would be suicide to do that because the highest performing schools in our state are magnet schools,” said Adamowski.
The board recently adopted a for the draft of a three-year strategic operating plan to improve student achievement in the district. At its January meeting, the board will review a number of proposed goals to be accomplished through the plan including improving teacher quality, retention, and diversity; increasing community and parent involvement; and creating a stable system of support to sustain education and maximize the use of public resources.