Board of Ed discusses next steps to level racial imbalance

At a Dec. 6 Board of Education work session, the board discussed the value of the town’s three internationally structured magnet schools as well as implementing themed magnet programs as a means of leveling racial imbalance within the district. Ultimately, the group agreed that they would need more conclusive information about the district’s current magnet programs and their success before adding another.

The issue dates back to June, when Greenwich Public Schools (GPS) were cited by the Connecticut State Board of Education for racial imbalance in Hamilton Avenue School (HAS) and New Lebanon School (NLS). Schools are cited for racial imbalance when the minority population in a school is 25 percentage points more or less than the average for the comparable schools in the district.

Both HAS and NLS have been cited in prior years for racial imbalance and have devised plans involving the implementation of magnet themes to voluntarily attract families to attend the schools in an attempt to level racial imbalance. Those plans, however, have yet to yield the required racial balance, prompting the state to request the submission of a revised plan by February or March of 2013.

In addition to improving racial balance, Superintendent of Schools William McKersie told the board in an Oct. 18 report that GPS will seek to raise student achievement, stating that any work done on racial imbalance should begin with a plan to elevate academic success.

Accordingly, the district invited David Moss, a professor with the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, who often works as a consultant for GPS, to attend the Dec. 6 work session. Dr. Moss discussed the implementation of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program, which focuses on teaching academic concepts in an applicable way, as a means of racially balancing the student population at HAS and NLS.

While some board members, specifically Peter Sherr, were interested in the STEM program in general, the board agreed that they needed to take a closer look at the district’s current magnet programs and that the STEM program may not be the solution to the central issue of racial imbalance.

In the context of racial imbalance issues, Mr. Sherr said it would be beneficial to speak to the community to find out what they want in order to entice them away from or into other district schools, using the idea of implementing a Montessori school as an example.

Board member Peter von Braun echoed Mr. Sherr’s sentiments, insisting that the board should find out what kinds of things attracted the “customers” and implementing them if they expected families to change their children’s schools voluntarily.

In an overview of the International Baccalaureate (IB) magnet program at the International School at Dundee (ISD), Dr. McKersie discussed student achievement data for the school. Although NLS and Western Middle School have also implemented the program, data on their student achievement is too new to hold weight, whereas ISD’s IB program has been in effect for a decade.

Noting that he was not trying to expand the IB program or make it a solution to the racial imbalance issue, Dr. McKersie discussed the program’s merits and ISD’s “remarkable” student success, explaining that IB is a “framework” that organizes the way the district works on standards and curriculum, and is not the curriculum itself.

Board Chairman Leslie Moriarty, however, suggested that it was the circumstances and careful planning that went into the foundation of ISD as a magnet school, rather than its programming, that may have made the school a success. When ISD was first established, the district had the freedom of choosing how many magnet seats the school would have and what comprised the attendance zone, and also gave teachers the opportunity to opt into the program which started ISD off with a trained, motivated staff, Ms. Moriarty said. The same luxuries would not be afforded to the establishment of future magnet schools, she said.

According to Ms. Moriarty, the next steps in devising a revised racial imbalance plan of action include using a consultant to analyze housing, enrollment and facility utilization numbers, addressing student transportation problems, narrowing down program themes and collecting parental input on decisions that would impact their children’s movement in and out of specific district schools.

With plenty of work still to be done in order to submit a revised racial imbalance plan on time, board member Adrianna Ospina said she hoped the group would explore many options before potentially deciding that a complete redistricting of the town’s public schools was the only solution to the problem.

 

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