Options On The Table For The "Move To Neighborhood Schools"

New Britain’s “Move to Neighborhood Schools” will be the focus of  a Monday, February 25th Board of Education meeting when board members will review a plan by Supt, Kelt Cooper that calls for all students attending classes in schools and programs outside of their neighborhood district in 2012-2013 to attend a neighborhood school in 2013-2014.

The Monday 2/25 public meeting begins at 6 p.m. at New Britain High School’s Tercyak Lecture Hall on Mill Street with a presentation on the neighborhood plan and two hours set aside for public comment. According to BOE President Sharon Beloin-Saavedra a final plan for a neighborhood schools’ strategy will be voted on by the board in March.

The BOE faces a lengthy agenda because of storm cancellations earlier in the month. It will also take up inclusion of the DiLoreto School in the State Commissioner of Education’s “network” schools — a decision expected to bring additional funds into Slater Road school to improve the school district’s low achievement scores.

Over the last decade or so the school district established specialized programs or magnets with learning communities and supports as choices for families (available via lottery) across the city with the intent of developing models for higher student achievement. The neighborhood school proposal notes that “while most students attending these select programs attained high levels of academic achievement, the strategy did not increase overall school district performance.”  The administration said the citywide academies “created another  unintended issue: that of filling schools with non-neighborhood children. This necessitated the busing of neighborhood students to other buildings to accommodate any incoming population.”

Cooper is proposing that 2013-2014 be a year of transition with four steps: 1)Students newly registered to the district are placed in his/her neighborhood school based on classroom space; 2) the elimination of Out of District (OOD) or “non-neighborhood school” requests by parents or guardians; 3) the re-zoning of school district lines based on population; 4) adoption of neighborhood schools for all students in the 2013-2014 school year identified as “Plan A.” by the school administration.

BOE members are reviewing Cooper’s proposal that also identifies two alternate plans for moving to a neighborhood school strategy.

“Plan B” allows students located in a school outside of their district to be “grandfathered” into the school outside of the neighborhood district with certain conditions. The student would first be placed in a neighborhood school in September 2013 for the first three weeks and then, — if space is available — the student could  return to the OOD school of choice for the remainder of the year.  Parent or guardians, however, would be required to provide transportation since busing to non-neighborhood schools will be eliminated. “Plan C” allows for “grandfathering” of students in the non-neighborhood schools of choice in 2013-2014 in grades 5 and 8 only.

Supt. Cooper prefers Plan A stating that it “would be the most efficient means to return to neighborhood schools. It is one which would probably be the most cost effective regarding the budget.”

For implementation to neighborhood only schools (special education is exempt from the plan) the school administration will need to re-draw the city’s education map with new district lines. “The ground work has begun in the mapping identification of students at schools for the current year. This process clearly shows that students in each school are scattered throughout the city, which requires busing to all schools,” Cooper stated in a February 7th proposal. “The second process involves the mapping of former neighborhood school district lines from the mid 1990s with the overlay of our current student population to identify the numbers of students at each school based on the former neighborhood lines. In some cases the population has shifted away from a few neighborhoods and significantly increased in other neighborhoods.”

The neighborhood schools’ plan seeks to “establish the framework for equitable distribution of district resources based on the needs of the neighborhood school.”   School administrators acknowledge  “the movement of district lines is a significant event in our community but it is essential to regain a sense of school community in neighborhoods.”

To counteract parent concerns about the loss of learning communities (LCs) that have improved student performance in the academies, school officials are pledging that “the best practices we have learned to be effective through out smaller learning communities will be implemented district-wide for all students in all schools.”

The neighborhood school proposal identifies a potential saving of $78,200 for each bus taken out of service in 2013-2014.  Those funds presumably could be applied to school budgets on a neighborhood basis,  but the total amount of savings from transportation for the district was not estimated.

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