New magnet theme proposed for Western Middle School
GREENWICH — After dropping the International Baccalaureate program at Western Middle School last fall, district officials are proposing a new schoolwide magnet theme.
A new proposal calls for using the AVID program, which targets students performing in the middle academically and prepares them for college. The goal is to attract more students to enroll at Western.
Administrators expect the school board to approve a new theme this March, to give teachers time to train and prepare for the new school year. The proposal, which is slated to go before the Board of Education on Thursday, puts the yearly cost at $50,000.
School officials last discussed dropping the IB theme in October, when Board of Education members discovered explanations in a proposed budget transfer that hinted at a change.
At the time, board members asked Deputy Superintendent Ann Carabillo to develop a project plan that included research, a timeline for implementation, projected costs for materials and personnel, and goals for measuring the success of a new program.
Thursday’s proposal, written by Western Principal Gordon Beinstein, seventh grade guidance counselor Erin Montague and science teacher Kimberly Matarese, has a timeline through 2025, a list of projected annual costs as well as input from teachers and parents.
The magnet theme change marks another effort by administrators to attract students from Eastern or Central to balance Western’s racial makeup, of which 56 percent are students of color, according to district enrollment data from October. That is 17 percent higher than the district average, and nears the state definition of racial imbalance.
For many years, Greenwich Public Schools have been cited for buildings that are much more or much less diverse than the district average. In response, the district drafted a Racial Balance Plan, approved by the state, which relies on magnet schools to even out racial disparities.
Western became an International Baccalaureate school in 2013 in an effort to attract incoming sixth-graders from International School at Dundee, an elementary IB school, but the magnet failed to attract ISD students.
In fact, more students applied to be magnet students at Western without a specified theme this past year than during its last four years combined as an IB school, according to Beinstein, Montague and Matarese.
Students in Greenwich schools with AVID classes apply and commit to the program until they graduate high school. During class, students learn how to organize, solve problems and ask for help, and teachers encourage them to take harder courses, school officials said.
The program is aimed at students who come from a lower socioeconomic status; are an underrepresented ethnicity on college campuses; are first-generation college students; perform in the academic middle; and are determined to succeed on their own, school officials said.
AVID was first introduced as an elective at the high school, and later expanded to Central and Western. The program was in high demand its first year, with 32 applicants for 17 spots, and four years later, 50 students are enrolled.
Much of the staff has received training in AVID strategies. Currently, 28 of 66 certified staff have received formal AVID training, and all teachers will have some exposure by the end of the year, the principal, guidance counselor and science teacher said.
Switching to AVID has wider parent support than an Innovation Lab theme (the interdisciplinary, four-year program at Greenwich High) or a science, technology, engineering and mathematics theme. About 57 percent parents said they would like to see an AVID theme, compared to the 24 percent who supported Innovation Lab, and the 18 percent who wanted STEM.
“Learning how to learn benefits everyone,” one parent said in a survey of Western parents on the proposed change. “Some parents will write this off as ‘common sense,’ but I wholly disagree. Few people have these skills naturally and not everyone can learn them at home. STEM is trendy, but not everyone is interested in math and science above all else.”