Dr. Michael Graner, incumbent Superintendent for Groton Public Schools, recently sat down with the Falcon Press to discuss the construction on the new middle school and the implementation of the MYP/IB curriculum in Groton. As Superintendent, he is employed by the Groton Board of Education. Dr. Graner has several responsibilities, such as the hiring of administration staff, managing the budget, overseeing the operations of the school district. From time to time, he engages in political affairs with the Groton Town Council. He met with us on Thursday, March 21st for a thirty-minute interview.
Dr. Graner seemed eager to discuss the story behind the new school, which he confirmed will be called Groton Middle School. There had been a survey conducted between the students, parents, and teachers to decide upon the name of the new middle school. Seven hundred and fifty-nine responses were received and Dr. Graner then explained that, “some people indicated individuals’ names [that were] important to Groton, some people talked about location…” The Board had gotten together to discuss the name and Dr. Graner expressed, “We wanted it to be ‘Groton Middle School’, because we mean it to be one middle school…” He emphasized the fact that he wanted to build an environment where everyone could learn together, as one.
He was also quite clear on the timeline for the construction of Groton Middle School. The start of the construction has already begun, this past March, and it will be finished by June 2020. Groton Middle School will be a three-story building. If the construction does run a little late, Dr. Graner says, “then that would not be a problem,” but the district would like to have the building done by June, so that students can start school in the fall of 2020. Dr. Graner explained that after they finish the middle school, the district plans to tear down Cutler and West Side Magnet Middle Schools and build elementary magnet schools over the site. According to Dr. Graner, “We are going to start some of the early site development work for the elementary schools and we believe they’ll be finished in the fall of ‘21 . . . so we can move in.”
Contrary to what many have heard, the Merritt property does not belong to the church, but was actually purchased by the city back in 1978. When the land was bought, it was promised to be used for such things as hiking trails and playing fields, which would have cost an estimated $12 million, accounting for landscaping. Fast-forward 41 years later to 2019, and there is still nothing there. A few years ago, Dr. Graner proposed a different idea. In his interview, he states, “So [the land] just sat there for 30 years and so we proposed that we would take that piece of property and another piece of property that the town owned and make that recreation and free up the Merritt property.” His proposal went through and there the idea of a new, combined middle school was born.
For those who will miss the old school names, Dr. Graner has a solution. In Groton Middle School, there will be a wall dedicated to the schools that will be closed. The Groton Notables, as it will be called, will be a wall where the name of all the schools that will be shutting down in the process as well as the people they are named after will be written in order to pay respect to them. The wall will also honor prominent Groton figures you may less be less familiar with, including Jordan Freeman, a freed slave who fought in the American Revolution.
If you haven’t already guessed it, there will be a few school closings when Groton Middle School opens in the fall of 2020. The schools that will be closing are the two middle schools, allowing Carl C. Cutler to get his name in the Groton Notables. Along with Cutler, a lot more schools will close because, as Dr. Graner told us, “The plan all along was to close Pleasant Valley, Claude Chester, and S.B. Butler. So they will–for sure we will close those. So it will become more efficient, and have more modern buildings, so we’re super excited about that.”
The superintendent expressed his interest in expanding the number of magnet schools in the district. Recently, West Side Middle School was turned into a STEM magnet school, while Cutler was turned into an arts and humanities magnet school. Dr. Graner also discussed New London’s magnet school status. “You know about New London?–all the schools in New London are magnet,” he explains. “But they are inter-district magnet schools, meaning anyone from any town can go, and the reason is the state pays, about $9,000 per kid.” Turning our schools into magnets will be beneficial because the district would have more money coming in. In the long run, turning the elementary schools into magnet schools will be beneficial to the district’s budget.
Dr. Graner also had some exciting news about features of Groton Middle School, including athletic facilities. He told us that there will be a brand new AstroTurf field with stadium lights, making it so that athletes could be playing sports as early as 8 o’clock in the morning and as late as 10 o’clock at night. It will be able to be used nine months out of the year. In addition, the softball team will be happy to know that there will be a new softball field right by the school so that they don’t have to go on a bus to get to practice, and multiple grass fields ready to use in 2021. For students more interested in the arts, the middle school will also feature a Black Box theatre with a capacity for 150 audience members.
Students at FHS who are familiar with the International Baccalaureate (IB) program may be interested to know that Groton Middle School will introduce the Middle Years Program (MYP) into its curriculum. MYP begins in 6th grade and continues until 10th grade. The program aims to construct, “creative, critical, and reflective learners,” who are knowledgeable of global and local issues. MYP focuses on eight subject groups: language acquisition, language and literature, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical and health education, and design. Beyond providing a basis in these subject areas, the program aims to foster interdisciplinary engagement as well as develop a “foundation for independent learning.”
At the basis of Groton School System’s adoption of this program, along with the adoption of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program and the upcoming Career-Related Program, is the desire to cultivate active learners. When asked about the benefits of IB, Dr. Graner stated that “For me, the whole IB umbrella . . . teaches kids how to learn.” International Baccalaureate is based on the desire to create students who will not only want to learn well in high school and college, but will also continue to learn for the rest of their lives.