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Apr 26, 2016

Simsbury Continues to Support Open Choice

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(Hartford, CT) In 1966, Simsbury was one of the first five school districts to embrace Project Concern, now known as the Hartford Region Open Choice Program, and it remains committed to the program today—50 year later.

Other founding districts include Farmington, Manchester, South Windsor, and West Hartford.

“Our partner districts should be commended for their commitment to the Open Choice program and for their desire to improve academic achievement while simultaneously teaching acceptance and understanding,” said CREC Executive Director Greg Florio. “We appreciate the districts’ efforts and look forward to continuing our partnership.” 

The Open Choice program, formerly known as Project Concern, was established in 1966. It is managed by CREC, and it offers Hartford students the opportunity to attend public schools in suburban towns and suburban students the opportunity to attend public schools in Hartford. These opportunities are at no cost to families, and the goals of the program are to improve academic achievement; reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation; and provide all children with a choice of high-quality educational programs. 

In Simsbury, the school district recognizes that school diversity and integration benefit students, preparing them to enter an increasingly diverse workforce. Through the Open Choice program, Simsbury children meet students who have different life experiences, and students from all socioeconomic backgrounds build relationships and gain perspective through classroom discussions and afterschool activities. They use high levels of critical thinking and problem solving skills to understand one another.

“If we fail to expose our students to diversity, we fail to prepare them for a globalized world,” said Simsbury Superintendent Matthew Curtis. “Thus, we are fortunate that the Open Choice program has allowed us to attract Hartford students not just to our regular classrooms, but to our sports teams and our musical and performing arts clubs and activities. Just recently, we resurrected the multicultural club at the high school. What a terrific opportunity to get students of diverse backgrounds together to learn about all different cultures.”  

Simsbury has high expectations for all its students, and its district values do not change because of where a student resides. The district aims to foster an environment that develops intelligent and open-minded citizens regardless of whether they live in Simsbury or in Hartford.

While there are many benefits to attending Simsbury Public Schools through the Open Choice program, Open Choice students do face a few obstacles. The ride to and from school can be long, especially for very young children, and some staff, faculty members, and parents are not inherently equipped to address diversity concerns or to make personal connections with a diverse student population. Professional development has helped Simsbury in this area.

Financially, it is challenging for Simsbury to continue to accept additional Open Choice students when school budgets are tight. However, the district believes strongly in the importance of an integrated education and will continue its commitment to the program, hoping that it will be more adequately funded in the future.

Over the years, Simsbury has steadily increased its Open Choice enrollment. In 1966, it educated 26 Project Concern students. When the program was renamed in 1998, there were 53 Open Choice students, and today, Simsbury educates 144 Open Choice students.

Most notably, Simsbury was the first school district in Connecticut to implement a preschool program in conjunction with the Open Choice program. It did so in 2012 and believes that bringing children into the school system at a young age will help them become a part of the community.  

Regardless of when Open Choice students arrive in Simsbury, the district’s faculty and staff are there to provide support, helping students find ways to overcome challenges in order to achieve at high levels.

“The most convincing examples of our commitment to quality, integrated education are evidenced by the students who have gone through the system and the dedication of our staff and faculty to provide support,” Curtis said.

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The Capitol Region Education Council was established in 1966 and is celebrating 50 years of academic excellence. Working with and for its member districts, CREC has developed a wide array of cost-effective and high-quality programs and services to meet the educational needs of children and adults in the region. CREC brings five decades of experience in education, regional collaboration, and operations to provide innovative strategies and products that address the changings needs of school districts and their students, corporations, non-profits, and individual professions. CREC regularly serves 36 towns in Greater Hartford, offering more than 120 programs to more than 150,000 students annually. CREC manages more than 35 facilities throughout the area, including 18 interdistrict magnet schools. More information about CREC and CREC’s award-winning schools is available at www.crec.org.

 

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