Superintendent Updates

Groton Public Schools June 2021 UPDATE from Superintendent Austin and Assistant Superintendent Piazza


Superintendent Austin’s Message: Thank you to our Groton Board of Education for their steadfast commitment to all of us, our schools, and our community. They volunteer countless hours in any normal year, however this year the count is exponential. With the pandemic and the many changes that occurred throughout the year, too many to count, and the transition from Dr. Graner to me at the helm, to producing a 0% budget, building two new elementary schools, and opening one new Groton Middle School, their responsibilities to our community and to us were enormous. I can’t thank them enough for their support of me as I’ve navigated this journey in the most careful way, always looking out for everyone’s health, safety, and well-being. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to our board, to this community, and to the GPS faculty and staff, as well as our students and families.

One of our top priorities is to share the Safe Return to Schools Plan with all of you and our community at large. As you are aware, we have brought together a district advisory committee that has reviewed and revised plans, and Dr. Philip Piazza will share those plans with the Board of Education on Monday, June 21, 2021 and subsequently posted on the GPS website, per the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE). The additional Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief funds (ARP ESSER) will be used to support our work post-COVID-19 through September 2024. Part of our responsibility is to share this plan with the wider community as well. The CSDE highlights the ARP ESSER funds’ purpose as, “Advancing equity and access in education for students in Connecticut remain top priorities. Resources must focus on academic supports and recovery to accelerate learning for our students, particularly those disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”

In reflecting on the past year, actually the past fifteen months, I think about how we got through a world-wide pandemic together. Last March, we went out and prepared for asynchronous remote learning on one professional development day, followed by Wednesdays where administrators, teachers, and staff spent time collaborating with one another to make sure students had everything they needed. Those initial plans in 2020 were Survival plans, with our motto Go Slow and Grow. Hundreds of educators and staff worked during the summer in 2020 to prepare for the return to school. Next we started the new school year with plans to Thrive, and the motto Progress over Perfection. Teaching and learning in a Hybrid model was the ultimate challenge, and I applaud you for your dedication, hard work, and true grit as you kept your students as the primary focus.  “Surviving means that you have come through the catastrophe but you’re still relatively intact,” the basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told graduates at Washington University in St. Louis. “Thriving is about learning and growing as a result of the event . . .” and in our case this relates to the year of the Pandemic.

As we wrap up the FY 21 school year, I applaud your perseverance and dedication to your students, and admire your commitment this summer, preparing to teach summer school and summer camps, tutor students, and work together on curriculum to continue your learning with professional development. As we prepare again to safely return to school for 2021-2022 in the fall, we are now called to Transform, with a new motto from our friend Cornelius Minor, Back to Better than Normal. We look forward to taking those silver linings and golden nuggets, the lessons learned and best practices, as we Reimagine Schools to Transform Students' Lives.

Congratulations GMS Class of 2021, FHS Class of 2025:  Thank you to the Groton Board of Education, the Groton community, Dr. Michael Graner, Groton Middle School Administration, faculty, staff, but most importantly, thank you to our students and families for your dedication and perseverance through these challenging times. Groton Middle School promoted its first eighth grade class on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. My message to the students was this:

“As I stand before you today and look out over the top of Fort Hill, I see what Groton 2020 has accomplished. Our community came together to build one new middle school next to FHS, an International Baccalaureate campus. You are part of history eighth graders as you led the way and opened the doors to the new school with your teachers, administrators and the staff of GMS.  You made new friends as we brought WSMS and CMS together and you paved the way for generations to come. I am Groton-Proud of this accomplishment and your triumphs.

Last fall, we brought your seventh grade class together to give you the virtual tour of the new middle school with the architects, and you were amazed by the renderings. Many of you participated in the creation of a STEAM garden and got to tour the actual building. Attending a STEAM middle school, you have become scientists, technicians, engineers, artists and musicians, mathematicians, linguists, and health and fitness experts. But there is more to this journey as you move on to high school. At FHS you will have the opportunity to continue nurturing your proclivities and passions, what you are good at and what you love to do! There will be many new things you can try out, clubs, band, orchestra, chorus, sports teams, career pathways, IB/AP, UCONN credit, while continuing to expand your circle of friends.”

Congratulations to the Fitch High School Seniors who graduated Friday night 6/18:  When I have the privilege to stand before the Class of 2021, part of my message to them will be, “These past couple of years have been about overcoming adversity, climbing mountains, while building lifelong friendships, your graduation is a victory!”  I will stand before them and say we are all so proud of you, the FHS class of 2021, Congratulations on your victory! With the pandemic ever-present, it will not derail plans for the class of 2021 to have an in-person graduation. We are able to have your loved ones with us and livestream to others who may be far away.

One of my favorite graduation messages comes from John Legend to the class of ’21 at Duke University: Live and Lead Your Lives with Love, “When you feel lost in this tangled web of problems, know that in truth, the way out of it is simple. It’s LOVE.  Love should be your North Star. Let it guide you. Think about what it actually means to let yourself feel and show love for your neighbors. It means being curious about their lives. Genuinely wanting the best for them. Investing in their success.” 

Bright New Beginnings are at hand as you Reach for the Stars and Touch Every Heart!


Susan L. Austin


Groton Public Schools


ARP ESSER Advisory Committee met June 10, 2021: Over 20 members of the committee, from across the district, serving many roles, attended a meeting to get information about the American Relief Plan for Elementary and Secondary Schools. CAPSS ESSER facilitator Dr. Betty Feser joined Superintendent Austin to brief the committee about their role as an advisory team. Groton Public Schools is responsible for sending CSDE their Safe Return to School Plan by June 23rd. The committee was able to give feedback and assisted in making improvements. The committee reviewed the history of ESSER and funding to GPS, the purpose of the grant, and the priorities (see attached slide show). The Connecticut State Department of Education highlights the purpose of the grant, “Advancing equity and access in education for students in Connecticut remain top priorities. Resources must focus on academic supports and recovery to accelerate learning for our students, particularly those disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”

State Level ESSER Priorities:

  • Learning acceleration, academic renewal, and student enrichment: advancing equity and access in education for students in Connecticut remain top priorities
  • Family and community connections: the complex issues brought about by the pandemic have made it clear that the success of schools, families, and communities are interdependent and all have a stake in students’ well-being
  • Social, emotional, and mental health of the students and of our school staff: the school community experience during the pandemic has been one of collective challenge and trauma
  • Strategic use of technology, staff development, and the digital divide: applying what we have learned during the pandemic requires careful consideration of the importance of student access to in-person learning and enrichment balanced with the strategic use of technology
  • Building safe and healthy schools: ensuring our school buildings are safe and healthy environments that enable all of our students to excel

Signs of Summer at Eastern Point Beach:  The beach concession opened on Saturday, June 19, 2021, as an extension of Groton Public Schools Food Services Department and operated by Ernie Koschmieder. FHS students and alumni, along with food services staff, will operate the stand. Get ready for those foot-long hotdogs, burgers, chowder, and soft serve ice-cream. 

IB CP Authorization: We just learned that our application for our International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme has been authorized.  Thank you to Anne Keefe-Forbotnick and Shelly O’Neal-Kegler for all their hard work in bringing this to fruition.

Transfinder Audit Report Update:  The following are highlights of efficiencies and needs for a two-tier bus system:

  1. ALL Elementary Magnet Schools will have more students riding on buses outside their districted school areas next year. There is a need for efficient routing so students are on buses within acceptable times. There is also a need to have enough time between bus runs to get students to and from school on time.
  2. Secondary International Baccalaureate Campus with FHS and GMS will establish the first bus tier, with students riding together from their neighborhoods to the schools. There will be specific safeguards in place (i.e. MS students sit in front, HS students sit in back, new Transfinder camera system that can be instantly utilized by administration if a problem occurs, no more than 2 students to a seat at the secondary level).
  3. Transfinder report shows underutilization of buses, not only this year, but in years past. There are potential cost savings with the number of buses and the fuel use.
  4. Current monitoring of arrival and departure times at FHS and GMS, as well as studying potential bus pathways from FHS to GMS.
  5. Meeting with administration at the schools and central office to determine best solutions for student safety and time efficiencies.


Assistant Superintendent Piazza’s Message

As the school year ends I’d like to first congratulate our Fitch High School graduates on their important milestone and wish them luck as they move on to their next chapter. District-wide, all of our BOE members, school administrators, teachers, students and families should take pride in the work that has been completed during this difficult and unprecedented time. As a new member to the Groton team, I have used the past two months to meet many of the community stakeholders, learn about the outstanding programs being offered within the district, marvel at the achievements of our students and staff, and begin planning for the future. It is truly an exciting time to be a part of the Groton School Community as we continue to strengthen our high school through NEASC accreditation, move forward with our programs to build a strong International Baccalaureate campus with GMS and Fitch, and open Mystic River and Thames River Elementary Schools to form our elementary magnet school program. All of these initiatives are a result of a community which puts students at the center, a Board who puts students and educators at the forefront of all their decisions, and a faculty who understands the importance of building strong relationships with their students and families. The 2021-2022 school year will be another positive step forward for the community of Groton – enjoy your summer!