It’s been over four decades since school districts in southeastern Connecticut established LEARN, a Regional Education Service Center, in 1967.
But, after 45 years of operation, this Old Lyme-based educational organization still runs strong, servicing 18,000 students across 25 towns in New London and Middlesex Counties.
“We were created by the school districts, but we are considered a school district ourselves,” said Virginia Seccombe, executive director of LEARN.
What is LEARN?
While not a state agency, LEARN operates multiple magnet schools in New London, Waterford and East Hartford. It is one of six regional education service centers in the state, with others being Education Connection in Litchfield County and the Capitol Region Education Council in the Hartford area.
While LEARN runs its own schools, it also provides specific, collaborative resources for other school districts. Seccombe said one school district could pair up with another school district if, for example, they both had a single hearing impared student who needed specialized attention.
“They call us up, and we create a program in which we bring the students together,” she said. “So we could provide a service in a regular school setting for that child.”
Magnet Schools and the Lottery System
Each student who wishes to attend one of the five magnet schools — The Friendship School, Multicultural Magnet School, Dual Language & Arts Magnet School, Marine Science Magnet High School and Connecticut River Academy — is admitted based on a lottery system, Seccombe said.
But the magnet schools themselves are the product of the school districts. While there are certain special education programs for needy students, the magnet schools also provide alternative learning settings that hone in on different skills, Seccombe explained.
And the schools aren’t small. Multicultural Magnet in New London has 520 enrolled students from 12 towns, while 520 students attend The Friendship School, she said. Each school has its own building — and in the Connecticut River Academy case, shares land with Goodwin College — and construction is paid for 100 percent by the state, Seccombe said.
For years, LEARN has operated programs for special education students in the Old Lyme School system. One of the members of LEARN’s governing board is an elected Board of Education member from all the 25 districts, including Old Lyme.