Aldermen oppose Grade 5-8 plan for middle schools

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Manchester’s four middle schools: Parkside in the green area, Hillside in the Blue area, Southside in the purple area and McLaughlin in the grey area. Screen shot/City of Manchester GIS

MANCHESTER, NH – It remains unclear whether all of Manchester’s middle schools will eventually include fifth grade students, but the effort toward that transition hit an obstacle on Tuesday night.

The Board of Aldermen opposed a $2.2 million bond to renovate three middle schools on the east side of the city on a 6-6 vote, falling short of the 10-vote threshold needed to pass bond measures.

This September, Parkside Middle School transitioned into a Grade 5-8 school, with Mayor Joyce Craig noting on Tuesday that all of the city’s middle schools didn’t transition at the same time due to cost restraints.

Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza spearheaded concerns over the proposal, citing mixed messages he’s heard on the reasoning for the move. Although he voiced regret not agreeing with the Board of School Committee on the matter.

“We’re in the honeymoon phase at Parkside, we’re in the first inning,” he said. “It might be a success, but we’re not sure yet.”

Sapienza also said comparisons to Goffstown and their Grade 5-8 model were inappropriate given the different in size and demographics with Manchester.

Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Gillis replied to Sapienza that Goffstown was just a benchmark and all Grade 5-8 schools in the state were examined, but Sapienza was not the only Alderman with concerns.

At-Large Alderman Dan O’Neil toured Parkside with Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry and found that although many fifth-grade students and teachers initially were reticent about the change, approximately three-quarters now liked the new system. However, he has also heard from numerous residents voicing their concerns and urged a delay until more communication can be provided to the community and mistrust of former school boards and administrations could be overcome by residents of the city.

Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt urged the board to support the new bond measure, citing that while he was skeptical at first, he has come to believe the transition is vital for the wellbeing of Manchester’s students.

“This isn’t just about moving students, this is about moving students forward at higher levels,” he said.

According to Goldhardt and Gillis, the primary reason for the reorganization was to help free up classrooms in elementary schools across the city as part of an effort reduce class sizes. The reorganization would be paired moving some teachers between schools and adding more elementary school teachers.

Goldhardt indicated that it would be difficult to provide a uniform curriculum to fifth graders across the city given the different scheduling constraints found between elementary school and middle school educational models, with middle school teachers often being more specialized in comparison to the elementary school counterparts.

Supporters of the move such as Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschman and Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw tried to challenge preconceptions after the proposal, with Hirschmann hoping the transition could take place to help standardize the district’s system across the city and provide quality education to all city residents.

Hirschmann and Shaw joined Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines, Ward 6 Alderman Elizabeth Moreau, Ward 8 Alderman John Cataldo and Ward 7 Alderman William Shea in supporting the motion.

The motion was opposed by O’Neil, Sapienza, Barry, At-Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur, Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh and Ward 11 Alderman Normand Gamache.

Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart and Ward 4 Alderman Christopher Hebert were absent.

Goldhardt informed the board that if the measure failed, further collaboration would be needed to come up with a new plan, although new bond measures possibly being needed to increase elementary school size or even build new elementary schools.

According to information from the New Hampshire Department of Education, there are also Grade 5-8 schools in Allenstown, Alstead, Amherst, Antrim, Barrington, Belmont, Bow, Caanan, Dover, Durham, Gilford, Goffstown, Hampstead, Hopkinton, Lebanon, Litchfield, Moultonborough, New Ipswich, Pembroke, Peterborough, Raymond, Rye, Seabrook and Walpole.


About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.