BOSC gives near unanimous approval to high school catalog, signaling de-leveling support

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(l to r) Ken Tassey Jr., Jason Bonilla. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, N.H. – After last week’s split Teaching and Learning Committee recommendation, Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) was nearly unanimous in its support of the 2023-24 Manchester School District High School Course Catalog on Monday night.

Attention to the catalog focused on its implementation of a policy passed by the BOSC in 2021 seeking “de-leveling,” which would merge remedial classes with other general aptitude level classes while maintaining advanced placement classes. The primary purpose of this comes due to concerns that minority students are often pressured into lower-level classes and not given access to advanced placement classes, limiting access to equitable education opportunities.

Several minority students testified to that fact that the beginning of the meeting, stating that they were either made to feel out of place in advanced placement classes or there was a lack of information regarding opportunities available to them.

Manchester West High School Principal Richard Dichard, Manchester Central High School Principal Deb Roukey and Manchester Memorial High School Principal Shaun St. Onge reiterated statements regarding the main opposition to incorporating de-leveling into the course catalog: a lack of differentiated instruction professional development for the district’s teachers.

The concept of differentiated instruction is critical to successfully de-levelled classes, as it addresses that the classes may include students learning at different speeds from each other. The three principals said they would do what’s needed to help their teachers become more comfortable with differentiated instrustruction methods and said many teachers in the district already use those methods and are willing to support their peers as well. Earlier in the meeting, the BOSC also approved transferring money for professional development funding into differentiated instruction for teachers in the future.

Dichard called the decision perhaps the most important in his 17 years as a principal and said voting against this would be a vote against implementing learning expectations for all students as well as access to educational equity, especially for minority students.

From left, Shaun St. Onge, Deb Roukey, and Richard Dichard. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Feelings on the board were equally as strong. Ward 4 BOSC Member Leslie Want referenced the fact that de-leveling is already district policy, and if it was not followed here, it would be difficult to be anyone to follow district policies in the future. Ward 5 BOSC Member Jason Bonilla said that anyone that voted in opposition could not truly say they supported all students given the data showing the adverse impact of levelling to minority students. Ward 7 BOSC Member Chris Potter compared those asking for more time for teachers to become comfortable with differentiated instruction concepts to a letter written by Martin Luther King Jr. responding to preachers that sought more time before addressing racial discrimination.

At-Large BOSC Members Peter Argeropoulos and Jim O’Connell as well as Ward 11 BOSC Member Nicole Leapley and Ward 12 BOSC Member Carlos Gonzalez and Ward 3 BOSC Member Karen Soule also spoke unequivocally in support of approving the catalog.

Ward 8 BOSC Member Peter Perich said he was potentially concerned for students who may leave the district after feeling unchallenged by non-advanced placement classes but might not be ready for advanced placement classes. However, he said his concerns were placated by the statements of the principals.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig also confirmed with administrators at the meeting that the amount of higher-level classes would be comparable or higher to previous years, which she felt could draw students into the district.

Ward 9 BOSC Member Ben Dion, who voted against recommending the catalog in committee last week, said his concerns were also largely addressed, although he stated that he hopes to see reduced class sizes to ensure success for struggling students. Assistant Superintendent Amy Allen responded that students that were identified as testing below grade level in certain subjects would be placed in smaller classes, but not segregated from students of different skill levels.

Superintendent Dr. Jenn Gillis also noted that while levels would be removed, different subject pathways in areas such as math would also provide additional opportunities for students.

Gillis also said that the implementation of de-leveling in the course catalog helps remove an issue that has been at the center of civil rights lawsuits against the district known as “tracking,” where students are forced into a certain educational track based on past performance.

The only vote in opposition to the catalog came from Ward 6 BOSC Member Ken Tassey Jr., who stated concern he had heard from constituents regarding the issue and felt an obligation to represent their interests.

Tassey also took umbrage with Potter’s comments regarding Martin Luther King Jr., stating that he has biracial children and has worked as a civil rights advocate in the past.

There were no abstentions or absences during the roll call vote to approve the catalog.

In response to a question from Ward 10 BOSC Member Gary Hamer, Dichard said that students should be ready to pick classes for the upcoming school year by February vacation, something Dichard felt would help with students meeting graduation requirements as well as increasing school efficiency.

Gillis added her concern over the comments from the students earlier in the meeting and said that efforts would be made to increase communication between teachers and students regarding educational opportunities. She also said that constant and proactive communication with parents and students would also be necessary to ensure the success of deleveling efforts and that class offerings could be modified in the future depending on student interest.


 

About this Author

andrewsylvia

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.