Candidate profiles: Get to know the 4 nominees for Board of School Committee

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From left, Debra Gagnon Langton, Pat Long, Michael Porter and John Rist.

MANCHESTER, NH – Four candidates were nominated at the Sept. 4 Board of Aldermen meeting to fill the vacancy left by Nancy Tessier, who officially resigned from the Board of School Committee in August, citing medical reasons.

By charter, her seat will be filled by a nominee put forth by the Board of Aldermen. A vote is expected to take place during the Oct. 2 Board of Aldermen meeting.

We asked the four nominees – Debra Gagnon Langton, nominated by Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur; Patrick Long, nominated by Alderman Dan O’Neil; Michael Porter, nominated by John Cataldo; and John Rist, nominated by Kevin Cavanaugh; 10 questions about their views on how they view our city schools, and what ideas they have to move the district forward. Their answers are below.

You can contact your alderman if you would like to weigh in on the vote. Contact information for city aldermen can be found here.


Editor’s Note: The date of the next Board of Aldermen’s meeting has been corrected from an earlier version of this story.


Langton

Debra Gagnon Langton

1) How will you communicate with/make yourself available to constituents on matters of importance to the city and specifically, to your ward?

Email, phone, face to face.  I have an excellent track record of constituent service.

2) What do you consider the greatest strength of Manchester School District?

Its students and staff.

3) What is the one area in need of most improvement within the school district?

Delivery of special education services.

4) How would you rate Superintendent Bolgen Vargas as superintendent, and why?

AWESOME!  His focus is on the students.  He is a fierce advocate for our district.  I am proud to have chaired the committee that brought Dr. Vargas to our district.

5) What is your position on redistricting, and what ideas will you bring to the conversation if elected?

Redistricting is long overdue.  I would support the efforts of the current administration and let the experts lead the way.

6) What is your position on how the district currently handles special education and students who are bussed out of district for services? Is there another way you’d like to see the district handle this area of need to reduce spending and improve outcomes for students?

Improvement and emphasis on delivery of education in the regular setting would go a long way to reducing special education costs and services. With proper interventions in the regular education setting, more students would be able to succeed in the least restrictive environment.  Since his time on the board Dr. Vargas has echoed these thoughts.

7) What fresh ideas do you have to elevate Manchester School District’s perception outside of Manchester?

We need to celebrate the strengths and diversity of our district, put politics aside, and focus on student achievement.

8) What is your opinion of the district’s current math curriculum?

Needs improvement. A district-wide curriculum coordinator would go a long way.

9) Should Manchester initiate a gifted and talented curriculum?

Yes. This and many other curriculums and programs are standard operating procedures in many if not most districts surrounding Manchester.  Unfortunately, budget constraints have limited Manchester’s scope in this area, which is why I have always advocated for proper funding of our schools.

10) How should the district improve outreach to all students prior to graduation to make sure that they are aware of options including tech school, internships, college prep and for-credit courses, community college, AmeriCorps, and other ways to reduce their post-high school debt while improving their occupational outcomes?

Simply put, proper funding and staffing improvements in our guidance departments would certainly point us in the right direction.  Our guidance staff has been continually asked to do more with less and are part of a team of true heroes that need our support so that all students can properly access your above mentioned options.


Long

Patrick Long

1) How will you communicate with/make yourself available to constituents on matters of importance to the city and specifically, to your ward?

Currently serving as a State Representative and a former Alderman for 10 years, I’ve never heard complaints of anyone trying to reach me. I’m proud of my record of accessibility. I feel it’s imperative to remain in communication with all Manchester residents. Having those discussions enables me to govern with their concerns in mind.  Pat Long: 603 668-1037  EMAIL: long55@comcast.net

2) What do you consider the greatest strength of Manchester School District?

Manchester’s School District’s greatest strength in my opinion is first and foremost our paraprofessionals and teachers, when given the opportunity to work with them or have a conversation their dedication and attitude to the best interest of our student become clear. Also, the support of the Manchester community. Both financially and through volunteerism, our district continues to be recognized for its benefit to our students. The business, college and university systems have stamped their dedication to Manchester Students for years.

Parent and civic organizations along with individual residents also continue to have a positive impact on our students.

One example is “Manchester Proud” which I’ve committed to supporting in any capacity they need me in.

3) What is the one area in need of most improvement within the school district?

Communication between the two boards (BoSC & BoMA) is an essential component in creating good policy.

Also, the Board of School Committee should debate policies without personalities being thrown in the mix.

I’m of the opinion that all committee members deserve the respect of being elected by their constituents and that their input should be respected, whether I agree with them or not.

I also feel strongly about assuring that each student is given the benefit in opportunities to excel. Teachers recognize when a student may be experiencing difficulty in their outside-of-school life that often create barriers in their educational process. Programs ought to be in place to address this, insuring we’re presenting every student with every opportunity to excel. This also includes student who are able to excel at quicker rates than their peers.

This is the only time in their life where professionals are paid to deliver in their best interest!

4) How would you rate Superintendent Bolgen Vargas as superintendent, and why?

In the two years Dr. Vargas has been our Superintendent I sense his commitment to delivering for our students. In meetings I’ve had with him, his messaging and curriculum has not wavered. Public perception or political pressure has not changed what he believes is necessary in bringing the school district tops in the state. Has he‘s shown in his redistricting plan and in staying vigilant with assuring every student is given every opportunity to thrive in their school.  I find his drive for ideas and non-wavering principals a breath of fresh air.

5) What is your position on redistricting, and what ideas will you bring to the conversation if elected?

It’s important to review all schools needs for classroom space and those that have classroom space available. I agree that lower classroom size is important in delivering a better education to our students. I also agree that an efficient use of space throughout the district can reduce added cost to the district, reallocating that savings to either hiring teachers and/or implementing necessary programs. The savings may not be immediate, however, it’s important to think and set policy that still works beyond our election cycles of two years. Parent input is imperative for bringing these cultural changes to a positive resolution.

6) What is your position on how the district currently handles special education and students who are bussed out of district for services? Is there another way you’d like to see the district handle this area of need to reduce spending and improve outcomes for students?

Manchester has the capability in setting up programs that would attract students from sending towns. I believe setting up these special-needs programs would help in meeting our financial needs.  I would suggest that the district continue looking at improving outcomes as a priority, reducing spending should be the secondary goal.  Once we have identified what improvements would benefit students then we can inquire about the funding.  All too often we put ourselves in a box and don’t consider what may be outside that box.

7) What fresh ideas do you have to elevate Manchester School District’s perception outside of Manchester?

On several occasions I’ve had the opportunity to speak with families moving out of Manchester, when I’d ask for specifics, often times they can’t identify in detail what that reason would be. The good thing is often times it’s the perception not the reality. I would encourage people when speaking to family and friends outside of Manchester to promote the good our school district accomplishes and how your children have excelled within it. Sure there are challenges we face, however, with respectful and productive debate on these challenges through school committee meetings and from our administration and teachers we can begin to diminish this perception.

8) What is your opinion of the district’s current math curriculum?

The only discussions on math curriculum I’ve encountered are at the state level. I know that the NHDOE and the Education Committee are currently focused on this. If the Board of School Committee and/or the Administration is having these conversations, I would be capable of getting updated.

9) Should Manchester initiate a gifted and talented curriculum?

Yes! My response to Question 3 would be the same. Our district should be looking and identifying area’s where we could enhance every student’s learning experience.

10) How should the district improve outreach to all students prior to graduation to make sure that they are aware of options including tech school, internships, college prep and for-credit courses, community college, AmeriCorps, and other ways to reduce their post-high school debt while improving their occupational outcomes?

This should begin in middle school – not all students are aware of what direction they would want to go in. However, it would be easier working with those students who do know what direction of interest they have, by engaging them for as many years as possible. For those who identify their interest later, a more comprehensive communication model can help in making it clearer in what goals they need to attain.

There are also several other areas of post-high school directions available, such as building trades apprenticeships.


Porter

Michael Porter

1) How will you communicate with/make yourself available to constituents on matters of importance to the city and specifically, to your ward?

I would communicate by joining Aldermen and School Board members when they host open forums in their local wards. Ward 8 has had a few sessions hosted by Alderman Cataldo and School Committeeman Lehoux. These forums allow for open communication between elected officials and constituents. The forums allow for a one on one dialogue as compared to a three-minute speech during public comment.

2) What do you consider the greatest strength of Manchester School District?

I consider the greatest strength of the Manchester School District to be resilience. What I mean by resilience is when the Manchester School District is denigrated from the outside, Manchester rises up to prove the naysayers wrong.

3) What is the one area in need of most improvement within the school district?

Technology. Manchester is being outpaced by surrounding towns when it comes to technology. If teachers don’t have access to upgraded technology they can’t be expected to complete their jobs sufficiently or efficiently.

In addition to technology, basic day-to-day supplies. We tend to focus on the big money items, but there comes a point when we can no longer rely on teachers to teach without providing them with the basic supplies for classrooms. We hear a lot of debate about salaries, benefits, and other wants, but we tend to forget about the needs. We need to figure out a way to provide the teachers with day-to-day necessities which in turn would reduce the financial stress on the teachers.

4) How would you rate Superintendent Bolgen Vargas as superintendent, and why?

On a scale of 1-10 I would rate Doctor Vargas a 9. Nobody is perfect. I find Dr. Vargas has a vision for the future of this district beyond what many past Superintendents have provided. Dr. Vargas is not afraid to bring forward new initiatives but when he does, he has certainly conducted his research.

5) What is your position on redistricting, and what ideas will you bring to the conversation if elected?

My position on redistricting has always been clear: I supported it and continue to do so. I was one of four people to speak at the April 2018 budget hearing. Here is an exact quote from the Union Leader:

Ward 8 resident Mike Porter spoke in favor of funding the redistricting plan approved by the school board Monday night.

“I’m here to implore upon this board to look at the number of years it took to get where they’re at,” said Porter. “Dr. Vargas has brought a new vision to the city. One of the things he talked about is planning for the future, about getting the schools to where they need to be. I’m really here to support what the mayor and Dr. Vargas have worked on, and I ask the board to take a long look at it and provide the funding.” Union Leader, April 10, 2018.

 As a parent I spent many evenings attending redistricting meetings to ensure I was informed and had a voice. While I did not always agree with the methodology I was always proud to be a part of the process which finally came to fruition this year.

If nominated and appointed I would continue to look at ways to improve the current redistricting plan. If we accept a plan and allow it to lay dormant, we will return to the very situation we faced the past 10 plus years.   We can’t wait for a problem to arise as the solution will take just as long to solve. We have to view redistricting as a fluid concept and make adjustments as they come.

6) What is your position on how the district currently handles special education and students who are bussed out of district for services? Is there another way you’d like to see the district handle this area of need to reduce spending and improve outcomes for students?

Special education is a topic constantly evolving. When you look at special education laws you will find a lot of fluidity. It is impossible to have a rigid standard because not every student or service fits into one standard. Special education is an evolving area which requires flexibility to meet the various needs throughout the district.

7) What fresh ideas do you have to elevate Manchester School District’s perception outside of Manchester?

Continue to work on changing the dialogue from rating a school system by the number of students attending college. We need to continue evolving from the cookie cutter one size fits all mentality. Continuing to address Vocational and Trade schools to encourage all students to achieve their goals is imperative. Manchester has a unique opportunity with innovational companies setting up shop in the City. Velcro has stepped up to the plate big time and I believe Manchester will be a model for many other districts in the future.

8) What is your opinion of the district’s current math curriculum?

I am not 100 percent familiar with the entire district wide math curriculum. What I can say is having children in the 2nd and 6th grade currently, my wife and I are involved with the schools and work with the teachers to ensure the lessons learned in the classroom are carried out in the home.

9) Should Manchester initiate a gifted and talented curriculum?

Yes! I believe Manchester should absolutely initiate a one of its kind state of the art gifted and talented curriculum. My understanding is this issue has been discussed unfortunately I am not aware whether a program has been implemented. In a district the size of Manchester, a gifted and talented program would provide a unique opportunity for children who have yet to reach their full potential.

10) How should the district improve outreach to all students prior to graduation to make sure that they are aware of options including tech school, internships, college prep and for-credit courses, community college, AmeriCorps, and other ways to reduce their post-high school debt while improving their occupational outcomes?

Manchester has made great strides over the past few years improving the communication of educational opportunities other than college. We see many young men and women entering the Armed Forces and representing this great country with pride. We see a shift from the past mindset that college is the end all be all. We have seen Job Corps move into the city and offer troubled youth the opportunity to earn an education while at the same time learning a valuable trade which in turn allows these children / young adults the opportunity to leave Job Corps with an Associate Degree and a job skill simultaneously.


Rist

John Rist

1) How will you communicate with/make yourself available to constituents on matters of importance to the city and specifically, to your ward?

This position is at-large and I will be available to any student, parent, teacher or administrator via phone or email. I will visit every school within the district and interview each principal to comprehend the challenges each school faces locally and as part of the District. I will be available to attend occasional faculty meetings if invited and community meetings with constituents as requested. I pledge to attend as many ‘celebrations of success’ at all the schools as I possibly can.

2) What do you consider the greatest strength of Manchester School District?

The dedication of the Manchester public school teachers. Nothing that is truly meaningful happens outside of the classroom. The diversity of the district is a strength: We look like America. We prepare our kids for the real world.

3) What is the one area in need of most improvement within the school district?

Maintaining and continuing to improve the quality of the educational process is most important. We need to focus on every student to ensure that they are given the best opportunity for success.

Certainly, the most immediate need is for an end to the standoff between the City and the Teachers on contract negotiations. Teachers are currently without a contract. It is critical to reengage with the Teachers’ Union and complete discussions leading to a contract.

4) How would you rate Superintendent Bolgen Vargas as superintendent, and why?

I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Vargas last fall and was impressed with the similarity of his educational philosophy with my own. He continually spoke of the challenge of meeting the needs of all the children especially those with various disadvantages or socio-economic struggles. No superintendent, administrator, teacher or coach is without their critics. I look forward to working with the Superintendent to and advocate for the students in Manchester.

5) What is your position on redistricting, and what ideas will you bring to the conversation if elected?

Redistricting should only be examined to maintain appropriate class sizes within each District school. Smaller class sizes enhance the educational success of all students. Once those ratios exceed proper levels within a school then redistricting should be examined. I am opposed to the closure of Manchester High School West.

We want to keep ‘the neighborhood school’ for every child as long as we can.

6) What is your position on how the district currently handles special education and students who are bussed out of district for services? Is there another way you’d like to see the district handle this area of need to reduce spending and improve outcomes for students?

The needs of some students exceed the capability of the district to provide the suitable services. Certainly, whenever possible, the District should make every effort to keep the student within the local schools. Maintaining special needs children within their local community provides the best educational experience. Simply better for the child and their parents.

As Principal at West High, I had experience with the autism program there and know that in-house/district services can be effective and keep resources within the local system.

7) What fresh ideas do you have to elevate Manchester School District’s perception outside of Manchester?

The perception outside of Manchester is important but the perception of the schools within Manchester is critical. We’re here to serve the children of Manchester residents and our real only duty is to those students, the parents and taxpayers. Continued success educating our students is the best possible way to enhance the perception outside of Manchester. Highlighting the extraordinary variety of student successes we see at every school will assist in a public relations campaign. The continued outreach to industry to sponsor co-curricular programs is essential. Advisory committees of stakeholders would bring forth new ideas and verify the current methodology.

8) What is your opinion of the district’s current math curriculum?

My opinion of the math curriculum is only based on the experience from Central High School. The math department attempted to coordinate the attained competencies with sending middle schools to provide acceleration into the higher and more challenging math courses. STEM is the key component of innovation and Manchester needs to continue to support those subject areas. My interviews with graduates of Central High during and after they graduated college were very positive and most students felt well prepared for the rigors of a STEM dominated program or career.

9) Should Manchester initiate a gifted and talented curriculum?

Continued Advanced Placement Courses at the secondary level need to be expanded. Additional funding and financial support for these programs would be my priority. Students from these classes perform better at postsecondary schools and can bypass required courses while at college if they do well in the AP testing.

Offerings that are rigorous and challenging need to be developed for the middle schools. The intellectual curiosity of middle school students can greatly differ. Students craving more challenging academic work need to be accommodated with new and innovative curriculum.

10) How should the district improve outreach to all students prior to graduation to make sure that they are aware of options including tech school, internships, college prep and for-credit courses, community college, AmeriCorps, and other ways to reduce their post-high school debt while improving their occupational outcomes?

There are numerous prospects for partnerships with the Community College system, the University System of New Hampshire, SNHU and the many colleges that offer online courses. Much of this is within the realm of Guidance Departments. Quality guidance will enhance each graduate’s understanding of available opportunities.

Every effort should be made to recruit students for specific and specialized vocational training in the areas available at MST. The various trades have a documented need for mechanics and technicians in many occupations.

Programs such as Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO) and My Turn should expand to allow for increase enrollment and participation.

Employability skills for students is essential. Our children need to be employable when they walk across the stage and pick up the diploma. Many of our students will not have an opportunity for postsecondary school and need to take their place within our community with a solid employment capability. Most of those students will remain in the City.

 

About Carol Robidoux 6007 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!