Author’s note: This article is the first in a series of articles concerning education in Manchester.
MANCHESTER, NH — When a person unfamiliar with the building first attempts to enter West High School from either South Main Street or Notre Dame Avenue, they are first struck by an innumerable series of locked doors. There is only one door open to visitors; it is not clearly marked. Inside, a receptionist awaits behind a desk, ready to hand out visitor stickers. Inside, the school resembles the campus of a community college rather than a traditional high school. The floors are remarkably clean. Vending machines stand about, ready with water and soda. Homemade banners asking people to respect the environment are seen here and there, reflecting the passions and concerns of students in attendance.
The high school’s offices are clean and orderly. Knowledgeable, friendly staff can be seen going about their business during school hours, all of whom are happy to answer questions and provide whatever assistance may be needed. Despite the slush and ice that covered the ground during the day of my interview at the school, the sidewalks outside were easily navigable. Every effort was made to make visiting as easy as possible.
Richard Dichard serves as principal of West High School, a position he has held since August of 2016. Dichard, who previously served as an assistant principal at the high school before becoming the principal himself, completed his master’s of education degree at Rivier College of Nashua in 2005.
At first glance, Dichard does not appear to me to “look” like a principal, nor does he act like one. While he normally dresses in a suit and tie, he is both approachable and friendly. He does not hold himself at a distance from students or staff. He prefers a hands-on individual approach rather than interacting from afar. When he speaks, he is verbose with a high level of diction. Above all else, he is an excellent communicator.
Dichard’s job at West High School is by no means easy. A variety of different students from different backgrounds come to school each day. There are students experiencing difficult socio-economic circumstances, such as homelessness. Dichard does his best — along with the rest of the staff of West High School — to connect students with services outside of school. Addressing a student’s challenges during school hours is not enough; addressing the challenges they face outside of school hours is also necessary to ensure success.
The school utilizes Manchester Academic Standards to guide their academic instruction. West High School makes use of what is called Inquiry-Based Learning. Rather than the traditional methods of having facts shoved at them, students instead learn things in their own way through personal investigation. Facilitators of this process are called Lead Learners, rather than teachers. As opposed to rote memorization, which only teaches students how to regurgitate information which will soon be forgotten, Inquiry-Based Learning aims to establish long-term retention and critical thinking instead.
In a world that is constantly changing and shifting, thinking inside the box no longer works. Creativity and collaboration matter more than simply obeying whatever orders may happen to come along. Ethics and morals are stressed at the high school as well. Each student, so the hope goes, is meant to participate in America’s democracy by being exemplary citizens.
They do this by following Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which include:
- Be Proactive
- Begin with the End in Mind
- First Things First
- Think Win-Win
- Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood
- Sharpen the Saw
When it comes to the school budget, the school has seen a decrease in staff over the last 10 years from 211 (2006-2007) to 114 (2016-2017). During that period, the city’s budget allocation has risen steadily every year. While West High School is not the only public school in Manchester, there is no sense within the school that any staff member or administrator is simply taking public money for themselves in the form of a high, exorbitant salary while offering nothing to the student body in return.
Rather, Principal Dichard expressed that still more funding is required; he hopes an organization called Manchester Proud will be able to assist the school with this.
Dichard also admitted that there is room for increased efficiency in the school. Education, according to him, is a process. It will take time to achieve the optimum environment for all involved. Having a patient mindset is necessary, for all change is difficult. No educator, not even one as experienced as Principal Dichard, is excellent.
Nevertheless, every staff member, every teacher, and every administrator at the school is trying their best to ensure the students in attendance matriculate into intelligent, responsible adults. This is not always a smooth process, nor an easy one. Yet it is one which has thus far received unfailing dedication and devotion from everyone at West High School.