MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) held a special meeting on Wednesday to hear Manchester School District (MSD) Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt’s presentation on recommendations on the future of MSD’s facilities.
Goldhardt’s plan (see below) looks to re-envision learning spaces within the city, taking old buildings created for outdated educational principles and either replacing them or renovating them to incorporate 21st century best practices.
The largest component of the plan would be consolidation of the city’s three general education high schools into one high school that would have over 3,000 students, comparable to Pinkerton Academy in Derry and likely the largest high school in the state.
This new “Manchester High School” would be built with room to grow in the hopes of attracting students from nearby towns, something Pinkerton has long done. It would also be broken down into internal “academies” where students would have a particular elective focus, after going through an initial “freshman academy” where they could explore options.
On this plan, Goldhardt talked about “economies of scale,” in regard to removing the need to purchase duplicates of things for multiple high schools as well as decreasing convolution in the city’s feeder program from elementary schools and middle schools.
He also told the board that the new high school would have areas celebrating the history of the city’s high schools and it would make Manchester high school athletic teams more competitive given that in many sports, the three schools are now unable to field teams on their own.
Manchester School of Technology or MST, the city’s career and technical education high school would move into the current Manchester Memorial High School as an “MST 2.0” with expanded vocational education options such as a larger aviation program at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. The current MST facility would be used as a pre-school for the city’s special education children, freeing up 21 elementary school classrooms.
In terms of other utilization of current high school space, buildings at Manchester Central High School would become an arts-focused high school, an online high school and home to MSD and BOSC office space. Other buildings at Central would be transformed into parking as well as affordable housing for teachers. Manchester West High School would no longer be used for school purposes, becoming a community center for the West Side.
All of the city’s middle schools would become “magnet schools,” comparable to the academies within the new high school, with parents being able to choose which school they can send their child to, with each school focusing on a particular specialization in addition to general education.
Goldhardt also recommended that Henry Wilson Elementary School and Gossler Park Elementary School be rebuilt, several other elementary schools be renovated, and others become dual-language immersion schools for French and Spanish.
The BOSC applauded the boldness of Goldhardt’s vision, although several members expressed various concerns.
William Shea (Ward 7) expressed concern over where the high school would be built, something Goldhardt declined to speculate upon at Wednesday’s meeting.
Shea also asked how the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA), who have been hostile to other Goldhardt initiatives such as moving fifth graders into the city’s middle schools, would support this vision.
Goldhardt replied that the key would be convincing community leaders and business groups, something Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig asked BOSC members to do moving forward.
James O’Connell (At-Large) felt that additional details would be needed to make sure the plan is successful. Leslie Want (Ward 4) felt that the plan should be pursued with a sense of urgency. Peter Perich (Ward 8) used recent high school renovations in Dover limiting that school district’s budgetary ability for the near future as a cautionary tale. Ben Dion (Ward 9) expressed concerns about losing the traditions inherent in the city’s high schools as well as students feeling lost in such a large school. However, the most concern came from Dr. Nicole Leapley (Ward 11).
Leapley noted as the only member of the BOSC from the West Side on the call, with Kelly Thomas (Ward 12) and Jane Beaulieu (Ward 10) absent that she felt uncomfortable with the proposal for the West High School site. She also felt that the French dual-immersion school should be on the West Side given its French heritage, said she feared there would not be enough resources at just one high school, and was worried about walkability.
However, everyone with concerns, including Leapley, felt that Goldhardt’s presentation was a step in the right direction.
“Everyone agrees that doing nothing is no longer an option,” she said. “There’s a lot here to get excited about and align here to invest. In the past, there’s been hesitancy to invest because of a lack of vision.”
No action was taken on the presentation on Wednesday night. A motion by O’Connell to thank Goldhardt for the plan and use it as a starting point for future deliberations was seen as unnecessary by Craig.