Letter: Sullivan is Wrong for Our Schools

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The following is a letter to the editor from Candace Moulton.

When I read Mrs. Sullivan’s most recent email, in which she categorized her plan for education, I was concerned, because her ideas would cause more harm than good, and she places blame where it doesn’t belong.

Mrs. Sullivan’s verbatim statements are in italics.

While many other school districts in New Hampshire and around the country quickly and safely reopened, Manchester lagged behind. This lack of adaptability caused parents to explore alternatives, which was only precipitated by increasingly awful test scores and outcomes from the school district over Mayor Joyce Craig’s tenure.

The decisions on when and how to reopen were made by the superintendent, not the mayor, and were in accordance with recommendations from the CDC and the governor. While none of us is happy that we had to face a pandemic, we didn’t have a choice in the matter, and we did the best we could with the information we had at the time. I do not fault Superintendent Goldhardt for his decisions. I believe they were wise.

Regarding her plan for the school district, she states:

  • Promote school choice in all ways possible. Charter schools, online schools, learning pods, homeschool communities, private schools – they all provide valuable diversity in education. 

People are free to make whatever choice they would like regarding the education of their children. They are not, however, free to use public funds for private use. We need to consider who would be left behind when vouchers are used: it would be the children who stay in the public school system. A significant amount of money would be siphoned from the district via the vouchers which would make it even more difficult to give the students the education they deserve. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too: in this case, you can’t complain about school performance and then advocate for defunding the schools.

  • Provide tax credits for families to send their children to the school they desire.

Maybe I’m misinformed, but I am not aware of mayors being able to give out tax credits.

  • Task the school board with an action plan to address the decline of district performance. Under Mayor Craig’s leadership, the numbers have simply gone down. 

I contacted the school district to fact-check this statement. At this time, they do not have the numbers regarding school performance in reading and math for this year. They might have it later this month, but it might take until June. As such, I am not sure where Mrs. Sullivan is getting the data from which she is drawing this conclusion. I will evaluate the numbers and trends once they are provided to me, but I recall the school performances increasing prior to COVID. When evaluating the data, we need to keep in mind that COVID upset norms across the country. Many students nationwide had difficulties learning remotely. The MSD is not unique. I anticipate numbers to decrease, but that is not the direct fault of the district.

I believe the school district has done everything within its ability to excel during COVID. As mentioned earlier, some students could learn well remotely, but many could not. My younger son was one of them. He suffered while trying to learn remotely, falling significantly behind in reading (although he was ahead of his peers in math). The school (and we as his parents) recognized his difficulties and took action. My son was evaluated medically. A 504 was developed to assist him, he received tutoring and Title I services, and he was allowed to return to school full-time due to his learning needs. It made a significant difference. The child who once hated – and even feared – reading is reading independently, enjoying it, and is nearly caught up with his peers. This would not have been able to be accomplished if it weren’t for the dedicated staff at his school. I am extremely grateful for their efforts. Their work made a difference. We cannot expect schools to meet – or exceed – performance standards while advocating for defunding them and decreasing staff; however, these are part of Mrs. Sullivan’s plan.

  • Implement cost-saving measures, such as making the school district a department of the city and reducing non-teaching staff to align with decreased enrollment. 

This was tried before, and it failed. Why should we waste money on something that we know doesn’t work? As it is, we don’t have enough educators and supportive personnel. Taking away more resources won’t help students get what they need; it will simply tie the hands of the district even tighter than they already are. I’m not sure how she would expect the district to do well under the conditions of less funding and fewer staff.

Sullivan’s plan is extreme and would cause harm to our schools. Superintendent Goldhardt is doing an excellent job. COVID happened. None of us wanted it. It was difficult for the entire nation (and world). It’s still an ongoing problem, although it’s getting significantly better. We can’t blame the district for problems that are outside its control. I applaud the efforts of all the staff and educators; they’ve worked long hours under difficult conditions because they love the students.

What we need to do instead:

  • Adequately fund our schools. Mayor Joyce Craig is having the school district join the ConVal lawsuit, which is perfect. Proper funding will give us the help we need.
  • Have the right amount of staff to fit the needs of each school.
  • Have a contract that meets the needs of the educators and supportive personnel, as this retains staff.
  • Follow COVID guidelines. They will change as the situation changes, but compliance is critical to ensure no outbreaks.

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Candace is a registered nurse and a mom of a teenager and an eight-year-old. She ran for State Representative in 2018 and 2020, as well as for School Board Ward 9 in 2019. She cares very much about making her community a safe and loving place to be.