O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
The day before Dr. Vargas left the district he invited me to have lunch with him. During our conversation, he asked if I had reached out to Manchester Proud to discuss with them the ideas I have been floating around with him while I have been on the board; I told him I had not. At the request of Dr. Vargas I promised to reach out, and several weeks later I met with Arthur Sullivan, Barry Brensinger, as well as a couple reps from 2Revolutions design group.
We all agreed one thing from the start of the conversation: Manchester has to reinvent itself, and how it educates students. We can pretend that the surrounding communities will come back if we just beg them enough. However, I have spoken with plenty of people from the surrounding towns that frankly do not want to come to Manchester. There are other locations that they perceive as offering a better education, as ticking more of their boxes. It’s time to understand that our educational system needs to do something no other district can compete with.
First, let’s stop “educating by zip code.” This has been the Manchester model since the beginning of time and should no longer be the standard of our education. We should be creating Public School Choice, with each high school having a certain specialty or skill that they are good at. The areas surrounding Manchester offer a wide variety of competition and choice and we now have to come to terms that we are competing for a limited audience which has been in rapid decline.
How do we do this?
We can start by creating public magnet high schools within the district. We should take cues from towns that have magnet programs such as Hudson and Milford; we should realize that they offer opportunities that students are looking for. Shockingly there are no performing arts or liberal arts public high schools in the entire state – but we could emulate the likes of Granite State Arts Academy, a public charter high school in Salem. We can design a system that would be completely unique and could set the standard for years to come, one that no other district in the state could duplicate.
Combined with core educational learning, The Manchester model could be one high school that is heavily focused on performing arts and literary arts, another high school is focused on technology and trades, and another high school is focused on the sciences. Our facilities in their current form would already be ideal for this type of model utilizing the spaces we already have.
MST was built as a CTE school and valuable space is being taken up that could be generating revenue from surrounding towns that we have agreements with. We also know students from the other communities want to go to MST but the capacity is not there.
By creating such a diverse district, we have set up a system where students and parents can choose what is best for their future. Plus, surrounding towns will have choices no other district has established; all within relatively close proximity.
As the discussion continued with Manchester Proud and 2 Rev one thing was certainly clear; if we are going to do anything we need to dream big, think outside the box, and design something that will literally change the face of education. Imagine a Manchester that boasts SNHU, UNH, Saint Anselm, NH Art institute, MCC now having the premier set-up of high schools that the entire country can be envious of.
This won’t happen overnight; it would take a lot of people and a lot of planning. But just imagine the School District having a long-term strategy.
Dream big Manchester – we got this!
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Jimmy Lehoux represents Ward 8 on the Manchester School Board, and is seeking reelection.