MANCHESTER, NH — Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas and school district administrators are working to carry out the redistricting plan that was approved by the Board of School Committee this month. Various discussions and plans around the concept of redistricting have been discussed for more than 10 years in Manchester. The proposal presented by Dr. Vargas is the first to make any significant progress toward implementation. It is made up of several stages that will be put into place over time through 2020, subject to budget approval where financial implications are noted.
Beginning in September 2018, all incoming sixth graders from Beech Street Elementary School will attend McLaughlin Middle School. The current school feeder pattern splits Beech Street graduates between McLaughlin and Southside middle schools. The new proposal will reunite those students at one school. They will all attend Central High School for ninth grade.
Plans also are underway to establish a collaboration between Memorial High School and the Manchester School of Technology to meet the demand of students wishing to attend MST High School’s four-year program. Right now, enrollment is limited for students taking core courses and electives because classroom space is unavailable. MST currently holds a lottery to enroll 9th graders from the pool of applicants that exceeds the number of openings.
“We have heard from families and students that they are disappointed enrollment at MST High School can’t be guaranteed,” said Dr. Vargas. “We are proud of the programs MST offers as a high school choice in our city, and the district is committed to increasing access to all students who wish to attend.”
Under the superintendent’s plan, MST High School students could take some of those core classes, including physical education, at neighboring Memorial High School, and some teachers would be shared between the two buildings.
Another significant part of the approved redistricting plan is a gradual move of fifth grade to Manchester’s middle schools. Adoption of the grades 5-8 middle school model will start on the West Side of Manchester in September 2019. The Middle School at Parkside will include fifth graders from Gossler Park, Northwest, and Parker-Varney elementary schools.
“A few of our neighboring school districts and others across New Hampshire and the nation have successfully established this middle school education model, so it is not a new concept,” said Dr. Vargas. “The priorities for making this shift in Manchester will be meeting the students’ needs and strengthening our middle schools that will enhance the educational experience.”
Facility improvements will be made to Parkside in order to accommodate the new grade. That process will begin this year, with a cost of $312,000. Similar projects are expected over the next two years to prepare the three east side middle schools for bringing in the fifth grade classes from the other 11 elementary schools beginning in September 2020.
Other elements of the middle school transition citywide will begin in 2018, including adding middle staff, such as math and foreign language teachers and social workers. Math curriculum for grades 5-8 will be developed this year, with additional subject area curriculum planned for 2019-2021. The cost for 2018 comes to about $1 million.
One of the goals in creating the grades 5-8 middle schools is to free up classrooms in elementary schools for kindergarten through grade four. As a result, elementary level class sizes will be reduced when finances allow for hiring additional teachers in those grades.
“Since I arrived in Manchester, one of the top concerns among parents, administrators, teachers and school board members has been class size,” said Dr. Vargas. “This plan addresses the need to create smaller class sizes and ultimately help improve student achievement.”
The K-4 model will follow the timeline of the middle school transition across the city, beginning on the West Side in September 2019, and expanding to the rest of Manchester the following year.
Creating a new preschool center also will create space in elementary schools that currently hold preschool programs. While the Bishop O’Neil Center associated with Bakersville Elementary School will stay open, the redistricting plan calls for preschool students and staff at Highland-Goffe’s Falls, Jewett Street, Parker-Varney, Smyth Road, and Weston to unite at Memorial High School, where space is available to accommodate the program. Preschool students in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program at Green Acres Elementary School would remain there.
“Manchester can better meet the developmental needs of its preschool students by streamlining the services they all share and allow more efficient collaboration among staff,” said Dr. Vargas.
The preschool center would open in September 2019, with its own entrance and playground. The cost for facility improvements expected to begin this year at Memorial is projected to be in the range of $1.6 to $2.2 million dollars.