MANCHESTER, NH — Two issues brought up heated discussions at the February 11 Board of School Committee meeting: A bond approved last week by the Board of Aldermen for a deal with Trinity High School to renovate the lower playing field at city-owned Derryfield Park, and the concept and process of education “de-leveling,” which the board approved.
Resident Jim O’Connell raised concerns about the bond approved Feb. 5 by the Board of Aldermen for the Trinity High School field, pointing out that access for the public, including Hillside Middle School, would be approved only with written permission. Board member Leslie Want said she was “very disappointed,” and Vice Chair Art Beaudry questioned the division of church and state, applauding Alderman Anthony Sapienza, who voted against the measure. Mayor Joyce Craig pointed out that Trinity already has the rights to the field under a 2009 agreement with the city for use, and that it will pay 60 percent of the bond.
The board passed a vote to begin the process of eliminating leveling.
Superintendent Bolgen Vargas emotionally championed eliminating leveling, in which students are separated into different classes based on their past performance, calling it “abusive and indefensible.” He said, “We have no policy. We have poor practice. The first thing that must be understood by the board are the tools necessary to carry out the plan,” pointing to a thick document that he said he gave the board months ago, and again with his resignation. He added, “It must begin at elementary school.”
Vargas’ proposal was supported by Central High School Principal John Vaccarezza and by West High School Principal Richard Dichard, who said, “De-leveling is an effective measure that makes a better learning environment for all students. For example, high school students should all take level 3 health classes because they are performing at that level.”
Leveling has been discussed in Manchester for many years. Beaudry said the issue was identified under Superintendent Thomas Brennan, who served from 2008-2013. A 2015 NHPR report about Nashua and Manchester stated that, “minority and low-income students are few and far between in high level and Advanced Placement courses in both cities. Critics argue leveling is a form of academic segregation. School officials in Manchester and Nashua say they’re working to address the problem, but there remains a deep divide about whether leveling is the right approach.”
Board member Leslie Want pointed out that advanced level courses are an effective recruitment tool at Central High School, which was confirmed by Vaccarezza.
Board members grappled with the concept and policy, and the many steps needed to achieve it, asking Vargas for specifics, at which he again brought out the printed document.
Board member Dave Scannell said, “We will need an enormous education effort in this community to understand what leveling is.”
Beaudry stated, “I will support this because Dr. Vargas endorsed it. We must vet it out by next year. I believe we have to do something about it.” The high school principals said the process needs to begin now to be reflected in the 2020 school course listings.