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MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Tuesday, Manchester School District Superintendent John Goldhardt laid out some underlying principle he hopes will become the groundwork of a new vision for Manchester’s public schools.
Goldhardt told the Board of School Committee (BOSC) that although in the past the district had presented a mission to the public, along with targeted goals for the BOSC during their two-year terms, a more comprehensive approach was needed to help rebrand the district.
Specifically, he referred to logos from well-known corporations such as Apple and Nike and asked the BOSC what the general public thought when they saw those symbols, adding that it was necessary to have Manchester residents think of comparable excellence when they saw the Manchester School District logo.
Many of Goldhardt’s proposals did not meet with pushback from the BOSC. He told the board that the only acceptable graduation rate is 100 percent, that he hopes to increase enrollment in advanced placement and college equivalent classes by 15 percent overall and 25 percent among minority students and students living in poverty. He also said that the district should increase its standards for high school graduation from 20 to 28 credits, encourage graduating high-school students to pursue certification and associate’s degree tracks in addition to traditional college pathways, and he accept nothing less than all students reading at grade level by third grade.
Goldhardt also proposed various ideas for changing the educational mechanics of the district in other ways. He proposed eventually bringing all city high schools onto block schedules, where students would alternate between four classes one day and four classes the next before repeating the process, something already in place at Manchester West High School.
He also suggested “dual-immersion” schools for students with a native language other than English, where they would take classes in their native language in the morning and then take the same classes again in English during the afternoon, eventually entering into advanced placement classes in their native language in middle school.
While such a dual-immersion model is not currently being done elsewhere in New Hampshire according to Goldhardt, he said it was common during his time as an educational administrator in Utah, Ward 7 BOSC Member William Shea said that concept was common during his youth in Manchester, with many students that spoke French fluently receiving a bi-lingual education.
However, reception to his proposal to change the four-tiered class level system into a two-tiered system divided into advanced placement or college equivalent classes and more generalized classes met with a mixed response.
Goldhardt said this proposal stemmed from a belief that students with disabilities or other challenges were often left behind, something he deemed to be unacceptable. Shea expressed concerns that pairing students of different abilities into generalized classes could frustrate students at both ends of the ability spectrum, with some finding an amalgamated curriculum either too frustrating or not challenging enough.
Goldhardt did find support here from Ward 2 BOSC Member Kathleen Kelley-Arnold, who said that teachers could provide more individualized attention for struggling students under this system. Ward 9 BOSC Member Arthur Beaudry said he also supported the concept after former superintendent Bolgen Vargas convinced him of its merits.
Goldhardt received more skepticism from the board over what he referred to as “the elephant in the room,” realignment ideas of Manchester’s high schools.
Stressing that the proposals were preliminary, Goldhardt said that the issue of underutilized space at Manchester’s three high schools could be resolved by transforming them into magnet schools that focused on a specific subject.
He also floated the idea of closing one high school and renovating the other two or expanding the Manchester School of Technology and building one large state-of-the-art school at a new location that would combine the history of all three current schools.
While Goldhardt did not have one specific recommendation for the high school issue, he did recommend that the district pursue a long-term facilities plan to help renovate or replace other older schools in the city.
Although no decisions were made on Tuesday, the BOSC issued words of gratitude to Goldhardt for his ideas.
“You called it the elephant in the room, and I don’t know if you meant it or not, but I’m glad you did. (The issue of Manchester’s high schools) is something we need to talk about,” said At-Large BOSC Member Jim O’Connell. “There is a solution for Manchester here that can work for the next 50 years forward. Obviously, we can’t do this all in one meeting, but the fact we could start is so commendable. People want us to take action.”