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School board starts committee for long-range district planning

By TED SIEFER
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 24. 2012 11:41PM

MANCHESTER - With administrators scrambling to prepare for the start of what's widely expected to be a challenging school year, this may not seem like the best time to try to devise a long-term plan for the district.

But members of the school board's ad-hoc committee for strategic planning forged ahead Tuesday - and they received moral support and offers of practical assistance from Mark McQuillan, the new dean of the University of Southern New Hampshire's School of Education.

The planning group is the initiative of longtime education activist and Board of School Committee member Kathy Staub.

She said that the 'horrific' budget process that was recently concluded, which resulted in the net loss of close to 150 teacher and other staff positions, underscored the need for a long-range plan for the district.

'What we're missing right now is hope, a vision of the kind of school system that everyone who lives and works here would like to see,' she said.

McQuillan, who has worked as a superintendent and education commissioner in Massachusetts and Connecticut, expressed support for the strategic planning effort, but he also offered more concrete advice for meeting the challenges facing the Manchester district, including the resources of the graduate school.

'You have wonderful opportunities and real serious challenges,' McQuillan said, referring specifically to the budget and tax cap.

McQuillan suggested that the SHNU program assist in implementing a new statewide teacher evaluation program. He also proposed a principal training program. 'The migration in and out of jobs (in Manchester) means there's a continuous churn at the schools. A leadership academy could allow you to grow your own leaders,' he said.

Superintendent Thomas Brennan also emphasized more immediate steps the district could take. He requested the committee draw up a Request for Proposals immediately for a consultant that could conduct an audit of the district. The idea would be to get hard data on how programs are working, and how facilities are used, as well as other metrics.

'We would need time to dig into this information, and perhaps we could get help from some of the interns at the universities,' Brennan said.

The committee agreed to have a proposal ready for the next full board meeting at the end of the month.

Staub said she was the world's biggest fan of 'low-hanging fruit,' but she insisted on moving forward with the long-term planning process.

She estimated that it would take up to a year for the group to devise a solid plan.

Toward this end, members of the committee agreed to reach out to other comparable districts, such as Nashua, that have conducted strategic plans.

'There's been so much wrangling over dollars - it's no one's fault - but the conversation tends be all about headcount: How many teachers are in the classroom?' committee member Sarah Ambrogi said. 'What we don't spend time trying to do is ask what we're trying to do in those classrooms.'

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Ted Siefer may be reached at tsiefer@unionleader.com.


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