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November 04. 2012 10:33PM

Hooksett parents take to Facebook to discuss Manchester schools

As the Hooksett School Board searches for solutions to the Manchester High School Central overcrowding situation, Hooksett parents have taken the question into their own hands, turning to the messy and dynamic realm of the grassroots communications and social media.

High School Education Lifts People (HELP) is something of a hybrid of democratic grassroots in the vein of Occupy and a social media forum. It began and remains primarily focused on a Facebook group created Oct. 20 by Hooksett parent John Lyscars, but regular meetings have been held with a loose moderator system.

"I really don't have any more power than any of you," said Lyscars at the group's Friday meeting. "You're here at this table because you're concerned about where Hooksett's spending their money, and you're concerned about the future of your kids. So every one of us has an equal voice at the table."

At this stage, HELP serves primarily as a forum for parents and residents to discuss the Central overcrowding issue and provides a platform to share their concerns or ideas for Hooksett's high school situation. What makes the group dynamic, however, are its so far tenuous steps into advocacy and information gathering.

Regular polls are run on the Facebook page, gauging the mood of its members on the best course with Manchester Central, or the best candidates for an alternative school. Somewhat more formally, the group will also hold a straw poll Tuesday outside of the polls at Cawley Middle School on Hooksett high school choices, which they intend to provide to the superintendent and school board.

Although no official proposal has come from the group, informal pitches emerge from the group to the school board, some of whom are also active members. A lengthy post by Lyscars on school board member David Pearl's Hooksett Issues forum, for instance, pitched the possibility of signing contracts with multiple schools and running a kind of two-year trial run spreading Hooksett freshmen out across a number of high schools, allowing the town to "obtain real data."

There remains some question of what exactly this group is, what it can and should do, and how it should be run. Much of the discussion on the group's page centers on this issue, with "I thought this group was about . " and "I think we should be focusing instead on . " common phrases.

It is some of these posts, however, which produce the longest threads. One member posted Saturday evening that he was considering leaving the group because he believed it had developed a narrowly, negatively focused on Manchester. By Sunday morning, 22 comments had been made discussing the Central issue and the balance between openness to opinion and the place of minority opinion within its democratic structure.

Whatever they in fact are, however, the group has been nothing if not successful in its short run. As of Sunday, the Facebook group had 380 members, up from 296 three days prior. Perhaps even more significant, however, is the steady engagement of its members, many of whom use the platform actively and regularly. On Sunday, over 40 posts and replies had been made in the group by midafternoon; by comparison, Occupy New Hampshire's page, with over 8,000 "likes," had roughly as many posts in three days.

bclogston@newstote.com

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