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November 13. 2012 10:30PM

Nashua schools consider central supplies

NASHUA - The school board approved a proposal Tuesday night to pursue a science resource center, a hub that would facilitate that flow of science equipment and materials between schools as well as allow them to purchase in bulk.

The project is spearheaded by the Nashua Education Foundation, which funds extra-budgetary educational initiatives in the district. NEF President Mary Jordan said the foundation aims to fund the center the first year. The school district would be responsible in subsequent years.

"It's an economic way to store science equipment," Jordan said before the Board of Education.

The idea came about when the NEF approached the district for ideas. Members of the foundation and the school board visited a model science resource center in the Bedford school district.

"The idea sparked a lot of excitement among the foundation," said Jordan, who is also the executive director of the Adult Learning Center, a Nashua-based nonprofit.

The center in Bedford, managed by a part-time paraprofessional, provides a space for all the important science equipment in the district, Jordan said. The system allows teachers to request materials based on whatever unit they're working on, and to return them with the same efficiency.

"They had some pretty ingenious ways of doing things with bins and tubs and everything that's required for a specific project in one place."

"It keeps everything central," she added. "They keep much better tabs on the equipment that they have and how it's used."

The center would serve grades kindergarten through five in the beginning, though the district could look to expand. It could also provide more equitable access to materials among schools, as well as permit schools to share limited resources.

Superintendent Mark Conrad said that as the district has implemented a hands-on elementary science curriculum, the movement of thousands of learning materials across the district has increased the need for centralized management.

Maintaining the necessary number of sciences kits can be a time-consuming task, proponents of the program claim. The district is concerned that without a centralized system, materials could be lost in the shuffle.

"Over time we're going to start losing material," Conrad said.

Buying materials in bulk, rather than a school-by-school basis, would also allow for cost savings.

The location for the science center has yet to be announced. Conrad said the district's delivery person could include the center in his route, which includes Nashua's 17 schools. He also raised the idea of fielding volunteers to help with distribution.

Board member Thomas Vaughn said the science center is a good idea and the district should pursue it. "I think it really could potentially make a more efficient usage of our resources, but I think also . that this could provide a more uniform set of resources across the district."

The cost of the program, including startup expenses, would be approximately $72,000. Follow-up staffing and equipment costs would then become the responsibility of the district.

Board member Steven Haas agreed. "I've heard enough complaints from teachers who say they don't have enough science materials - this sounds like a wonderful supplement," he said. "I suspect that whatever the NEF can come up with will make that $72,000 a smaller number and much easier to absorb in our budget."

The NEF considers grants requests from any district employee who applies. Funded programs include voting clickers at Sunset Heights and the Lego club at Ledge St.

"The common thread is that they come from teachers and things that aren't provided in the regular school budget," Jordan said.

The motion to allow the NEF to proceed with the project was approved unanimously by the board. The final proposal will return to the board in coming months.

"Go forth and find donors," Hallowell told Jordan with a smile.

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Simon Rios may be reached at srios@newstote.com.


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