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November 30. 2012 9:30PM

Litchfield courting Hooksett students

LITCHFIELD - Superintendent Brian Cochrane has informally asked Hooksett school officials if they might be interested in sending their high school students to Campbell High.

This week, Cochrane sent a letter to Dana Argo, chairman of the Hooksett School Board, asking her district to consider discussions about the possibility of sending some Hooksett students to Litchfield.

"It is a very preliminary inquiry," Cochrane said Friday. "The primary consideration here is quality of education - that is the real motivation. And there is likely a savings benefit. It is clearly not the sole solution for Hooksett, but we think it could be a win-win for both communities."

Hooksett pays tuition to send the town's high school students to Manchester under a 20-year contract signed in 2003.

But Hooksett has entered into negotiations with Manchester for an early release from its contract, and the Hooksett School Board is beginning to consider where to send its high school students as a result of concerns about large classroom sizes in the Queen City.

Many schools in southern New Hampshire are experiencing a slow decline in student enrollment, and Campbell High School is no exception, said Cochrane.

Currently, there are 505 students enrolled at Campbell, compared to about 570 students about five years ago. "Our class sizes are good. We have a very small number that have more than 25 (students)," he said. "Demographically, when you look at median income, parental education and NECAP results, it would indicate that our towns are very similar."

If enrollment continues to decline at this rate in Litchfield, the superintendent said Campbell High could see a 10 percent loss in students in the next five to eight years. If that occurs, the district would have to consider cutting teachers, which in a small school could significantly impact programs and electives.

"This would be a way for Litchfield and Campbell High School to maintain and even increase the quality of education by allowing us to offer our kids and Hooksett kids better opportunities and still maintain costs," he said.

Argo confirmed that he received Cochrane's letter, which will be presented to the Hooksett School Board at its Tuesday meeting. While Argo declined to comment specifically on the matter, he said, "I can tell you the board considers all options. That said, I will not speculate on how the board will deliberate and vote."

According to previous New Hampshire Union Leader reports, a subcommittee in Hooksett has not officially identified any schools of interest, but has discussed options such as Pembroke Academy, Londonderry High School, Pinkerton Academy and Goffstown High School or Bow High School.

Cochrane said it doesn't hurt to have Campbell High School thrown into the mix for consideration and to investigate these alternatives.

John York, chairman of the Litchfield School Board, said Friday that this is not a decision the board will make on its own if Hooksett shows interest.

"The voters will be a part of this process," York said. "There are some pros and cons on this, and we would have to explore all of those thoroughly."

Hooksett parents and school officials want to get the best education possible for their students, York said, adding he believes that Campbell High can offer that for about 75 to 100 Hooksett students.

"Campbell offers a smaller setting where more individual learning can take place," he said.

Superintendent Charles Littlefield of SAU 15 in Hooksett, Candia and Auburn, was unavailable Friday to comment on the matter.

Cochrane hopes the Hooksett School District will at least be interested in a preliminary conversation about the possibility, which would eventually lead to a public hearing to determine whether the Litchfield and Hooksett communities would want to move forward. The tuition rate for high school students in Litchfield is about $12,850 a pupil, compared to Manchester's high school tuition rate of $9,435 a student, according to Cochrane.

khoughton@newstote.com

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