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February 11. 2013 11:25PM

School board: Leathercraft, needlework will no longer be Manchester classes

MANCHESTER - Say 'bye' to needlework and leathercraft.

The Board of School Committee voted Monday to approve a pared-down list of course offerings for next fall that will be nearly uniform at each of the three high schools.

At the same time, the board voted to specifically eliminate the hands-on electives that had previously been considered untouchable because they were geared toward English-language learners and special education students.

"Rather than needlework and leathercraft, they should be reading a book, learning the language. Those are educational opportunities," Mayor Ted Gatsas said at Monday's meeting, referring to the English Learner (EL) students.

EL students make up 66 to 77 percent of the students in the two courses, according to district officials.

The vote was the culmination of months of work in the Curriculum and Instruction Committee.

At the previous school board meeting, the committee presented a list that eliminated many courses but still preserved the system of having specialized offerings at each school, particularly at Central, which has considerably more courses than the other two high schools.

The list approved Monday essentially takes 36 school-specific courses, such as Shakespeare and Women's Literature at Central, and makes them available at Memorial and West as well.

The courses would be held only if a sufficient number of students enrolled. Superintendent Thomas Brennan said he would back an effort to get students to finalize course registrations by June.

Brennan said he believed teachers at each of the schools could be reassigned to teach the newly offered courses.

"Our teachers are highly qualified," he said.

He indicated that the main potential expense was for textbooks.

The school board voted unanimously to approve the program of studies.

While the course listing does away with needlework and leathercraft, it still includes some hands-on courses, such as regional foods, baking and creative sewing.

Brennan said the decision to target the needlework and leather-working courses was based on an assessment of how the classes functioned. "Whether they are EL students or anyone else, I get concerned," he said. "I think it's an insult to any student when you have to go to courses as holding places."

In backing the elimination of the courses, Gatsas alluded to a controversy in August, when local members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights decried the way the district taught its immigrant and minority students. Upset by the lack of data cited by the group, Gatsas cut short its presentation.

"I'm not sure if the group I asked to leave knew that we had EL students taking needlework and leather-crafting," Gatsas said.

West principal

In other action Monday, the school board voted against a motion to halt the hiring of John Rist to serve as the interim principal at Manchester High School West.

The proposal was made by board member Art Beaudry, who has criticized the hiring of Rist because the former longtime principal at Central High is collecting a pension and would only be allowed to work 32 hours a week, under state regulations.

"We're paying an individual for part-time work 90 dollars an hour. We're paying more for a part-time individual than if we had someone full-time in there," Beaudry said.

The vote against the motion was 12-2, with board member Debra Gagnon Langton joining Beaudry in voting for the measure.

Rist was tapped to replace MaryEllen McGorry, who resigned earlier this month following a probe into wrongdoing, the nature of which the district has not disclosed.

tsiefer@unionleader.com

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