When I first ran for the Manchester School Board two years ago, I promised the voters of Ward 3 that I would work to accomplish three things: (1) Increase student access to technology in the classroom; (2) Expand private-public partnerships between the school district and Manchester businesses; and (3) Enact responsible school budgets that enhanced student achievement while keeping taxes low.
As my first term comes to a close, I am proud to say that I believe I have kept my promise to the voters. We have made tremendous progress during this term, and we now can look to several areas for improvement in the future.
Technology has made great strides forward in our classrooms. The school board worked with the mayor to pass a $2.8 million technology bond that will bring us into the 21st century and revolutionize the way learning takes place in our schools. The bond provides district-wide, high-speed Internet access, advanced hardware and training for teachers, among other much-needed investments.
Business partnerships have improved as well. Along with several others, I worked with the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to create “Match Port,” a private-public initiative that aims to connect the resources of the local business community with the needs of the Manchester School District.
And in the midst of a very difficult budgetary environment, my colleagues and I passed two school budgets that begin to put our focus back where it belongs: on increasing student achievement and supporting our teachers.
In addition to keeping my campaign promises, I also have worked with my fellow board members to hire a new superintendent, negotiate three union contracts successfully, and conduct a district-wide academic audit. This audit will be the foundation of a long term strategic plan for the board. It shows us the way forward and reminds us that although the past two years were productive, we still have much work to do.
The academic audit reveals that Manchester students are not learning as well as students in the rest of New Hampshire. The facts are sobering. Even though Manchester has doubled its per-pupil spending since 2001, our dropout rates have continued to go up while our student literacy rates and test scores have gone down. We have no system-wide professional development program for our teachers. And, as Dr. Brennan noted before he left in June, our district too often operates exclusively for the benefit of Manchester adults and special interests, not our students.
These educational challenges, a full decade in the making, have already done damage to our community and local economy. We can and must do better for our students, teachers and local businesses.
The audit does more than just identify Manchester’s challenges, however. As importantly, the audit provides a detailed, 10-step plan to begin addressing those problems in a meaningful and sustainable way. The academic audit provides us a roadmap forward.
Therefore, my second-term campaign promise to the voters of Manchester is simple: using the audit as a guide, I will work with my fellow board members to bring real, meaningful and positive change to our school district. I have built relationships with several other board members who share the same goals, and together I am confident we can achieve them.
Simply put, I am committed to seeing the Manchester School District transformed into the top school district in the state of New Hampshire. If I am lucky enough to be returned to the school board for a second term, that is exactly what I intend to do. I look forward to getting back to work.
Chris Stewart represents Ward 3 on the Manchester Board of School Committee.