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Manchester school chief touts plan to boost student scores

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 28. 2014 11:10PM

MANCHESTER — School leaders have unveiled an ambitious set of goals to improve student performance over the next four years.

The goals, along with several proposed changes to the district's policy book, were presented by Superintendent Debra Livingston to the Committee on Curriculum and Instruction Tuesday.

The presentation was the product of months of review following the release of a highly critical district audit last summer. Among the report's key findings were that there has been little or no improvement in student performance over the past four years, and that there is a large "achievement gap" between white and minority students.

Under Livingston's proposal, the percentage of students proficient or above average in reading and math would increase 20 percent between the current school year and the spring of 2018, "as measured by state and district assessments."

Under the proposal, the achievement gap would be reduced by 6 percent in that time span, and the attendance rate would increase to 95 percent.

The goals were favorably received by the committee, however, Ward 2 school board member Debra Gagnon Langton raised concerns about both their feasibility and the consequences for not meeting them.

"This is quite a jump," she said. "We really only have 3.5 years to get to that."

Livingston stressed that the district would seek to achieve the goals incrementally over the next five years.

The board's strategic planning committee also contributed to forming the goals. Its chair, at-large school board member Kathy Staub, said that Livingston, who is in her first year as the district's superintendent, has shown that she can improve student performance.

Staub said at Livingston's previous district, Fall Mountain Regional, test scores among third graders improved nearly 15 percent. "She has demonstrated she can do this with her staff at Fall Mountain," Staub said.

Ward 1 board member Sarah Ambrogi stressed that there would still be more discussion about how to achieve the goals. "The committee was trying to set aspirational goals," she said. "Part of the problem in funding specific programs is that we haven't had the goals to support (the funding.)"

But Langton pressed Livingston on what the consequences would be for teachers and administrators if the goals were not achieved.

"Consequence is not the word I want to use," Livingston said. "If we're not seeing the results, then we need to evaluate that and what modifications we're going to make ... If the goals are not being met, then that's a discussion the board should have with the superintendent."

The committee voted to give preliminary approval to the goals, which still must go before the full

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