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January 29. 2014 10:53PM

Nearly half of Manchester schools in Innovation Zone, director says

MANCHESTER — The newly hired executive director of the Innovation Zone has laid out her plans for the federally funded program that will affect nearly half the city's schools.

Pat Snow, who is leaving her current job as principal of Beech Street Elementary to take the $100,000-a-year position, outlined the program to the school board's Committee on Curriculum and Instruction on Tuesday.

The first phase of the Innovation Zone plan will involve hiring three education consulting companies. One will do minute-by-minute monitoring of principals, with the goal of getting them to devote more of their time to instruction over management. Another consultant will provide mentoring to principals. A third, the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), will be implementing a testing system to assess student progress at the 10 schools in the zone.

The testing comes at a sensitive time for the district. The administration has been tasked with devising district-specific academic standards following an outcry over the Common Core State Standards, the education benchmarks being promoted at the state and national level.

NWEA specializes in computer-based testing that tracks and adjusts to the progress of individual students. It also offers testing specifically aligned with Common Core, which it promotes on its website, www.nwea.org.

Snow emphasized that NWEA has been around for 40 years, and that the district had not yet determined what kind of test will be administered to students in the spring. "We're going to use multiple types of assessments," she said.

The Innovation Zone is a Title I federal program, which aims to improve the educational achievement of minority and disabled students relative to their peers — often referred to as the achievement gap.

In the past, four to seven city schools have been targeted for Title I support, but the Innovation Zone is more expansive. The zone includes Parker Varney; Gossler Park; Wilson; Beech Street; McDonough, and the Parkside and Southside middle schools, which are all designated priority schools. The Northwest, Bakersville and Hallsville elementary schools are designated "focus" schools.

Priority schools are in the bottom five percent of the state for the size of the achievement gap; focus schools are in the bottom 10 percent, according to Snow.

The city has 22 schools in total.

Snow was officially hired earlier this month to head the Innovation Zone. At the same time, she said she is "transitioning" from the Beech Street principal's job, which she took in fall 2012. Prior to that, Snow was the principal at Nashua's Amherst Street School. She resigned in the spring of 2012, indicating she wanted to pursue new opportunities.

The Nashua superintendent told the Nashua Telegraph at the time that Snow deserved credit for turning the school around. State records show that test scores at the Amherst Street School rose by 13 percentage points from 2009 to 2012.

"I was in need of new challenges," Snow said in explaining her decision to come to Manchester.

At Tuesday's school board committee meeting, Snow was asked how much money was being spent on the Innovation Zone. She said she couldn't immediately provide an answer, but would report back to the board. tsiefer@unionleader.com


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