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Ted Siefer's City Hall: Bramante's 'free' education initiative gets green light

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 16. 2014 3:52AM

Fred Bramante is a popular guy. The former music store mogul and longtime member of the state Board of Education was before the Board of School Committee Monday to pitch his new initiative, the National Center for Competency-Based Learning.

Bramante brought with him several education leaders as well as Will Stewart, of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and Kate Baker, director of the Network for Educational Opportunity. Each of them extolled the virtues of Bramante's venture.

Right off the bat, it was notable that Bramante had the support of both Baker, a school choice advocate, and Stewart; the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce is also a big proponent of investing in the public school system.

But the venture is particularly promising in Manchester because Bramante, in many ways, speaks the same language as Mayor Ted Gatsas. Competency-based learning is all about giving students opportunities to learn beyond the classroom through real-world experience. Bramante's goal is to create a network of 10,000 mentors, starting, he hopes, with 1,000 in Manchester.

The idea overlaps with the initiatives Gatsas is most proud of in the district - the hands-on curriculum at the Manchester School of Technology, and STEAM Ahead NH. STEAM is the program, set to start next fall at West High, that will give students the chance to earn college credits through partnerships with local companies and organizations.

There's another reason the school board will likely be receptive to Bramante's pitch.

"We ask for no funding from the schools," he told the board. "We believe there are lots of people who will want to see this work, and the money will come."

The board voted to green-light the proposal to the next stage: the Curriculum and Instruction Committee.

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Timing can be everything. Maybe this explains the brusque response Mayor Gatsas gave to a motion from Ward 8 school board member Erika Connors at the school board meeting. It was late into an already long session, around 10:30 p.m., when she proposed eliminating the residency requirement for administrators in the district.

"That's too heavy," Gatsas said. "I won't accept it."

Some back story: Gatsas is a big fan of having department heads reside in the city, and he pushed to extend the requirement to the school district's top administrators.

It's no longer a theoretical discussion, as the residency requirement was written into the contract of Dave Ryan, the assistant superintendent hired in the summer. Ryan had been a principal in Nashua, and he lives in Hooksett with his family. Evidently, uprooting to Manchester hasn't been a simple process for Ryan. At a school board meeting a couple of months ago, he requested a six-month extension to the contract provision, to which the board agreed. But Gatsas made his view known at the time. "He understands the consequences," he said.

Connors sees it differently. "People don't choose a doctor because they live in Manchester. ... They choose the best. We should be treating our administrators as the professionals they are," she told me. "We risk losing very valuable employees because we're discriminating, in a sense, against people with families."

Still, Connors isn't really upset that Gatsas gave her motion short shrift on Monday. "It had been a long night," she said. But she says she fully intends to make the motion again in the near future.

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Livingston Park could be getting some love. The park is one of only 550 nationwide to get selected as one of the beneficiaries of the "Heart Your Park" program, which is sponsored by Macy's Department Store and the National Recreation and Parks Association.

Donations are being taken at the Macy's in the Mall of New Hampshire. The company will match the amount collected up to $250,000. But if you want to pony up, you'll have to get there soon; the fundraiser ends March 31.

Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.

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