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Paul Feely's City Hall: Vargas says leveling at schools hinders 'high expectations for all'

December 02. 2017 11:45PM
Superintendent of the Manchester School District Bolgen Vargas (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas has convened a team of principals from city middle and high schools to discuss the impact leveling has on local students.

The practice of leveling - when students are separated into different classrooms based on past performance - has proven a controversial topic in recent years. The school board voted seven years ago to introduce leveling to the middle schools, in part as a way to give high-achieving students more opportunities to excel.

City school administrators raised concerns about the fairness and logistics of leveling in the middle schools from the outset. The topic resurfaced in the spring of 2014, when the district was faulted by the federal Office for Civil Rights for consistent disparities between white and minority students in the district.

Several national education groups have publicly called for an end to leveling. The country's largest teachers union, the National Education Association, has labeled the practice discriminatory, while the National Association of Secondary School Principals refers to it as an obsolete practice.

Currently, Manchester School of Technology does not use leveling and Manchester High School West is already engaged in evaluating the impact of leveling.

In a memo to district principals Vargas writes, "the extensive body of research suggests that low-leveling classes depress student achievement instead of helping students make progress."

"Also, research tells us that students in low-level classes fall further behind," writes Vargas, "but when low leveling tracking is eliminated, student achievement improves at the same time that students in advanced tracking classes continue to thrive as well if done appropriately. This will require a shift in mindset from low expectation for some students to high expectations for all."

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The city's Planning Board has approved - with conditions - a proposed 1,700-car parking garage at 37 S. Commercial St., part of a $100 million deal inked by Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to expand its presence and add 500 more jobs.

Representatives from SNHU's developer for the project, Bedford Lot Venture, LLC, and TF Moran will go before the Aldermanic Committee on Public Safety, Health and Traffic on Monday seeking approval of one of those conditions - removal of several on-street parking spots along South Commercial Street.

Developers are seeking approval to remove certain on-street parking spaces along South Commercial Street to create a new southbound right-turn lane into the proposed garage, and two northbound travel lanes from the garage up to Granite Street.

The southbound right-turn lane re-striping would require the removal of eight on-street spaces, and the northbound re-striping requires removal of 17 on-street spaces, for a total of 25 spaces.

The spaces under consideration for removal are currently being leased by SNHU.

"Although we are seeking approval at this time to fulfill the Planning Board's conditions, the garage itself will not be complete until October 2019," writes Robert Duval, an engineer with TF Moran, in a letter to aldermen.

All costs associated with the project will be picked up by the developer.

SNHU will lease space in the Langer Place Mill on South Commercial Street and will lease all 1,700 parking spots in a six-story parking garage that will be built between the mill building and Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, where the Fisher Cats baseball team plays.

Committee members will take up the request when they meet Monday at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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City Fire Chief Dan Goonan will go before the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen Tuesday night seeking $150,000 to cover costs associated with an extended service plan for a citywide emergency radio system.

In June of 2015, Motorola Solutions was awarded a citywide emergency radio replacement contract. The project was completed in December 2016.

Under the terms of the contract, Motorola would warranty radios for the first year of service, with the city responsible for covering these costs in years two through 10, at the negotiated amount of $150,000 annually.

According to Goonan, the invoice for the warranty has now come due.

"This is a contractual obligation for the city," writes Goonan in a letter to aldermen. "There have been no funds reserved to date and my budget cannot support this expense."

Goonan is asking the board to consider a nondepartmental account to cover the costs, and taking funds out of contingency to pay the current invoice.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen is scheduled to take up the request when it meets Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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Where do you see Manchester's Millyard heading? What developments are needed, and what is your wish list for the area?

Hear answers to these questions and more, at Dyn Inc. this Wednesday, Dec. 6 from 3:30-6:30 p.m., during a "Millyard Forum," presented by Citizens Bank. Attendees will hear from some of the leading Millyard employers about the energy in the Millyard, the challenges they face, and how the area continues to transform.

Following a brief overview from each panelist, the forum will open to a question-and-answer session.

Visit for more information.

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School board members took a few moments during last week's meeting to honor June Prato, a fourth-grader from Weston Elementary School - and published author at the age of 10.

Prato wrote "Freedom!: The Story of a Slave Family," currently available on Amazon.

"We embarked on a unit of study about slavery last year, and June just fell in love with learning," said Jennifer Ell, a teacher at Weston. "She took it upon herself, with all the writing we were doing, she decided to write a book. I am very humbled by this young lady, and all she has accomplished at the age of 10. I couldn't be more proud to be her teacher."

In the book's foreword, Prato writes, "This book has been inspired by many things, also this book will help you learn a lot more about slavery than you probably have known before. In my class we have done several units on slavery, leadership, and also Abraham Lincoln. These books have given me the opportunity to write my own book. The knowledge I have consumed from these books gives me the chance to write something very interesting that I know a lot about."

Prato presented the school district with a signed copy of the book, which Mayor Ted Gatsas said would be placed in the city archives.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at

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