MANCHESTER — Calls to develop magnet schools, reduce the number of elected school board members and establish a foundation overseeing a pool of private funds for the district came Monday night as Manchester Proud representatives delivered a draft of the group’s strategic plan to school officials.
“We come to this work because we care about the city and its people dearly,” said Arthur Sullivan, co-owner of Brady Sullivan and member of Manchester Proud’s Champions Council. “We believe that our schools can only achieve this potential when we share a vision of what our schools can be.”
Manchester Proud will post the draft plan for city schools on its website, manchesterproud.org, on Tuesday. The website will include a form for community members to submit questions and thoughts.
A copy of the plan can be found at unionleader.com.
School board members are expected to review the plan before voting on it at a Feb. 20 school board at 6 p.m. at Manchester Memorial High School.
The effort began two years ago when business and education leaders launched a group with the goal of improving Manchester’s public schools and making the district more attractive for young families. Work on the plan included a community survey; door-to-door canvassing in all 12 city wards; 23 community-based listening sessions; and 39-school based listening sessions with teachers, families, school support staff and students.
Presenting the draft plan Monday night at City Hall with Sullivan were Liz Kirwan, a Manchester teacher and a member of Manchester Proud’s Community Planning Group, and Barry Brensinger, the group’s coordinator.
“As we go through this process we find that Manchester is beginning to experience a renewed interest in its schools,” said Brensinger. “We are hopeful and believe, perhaps, we have reached that time when as a community we can all roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
“We appreciate the time and effort that has gone into this and in getting our community together,” said Mayor Joyce Craig. “We could not have done it without you. This is an exciting time in Manchester.”
In a statement included in the plan, Superintendent of Schools John Goldhardt praised the “uniqueness of the collaboration.”
“I believe it represents a future where our schools are much more integrated with our community in ways that both improve learning for our students and enrich our city,” Goldhardt said in a statement. “This plan is an important representation of that deep linkage with the community that we seek and we need to meet our aspirations of high quality options for every single learner.”
Highlights of the plan include:
• Create a separate Manchester Schools Foundation, independent of the district, with a board of directors that has sole authority over these private funds. “This could also entail better integration of alumni funding streams with existing school funds,” the draft plan reports.
• Dismantle leveling, the practice of separating students into different classes based on their past performance. Critics contend it is a form of academic segregation. The draft plan claims, “In order for MSD to meet the needs of all of its students, it is crucial that leveling is dismantled at middle and high schools” by changing policies that leveling across the district.
• Develop magnet schools. Present an opportunity to provide students greater choice and specialization within MSD schools to stabilize enrollment and attract charter school, home school and possibly suburban families back into the district.
• Expand successful revenue-generating programming by increasing the capacity of Manchester School of Technology’s Career and Technical Education program to increase enrollment from sending towns by creating additional space at Memorial High School. Also, explore opportunities for paid pre-K seats and utilization of MSD facilities for mixed use.
• Improve school board “working culture” by adopting a “Kids First” policy, reestablish the school board as a policy board, and strengthen ties between the Board of School Committee and Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
• Increase school board meeting efficiency by shifting to one business meeting per month, and one meeting per month that contains public comment. The plan also proposes eliminating school board interviews of all director and principal candidates, making this the responsibility of the superintendent.
• Reduce the number of school board members, currently at 15, with city charter shifts to a “more effective/less politicized” board by potentially merging wards or dividing the city into larger districts, or moving to at-large positions entirely.
• Increase term length of school board members to three or four years, and stagger elections to ensure the full board is not up for election at one time.
• Remove the mayor as school board chair.
• Give the school board student representatives voting rights (except for issues regarding personnel or other HR matters).
• Put policy in place to ensure grades K-4 have a maximum of 20 students per classroom. The current average is 21 students/class across K-4; there is a need for approximately 12 additional teachers to reach class size goals.
• More efficiently schedule middle and high school courses to minimize class size and maximize instruction; the plan reports the minimum class size in high schools should be 15 to ensure a high quality experience for all learners and fiscal sustainability.
• Grades 5-8 redistricting. Approved in April 2018, under the redistricting plan Parkside became a 5-8 school in fall 2019, Southside will become a 5-8 school in fall 2021, and McLaughlin and Hillside will become 5-8 in fall 2022.
The draft plan makes no recommendation regarding a change to the city’s tax cap.
According to Brensinger, to date Manchester Proud has raised $860,000 from local businesses and individuals for the purpose of supporting the planning process.
“As a community, investing in this vision will reap economic, civic, and personal benefits that multiply with each year that we advance this plan,” said Goldhardt in a statement. “Research shows us that improved graduation rates from high school and college are predictive of a more robust local economy.
“This community plan sets forth a shared vision that is directed toward setting higher standards for our students and ourselves, always driven by values of equity and excellence. Just as important as setting the direction, the plan holds all of us accountable to measurable goals that will drive student success now and in the future.”