ManchesterHighWest

MANCHESTER — School board members voted Monday to direct administrators to continue working with the city’s Office of Youth Services to provide an alternative education program at Manchester High School West.

Last month school board members voted to table discussion on a motion to rescind a vote cast back in August cutting ties with Helping Our Pupils Excel (HOPE NH), to allow school officials more time to speak with potential vendors to operate a similar program.

The program, designed to prevent delinquency among at-risk students, was established halfway through the 2017-2018 school year at West.

On Dec. 19, 2017, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to provide $15,000 to fund the HOPE NH program for 15 “at risk” West students for the remainder of the school year.

The program, a 501-C3 organization, goes into schools and works with kids who are struggling or show excessive absenteeism. The goal is to increase attendance rates, improve grade point average, reduce behavioral infractions, engage in credit recovery/extended learning opportunities and create community connections.

HOPE supporters say data provided by West Principal Rick Dichard indicates the program was having a positive impact.

Of the 15 students, eight either increased their GPA or kept it steady through the school year. Five of the students increased the number of credits they earned in semester two by an average of 2.0 credits per student.

Five students earned the same number of credits in semesters one and two. Twelve of the 15 students had a decrease in disciplinary referrals, an average of nine fewer per student — resulting in 135 fewer disciplinary interactions with students for administrators.

Seven out of the 15 students either improved attendance or their attendance stayed the same across both semesters.

It came as a bit of a surprise when school board members emerged from a nonpublic discussion in August and voted to sever ties with HOPE NH and instructed the Curriculum and Instruction Committee to look at alternative programs.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas reported to board members Monday he had spoken with three vendors about the possibility of setting up an alternative education program at West.

“Through a great deal of effort, there was a lot of discussion with the three vendors,” said Vargas. “Unfortunately, they are not in the position to do this work for us at this time.”

School Board Vice Chair Art Beaudry of Ward 9, serving as chair for Monday’s meeting with Mayor Joyce Craig out of town, said he had received an email Monday morning from Principal Dichard saying he didn’t think it would be beneficial this late in the school year to bring in a new vendor. Instead, he recommended to continue working with the Office of Youth Services, which is currently providing services to students at the school.

“Do we know if this letter was sent without any prompting?” said Ward 2 board member David Scannell. “He sent that on his own?”

“I don’t know committeeman; you always like to bring up conspiracies,” said Beaudry. “I don’t particularly care for people referencing that there’s arm twisting going on out there.”

Vargas said he wasn’t aware of anyone prompting Dichard to send the email.

“I have to take his email communication on its face,” said At Large school board member Pat Long. “When I last spoke with him about a month ago, he advocated for the return of the HOPE program.”

On a voice vote, board members voted to continue having the Office of Youth Services operate the program at West.

pfeely@unionleader.com