You can always tell when the School Board meets

Because my column is super loaded with school items the following Sunday. Enjoy the minutia of standardized testing and the like.

Schools still shoulder ‘need improvement’ burden

SCHOOL IN NEED of improvement. It’s a label Mayor Ted Gatsas has sworn to banish from the city, but as another year passes, it still hangs over the heads of those in the district.

The New Hampshire Department of Education recently released the statewide 2010-11 Adequate Yearly Progress results, and Manchester again saw its schools slapped with the “in need of improvement” label.

A look across the state shows Manchester schools are not alone.

About 65 percent did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, in one or more areas, including attendance and proficiency in math and reading. Of the 469 schools included in the report, 307 need improvement, under the federal system.

AYP and “schools in need of improvement” are terms derived from the No Child Left Behind Act, which called for all public school students to demonstrate proficiency by 2014.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan said these numbers are no surprise and called the federal goals unrealistic.

“Many of us felt it would just be a matter of time before several school districts were labeled ‘in need of improvement,'” said Brennan. Educators are hoping there will soon be testing reforms that compare scores from the same students over time, Brennan said, instead of comparing how this year’s third grade did compared with last year’s third grade.

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THERE WERE a few bright spots in the annual report, especially for those students who are learning to read and write in English.

Manchester’s English-learning students saw their test scores in reading go up 9 percent and test scores in math up 10 percent. This is far above the state average, which saw about a 1 percent increase in reading and a 1 percent decrease in math.

But the work is not over. The district is now looking at how these students got these numbers and where to go from there. “Is it because of the instruction they’re getting?” Brennan asked. “How do we see them going from new (English) learners to proficient learners?”

City schools most need to improve their graduation rates.

State high schools aim to graduate 80 percent of their seniors. The report shows 14 high schools missed that mark. Manchester Central and West were two of them. Central graduated 74 percent of seniors, West graduated 66 percent and Memorial squeaked in under the cutoff at 80 percent.

If these numbers seem bad, take a look at the minority subgroups’ graduation rates: 45 percent of Hispanic students at Central, 54 percent of those labeled “economically disadvantaged” at West, and about 60 percent of students with disabilities city-wide.

By offering more alternative learning opportunities at the high school level, including making Manchester School of Technology a full-time high school, Brennan hopes to lift these numbers.

“I think these changes, if we are able to implement a Grade 9 (to) 12 program at MST, will see a significant impact on our graduation rates across the city,” said Brennan.

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WHEN CENTRAL High School Principal John Rist retires from his post this summer, the district will have some pretty big shoes to fill. Thanks to a Board of School Committee vote last week, the search for the right feet can now include those of some out-of-town residents.

Since last summer, newly hired top administrators have been required to live in the city or at least agree to move to Manchester within 180 days of getting the job. Under this rule, current Manchester School District employees who wanted to move up to a higher position couldn’t do so without a city address.

Until last week.

The board lifted the residency requirement for the Manchester School District, provided the employees were working for the district before the requirement policy was originally passed. This grandfathering provision, proposed by Committeeman Arthur Beaudry, was opposed by Mayor Gatsas and board Vice Chairman David Gelinas.

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THE DOOM AND GLOOM budget forecast Finance Director Bill Sanders made a few months back has cleared into something akin to a cool summerlike day — for now. The city is set to end this fiscal year with a $753,000 surplus, a drastic difference from the we-might-run-out-of-money message Sanders gave in December. Of course, this could all change if there are a large number of retirements between now and June 30, pushing up the projected severance payments. But for now, Sanders seems optimistic.

“With about three months to go, we’re in pretty good shape,” Sanders said.

Earlier this month, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to use $400,000 of the surplus toward future retirement costs. If the surplus is more than $400,000, the aldermen could vote to adjust that figure, or use the money for something else in next year’s budget. Whatever the final number, expect some lively debate over where those precious dollars will go.

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FIRST CONGRESSIONAL District reisdents seeking help with a federal government issue can speak with a member of Rep. Frank Guinta’s local office on Tuesday.

Senior Projects Director David Tille, who serves as a liaison between the local office and the congressman’s staff, will be available for one-on-one meetings between 11 a.m. and noon at the Bedford Town Office, 24 N. Amherst St. Constituents can also bring concerns to Guinta’s Manchester district office, 33 Lowell St., or can call the office at 641-9536

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