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Manchester School Board Adopts Long-Awaited Strategic Plan

Sarah Gibson for NHPR


The Manchester school board approved a strategic plan Thursday night designed to improve equity and student outcomes throughout the district. 

The plan was put forth by Manchester Proud, a group of business leaders, community members, and nonprofits that spent the past 20 months surveying thousands of families, teachers, and students and vetting proposals with the community and school board.

Central High School english teacher Selma Naccach-Hoff said the district has been struggling to make changes for years, but the new plans gave her hope.

“The huge difference, ladies and gentlemen, is the fact that this has the approval and actual involvement of so many different members of the community,” she told a crowd of about 400 attendees at the school board meeting Thursday.

Among other things, the plan recommends reducing the size of the school board, creating magnet schools, hiring a district equity coordinator, building project-based-learning models, and overhauling school disciplinary systems.

The initiatives could cost millions, but Manchester Superintendent John Goldhardt says to accommodate the new plans, the board needs to consider cutting some existing programs and reassessing staff levels at schools with declining enrollment.

“We need to ask ourselves: Do these [programs] have an impact, are they improving performance? And if they’re not, why are we spending our time doing that?” he said in an interview.

Goldhardt said Manchester Proud’s vision aligns with the one he laid out for the district earlier this month: 100 percent high school graduation rate, reading proficiency for all third graders, and increased number of students - particularly low-income and students of color - in advanced classes. 

At the meeting, dozens expressed their support for the new plans. But some warned that Manchester Proud wasn’t engaging enough with parents.

Shalamar Encarnacion told board members the public school system was failing bicultural immigrant students, in part because the district didn’t know how to connect with immigrant families.

“We do need to have people meet these parents where they’re at, in their language, have some translation, have some workshops, have something. I guarantee you these parents will come out and meet you halfway,” she said.

Alderman Mike Porter,of Ward 8, told NHPR he admired the intent of Manchester Proud but worried that it emphasized social services above parental involvement.

“We start adding these additional services to the schools and we’re no longer a school,” he said. “Now the city is taking on the mental health role, the social services role, and while I understand there’s a need, we have to delineate between a parent’s role in their children’s lives and a school’s role in their children’s lives.”

Manchester Proud, in partnership with the consulting group 2Revolutions, outlined potential costs of some of the initiatives over the next three years, but did not attach a price tag to the overall goals.

The board says the plan will serve as a road map, but members will continue to refine the plan in the coming months.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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