The Manchester School Board unanimously approved a resolution in June promising the district's staff and policies will change to reflect the city's diverse student population.
NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley followed up with Manchester superintendent John Goldhardt to talk about what those changes in the school district could look like.
Rick Ganley: You've publicly recognized the systemic and institutional racism that exists within Manchester schools, as does in other systems. Why commit to making these changes now?
John Goldhardt: Well, the board, I think, recognized that it has come to a head. You know, I've always recognized that myself in my career. And that's the reason that I have been so adamant about raising the bar and lowering the barriers, and why I'm adamant about providing rigor for all students and making sure our courses that we offer students are giving students more opportunities.
Rick Ganley: Excuse me for interrupting, I just want to ask you, when you talk about raising the bar, I assume you want to do that for all students. Are you saying that there's been a different standard for students of color than their white students?
John Goldhardt: Well, right now our data is very clear. When we had, in the public comment, at our board of school committee meeting a few weeks ago, some individuals from the NAACP came forward reminding the district of a [U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights] complaint from three years ago. And the data is very clear that in our Advanced Placement courses, we have very few students of color. And in what we call level one classes, which are the very lowest level courses, [we have a] very high percentage of students of color.
And the system currently that's been in Manchester for a long period of time is to have these leveled courses where we have level one, level two, level three and level four. And in level one, the far majority of our students of color are in those classes, and very few of them ever had the opportunity to get into the high level courses. And we have to change that so everybody has the opportunity to get into high level courses and that we have all of our students having opportunities to get a high level education. And I believe we can do that here. In fact, I know we can.
Rick Ganley: But why haven't those students been able to do that before? Why is it just now that this is being addressed, do you think?
John Goldhardt: I can't tell you that. This is my first year in the district and so I'm not sure why. But, you know, on my watch, I don't, I can't, I will not allow it to continue. I know there are some people who believe I'm trying to eliminate high level courses, and that is not the case at all. I believe we should have high level courses. But my take on it is that we have to open the door to those high level courses for all of our students, not just a few of our students.
We're also looking, our new English learner director, is changing the way we work with English language learners so we cannot have those students sitting in the same English language learning courses year after year after year. And instead having them learn the language so they can then go into regular classes as soon as possible, and be part of the entire school system as soon as possible and not be isolated from their peers and isolated from participating in school programs that they have not been able to.
Rick Ganley: But how will you make sure that there are real changes, you know, both in policy and culture?
John Goldhardt: I have to stay on top of it and our board has to stay on top of it. The key here is the board has to make systemic policy changes, and it's going to take a lot of time and a lot of work because a lot of our policies, quite frankly, are old and they need to be rewritten. They need to be revised and then they need to be implemented. And that takes a lot of work. We have an attorney on our staff right now who's helping with that, looking at the policies.
Rick Ganley: What are your teachers telling you?
John Goldhardt: I get both sides, but quite frankly, the majority of our teachers support opening the door. The reason people want to work in Manchester, that want to be educators here, is they want to work with our diverse population. And anybody who wants to be a teacher, who wants to help kids, wants them to succeed. And if anybody is worth their salt, that's an educator, doesn't want them to be stymied. They want every single student that they have contact with, regardless of their skin color, regardless of their ethnicity or their background, to succeed and to advance and to be successful. That is the educator creed, in my opinion, and the majority of educators in this district want that to happen.
Rick Ganley: You said the majority, but you also said at the beginning of that answer that you hear both sides. What are both sides?
John Goldhardt: The other side, I believe, is there's a fear that they will have to do some things that are hard. There is a fear of the unknown. There are folks that have never worked in a system that's not leveled before. And so they feel like they will not know how to teach students that have a diverse group of kids in the classroom. And that can be scary to some people, the unknown. We're working on providing professional learning as much as we can with our limited resources that we have.
And for others, that unknown becomes -- it's impossible. And unfortunately, there are a minority of folks who just do not believe it should be done. And quite frankly, in my opinion, those who believe that there is no such thing as all students can succeed shouldn't be in this business. But sadly, there are few in this business and we have to work our way through that and make sure we fill our ranks with people who believe that our students can succeed, and have the belief in the efficacy, and provides the approach, and the science and the art of teaching that we know is true. And we have examples of school after school, after school across the country that has done it and can do it. And I believe we can be one of those districts that can do it.