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DOE Commissioner Barry visits SAU 58

May 05, 2010
GROVETON — New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Virginia Barry visited SAU 58 last week to talk to the teachers, students, and administrators about the issues facing their schools. Principals of Groveton Elementary School, Groveton High School, Stratford Public School, and Stark Village School were on hand to lead a tour through the classrooms of their schools, as were the officials of the SAU 58 office where Commissioner Barry also stopped by to lend an ear.

"Girls and boys, who's in charge of me?," asked Groveton Elementary School teacher Kim Hockmeyer as she introduced Commissioner Barry to her 2nd grade students.

"Mrs. Moran," they replied, referring to school principal Rosanna Moran.

"Who's in charge of Mrs. Moran?"

"Dr. P.," replied the students, using their nickname for Interim Superintendent Ron Paquette.

"[Commissioner Barry's] in charge of Dr. P.," Mrs. Hockmeyer explained.

Administrators and teachers had some issues to bring to their "boss'" attention. The issue that dominated the day was the trouble the district is having trying to meet the minimum standards set out by the state, namely the state standards that dictate teacher certification and diversity of classes offered.

"How do we meet the minimum standards when you have a school the size of Shelli [Robert's] in Stark: 27 kids?" asked district consultant and former principal of Groveton High School Fred Bailey. "We have the minimum standards and we try to do what the standards say, but it's hard."

Mr. Bailey exampled the one science teacher at the Stratford Public School who is expected to be qualified in physical science, biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science.

"It's hard to ask that person to become highly qualified in all those areas," said Mr. Bailey. This issue is exacerbated by how difficult it is to attract teacher to the North Country at all, said Mr. Bailey. "You look for people who are qualified. We end up picking up uncertified teachers because they need people in the classrooms when school starts."

"It's not that you guys aren't helpful down at the DOE. You are," continued Mr. Bailey. "It's just the schools are so small."

"If you're going to have schools with the number of students you are talking about, you are going to have to get used to it. There are no waivers," said Ed Murdough, a colleague of Commissioner Barry's who is the member of the DOE's Task Force to Develop A Performance-Based School Accountability System who focuses on school approval.

"It's part of the community's decision to operate these schools. You've got to provide what's necessary," said Mr. Murdough, referencing the district's decision not to consolidate their schools. "Should you say to the small schools, 'Well, you don't have to do everything.' Where do you draw the line?" asked Mr. Murdough who said this is an issue the DOE struggles with. Mr. Murdough firmly stated that every New Hampshire student should have access to a certain level of education whether that student lives in the most populous schools in Manchester or the some of the least populous schools in SAU 58.

"It's not going on deaf ears," promised Commissioner Barry on the issue of bureaucratic state regulations on what a teacher needs to be qualified. "We are moving away from highly qualified versus highly effective."

Mr. Murdough suggested finding creative solutions to meet the minimum standards, such as online classes or shared classes between district schools. Schools can apply to the DOE for approval of alternate ways of meeting standards.

"We do have alternate compliance. We can't force consolidation, but we can encourage collaboration," said Mr. Murdough. "We are very flexible. We want to see that you are addressing the intent of the standard. We want to work with you to do that."

Dr. Paquette welcomed the idea of more online education.

"I don't think we should be afraid of that," he said. "I think we should embrace that. How we get information is changing. We need to change with it."

Commissioner Barry also recognized that education is changing, saying it is an exciting time to work in education.

"There is almost an unusual, atypical agreement [in Congress] that the educational system needs to keep changing," she said.

One of these changes on the state level is New Hampshire's plan to join the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of three consortia states must choose from that will compete for part of the $350 million in federal money to develop a common assessment program.

One of the consortium's strategies is to better utilize testing with the use of adaptive-testing technology. "Standardized tests are always going to be there," said Commissioner Barry. "It's how we use them, how we integrate them."

A former Plymouth State University professor and administrator, Commissioner Barry just completed her first year in her current position.

"One of the things that we are trying to do is have an opportunity to see the schools across the state, get an idea of what they are trying to do," said Commissioner Barry. She had only good things to say about the students she visited in the SAU 58 schools. "All the classes I went into, all the kids were interested and working hard."

"It's a good school system," said Dr. Paquette. "That's the bottom line."

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Varney Smith
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