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School board members listen to plea for better communications

Board approved the ongoing use of Google Apps for Education in the district

March 10, 2011
EFFINGHAM — Open the line of communication. This was a plea made by Effingham Selectwoman Susan Slack to the Governor Wentworth Regional School Board at its March 7 meeting. Initiating a lengthy conversation, the board then heard comments ranging from how to be better positive leaders to how they've done a great job reaching out to the public to how the public themselves should be more active at becoming involved.

Disappointed by the "poor level of communication" between the school board and the Effingham Board of Selectmen and Effingham residents in general, Slack asked the Board to meet the Selectmen halfway in an effort to communicate better. Feeling the town had been left out of the loop for too long Slack said the Select Board was most recently upset when a school board representative hadn't come before the town to explain the current budget proposal a proposal which Slack said would effect Effingham's taxes the most severely of the district's six towns.

School Board Chair Jack Widmer responded that while it was always the intent of the Board to come before the town with the facts, other presentations were made available to the public as well. Budget hearings and meetings, as well as the district's Deliberative Session are all meant for community members to attend and voice concerns. It's discouraging when people don't show up, he said of the low attendance at these hearings, and it is one of the drawbacks of N.H. Senate Bill 2 that allows residents to vote on school district warrants at the polls rather than at town and school district meetings.

Regardless, Widmer assured, if individual towns want more information he would happily meet with them, thus opening the door to the Effingham Selectmen, Effingham residents and the district at large.

Still, others felt that communication was a two-way street and that positive leadership from both parties was key. Attending monthly school board meetings, committee meetings, and/or referring to the district Web site (www.govwentworth.k12.nh.us) are all ways for the public to stay informed of what's happening in the district. One resident pointed out that when looking back through the past year's meeting minutes posted online, there was no public input mentioned in any of them. This is because, Widmer explained, a lot of the time there is no public in attendance. While an audience member said the public also has a responsibility to find out what they can do to become more involved, it was suggested the board encourage more public participation.

Widmer responded that the Board would do the best it could to work with any group or individual seeking additional information. Slack, on behalf of the Selectmen, seemed appreciative of the offer.

A different way that the district may soon be able to stay connected is by utilizing Google Apps for Education, a free service that provides free e-mail and collaboration tools enabling faculty, staff and students to work together and, as the Web site claims, more effectively. By using Google Apps teachers can remotely interact with students as they work, be it from their desks or from another state,. The program offers a forum, open only to those included in the group (a class, a school, the district, etc.), where work can be done, corrections can be made and active student-teacher dialogue is always available.

Middle School Computer Technology Integrator Rick Davidson and fifth grade Ossipee Central School teacher Cara McNevich have piloted the program within their respective schools and suggested, that with the board's approval, the program be integrated throughout the district. The teachers agreed on the programs success at both grade levels and said that the students responded well to the interactive application. Because of Google Apps, Davidson said, kids were writing, reading and working together more. The Board approved the ongoing use of Google Apps for Education in the district.

This type of remote learning may come in handy as the juggling of classrooms and office space continues to make way for construction at the Kingswood complex. Come summertime the high school, middle school and voc. center will be closed to everyone but those on the renovation and expansion team. Staff and administration working through the summer break will be temporarily relocated to the Kingswood Arts Center while North Branch Construction continues construction on the existing buildings. By the end of summer, however, the goal is to have the middle school completed with work on the high school and vocational center continuing until the following fall.

Overall, said Building and Maintenance Chair Ernie Brown, the project is going well and moving forward at the expected pace. As the building grows and changes shape, brickwork has begun to replace the original green plastic walls a sure sign that progress is being made. Soon there will be another sign of progress: by mid-March the steel work will begin to go up in front of the high school.

Despite the scare of a minor construction-related fire on the roof of the existing middle school gymnasium, Brown said, he was happy to see the temporary fire drill plan worked well and that within two minutes all buildings were evacuated. North Branch Construction, which has its own safety officer, has addressed the issues that caused the fire.

Superintendent Jack Robertson said that while there is a lot going on in Concord a prominent concern is where the district will stand in terms of what money the state will provide for education. Though no figures will be final until June, many districts were concerned about Governor John Lynch's budget proposal in which he suggested leaving school districts responsible for the total cost of the New Hampshire retirement system for teachers. This shift would prove problematic, Robertson said, because no district is carrying that expense in their budget. It's these types of uncertainties that make budgeting challenging and leave the district unsure where it stands.

Upcoming events

Tomorrow night, March 11, the Kingswood Regional High School Drama Club will perform four student-directed performances at 7 p.m. The performances will be repeated the following day with an afternoon Gala event at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Both events will be held at the Kingswood Arts Center.

Kingswood Arts Knight will be held Thursday evening, March 17.

Don't forget a full day of school will be held on Saturday, March 19 to make up for a previous snow day.

On March 23 a presentation on bullying and cyberbullying will be held for parents, students and community members beginning at 6 p.m. in the Kingswood Arts Center. The District has teamed up with Appalachian Mountain Teen Project to bring in speaker Dr. Sameer Hinduja of Florida Atlantic University, who coauthored the book "Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying" and can offer real life information, guidelines, and resources to give students the support they need.

Effingham Elementary School Principal Lisa Tremblay invited the public the student's stage adventure performance on April 1 beginning at 6 p.m.

The school board will meet again on Monday, April 4 beginning at 7 p.m. at New Durham Elementary School.

Check the district Web site at www.govwentworth.k12.nh.us for more listed events, including upcoming drama performances and middle school and high school concerts.

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