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Joyce Endee

Newfound board takes no action on plans to move fifth grade

February 15, 2012
BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School board met on Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m., immediately following its public hearing on petitioned warrant articles. Many community members came to the meeting, where there was a lot to discuss, celebrate and consider.

At the beginning of the meeting, several students were recognized for their achievements, including the board's student representative, Josh Adjutant, who won the first round of the Rotary Club's speech contest with his speech about honesty.

Senior Dylan Collin was also recognized for being a National Merit Scholarship finalist, with hopes to head to Northeastern in the fall to major in computer science.

"It is nice to have students in the high school be such diligent role models, " said Superintendent Marie Ross.

High school Principal Michael O'Malley and Ross presented the results of this year's NECAP testing to the board.

The results of 11th grade testing show that students are above the state mean in reading and writing, but barely meet the state mean in math.

"We are on our way to where we wanted to be," said O'Malley. "We didn't quite get there, but we were at the mean this year, and hope to keep excelling."

Though math fell a bit short this year, O'Malley insists that the faculty and administration are working hard to get students to where they need to be.

"Our goal is for all students to reach the proficient category," said O'Malley. "That is where our focus is, that is what our strategy is, and that is where our tactics apply. Everybody is working hard to get this math program right."

At the elementary and middle school level, all grades, aside from grade six, exceed the state average. Ross said that there was some investigating being doing at the middle school level to see if students are trying to their full potential, or just breezing through the assessment because it is "just a test."

Overall, Ross was pleased with the elementary and middle school results, and thinks that the tests show a move in a positive direction.

"We worked really hard this year with kids with IEP's (Individual Learning Plans)," said Ross. "We were really proud of the growth they made this year."

Though administrators thought that the NECAP test showed some positive growth, community members were a bit concerned.

"It seems like there was a lot of glossing over the low points and highlighting the high points," said Todd Westfall of Alexandria. "But overall, it looks like we are making progress."

Some community members also asked the board about "No Child Left Behind," and if New Hampshire has considered trying to waive the law.

"It doesn't look like a good idea to jump ahead on the waiver," said Ross. "We are not one of the states that chose to go ahead with that."

Ross added that she thinks New Hampshire is doing the right thing by not making a quick decision when it comes to this matter.

The board also spent some time reflecting on the outcome of the first deliberative session that was held on Feb. 4.

"It was wonderful to see that amount of people there," said School Board Chair Mary Campbell. "It has been many years since we have had that number."

The board was not only impressed with the turnout, but with the attitudes of those that attended, as well.

"I was thrilled with the quality and the politeness of discussion," said board member Louis Lieto.

Though there were some issues with mailing public notifications, the board was pleased with the turnout and the event as a whole.

The evening's most contentious topic was the agenda item to create a plan to move the fifth grade to the middle school.

"It is my job as superintendent to offer the highest level of education, no matter the grade configuration," said Ross. "I would like to think about putting a plan in place."

The board was concerned about the idea because the project could either go really well, or could be done minimally.

"It could be done, and it could be done well," said Lieto. "It could certainly be done poorly, but it could be done successfully. I think it is a reasonable thing that can be done well if we try to do it well."

Board member Vincent Migliore was hesitant to begin to put a plan in place because of community reactions to the proposed plan.

"I heard loudly and clearly that this wasn't a good idea," said Migliore. "Parents are strongly against this. The direction that this is going, it may make some parents consider home schooling."

With the thought of parents pulling their children out of public school, decreased enrollment and threats of community schools leaving the district, board members have a lot to consider with this project.

"I have had some concerns about the safety aspect of young children being brought into the middle school," said board member Jon Johnson. "We can put safety's in place, but there will always be holes."

Community members in attendance agreed that safety was a concern, and that the fifth graders would be missing the tight knit environment that community schools provide, and what the fifth grade gives to the community school environment.

"The fifth graders are the heart and soul of the community schools," said Kathy from Bristol. "They are great role models and learners. If you take the fifth grade out of the community schools, you rip the heart out of the school."

With board members and members of the community so deeply rooted on both sides of this issue, it was difficult to find a fitting conclusion.

"I think we have clear support for both sides of this issue," said Ross. "I think this move will put a lot of pressure on my staff, but they would certainly be up for the challenge."

In the end, the board voted in favor of retaining the current status of the fifth grade plans, not moving forward and creating a transition plan. Other items that were passed at the meeting included placing public notices into the Laconia Daily Sun and holding the first deliberative session on a Saturday morning next year.

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