Community listening session in Bow and Dunbarton school district falls short of expectations

Monitor staff
Published: 5/16/2023 6:05:50 PM

Eleana Colby, a newly elected Bow select board member and parent of five children, left a community listening session on possible changes to the state’s minimum standards for education last week feeling disappointed as it fell short of expectations.

“I left more concerned and troubled than when I arrived,” said Colby after the former chairperson of the state’s Board of Education, Fred Bramante, presented a session on competency-based education, rather than discussing the full range of rules as expected at the meeting hosted by the Bow and Dunbarton School District .

As a parent, Colby said it was heartbreaking to hear educators pleading for state funding to meet their current responsibilities. She worried the new plan will simply make matters worse.

The minimum standards of education provide a set of requirements for all public schools in New Hampshire to ensure that students receive a common framework of learning and quality education. These standards encompass various aspects of education, from elementary education guidelines to graduation requirements, as well as criteria for hiring an assistant principal based on student enrollment figures.

Bramante largely emphasized the importance of providing diverse learning opportunities for children to achieve curriculum requirements and said that the traditional classroom setup should be complemented with online platforms and hands-on learning experiences to accommodate the changing needs and preferences of students.

“Every state in the United States is moving towards the competency system,” said Bramante. “It is the future of education.”

Educators, representatives and residents attending the session were frustrated that information about other parts of the rules was not discussed.

“The minimum standards have also been used to define adequate education and to fund an adequate education,” said Dean Cascadden, superintendent of the school district, said in an interviewed afterward.“ It’s not just about competencies.”

At the Bow High School auditorium, Bramante’s responses to attendees’ questions were often indirect, as he tended to divert into personal experiences or his passion for competency-based education.

This left some attendees frustrated and they wondered if the New Hampshire Department of Education could have done more to help the community understand the impact of proposed changes to the minimum standards.

One of the key elements in the draft presented was to replace guidelines for teacher instruction with a focus on student learning. 

While Cascadden doesn’t disagree with the concept of learning taking the forefront rather than instruction, he said it doesn’t take into account the challenge it puts on overburdened educators strapped for resources.

“We do want to focus on learning,” said Cascadden. “But we also have to focus on the practical realities of running a school in space and time.”

In addition, some attendees were concerned the education standards were compromised under the guise of flexibility.

Specifically, the proposed changes involve granting teachers, school administrators or school districts the authority to define graduation competencies on a local level, rather than adhering to a consistent set of criteria for all public schools statewide.

“I’m very concerned that the proposed rules will erode public education, increase inequity, and exacerbate the existing teacher shortage crisis in New Hampshire,” said Angela Brennan, a parent and state representative. “I think our schools need proper funding from the state to support our students, teachers and taxpayers.”

Upcoming listening sessions

■Campbell High School, Litchfield: May 17 at 6:30 p.m.

■Hillsboro-Deering High School, Hillsboro: May 22 at 6:30 p.m.

■John Stark High School, Henniker: May 24 at 6:30 p.m.

■Kearsarge Professional Development Center, New London: May 25 at 6:30 p.m.

■Goffstown High School,  Goffstown: May 30 at 6:30 p.m.

Sruthi Gopalakrishnan

Sruthi Gopalakrishnan covers environmental and energy stories in Bow, Hopkinton, Dunbarton and Warner for the Concord Monitor. In 2022, she graduated from Northwestern University with a master's degree in journalism, specializing in investigative reporting. She also has a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Engineering and is always looking for new ways to incorporate data and visual elements into her stories. Her work has appeared in Energy News Network, Prism Reports and Crain's Chicago Business.

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