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Deerfield education committee report favors Oyster River

DEERFIELD - A citizens committee recently submitted a report on three schools the district is examining as it considers moving away from Concord High School, with one school standing out above the rest.

With the district approaching a point in its contract with Concord which would allow them to terminate the agreement with three years' notice, the district has been "considering its options." Those options include remaining in Concord (potentially with a renegotiated contract), Pembroke Academy and Oyster River High School in Durham.

The advisory committee, which consists of 11 members, all parents of school-aged children "who will be impacted by this decision," visited the three schools on Jan. 8 and 15, meeting with administrators, teachers, and students.

While the advisory committee was not charged with giving an official recommendation, the report shows a clear preference for one school in particular: Oyster River High School.

The closing summary at the end of the document notes that "while Concord High and Pembroke Academy struck our committee as perfectly adequate schools, our consensus view is that Oyster River seems like a rare opportunity that the town of Deerfield should further explore."

When asked if the board was leaning towards a given school yet, school board chair Donald Gorman answered "absolutely not." He went on to note that he was "very impressed" with the committee's report, describing it as "incredibly thorough." The board has suggested that a decision will be made before the end of the current school year.

The Concord and Pembroke reports both make reference to students being "impolite" during the committee's visit. Student-teacher interaction was described as "limited" in Concord and "good overall" at Pembroke.

At Oyster River, however, the committee describes strong student engagement "on all levels of learning within the heterogeneous environment," as well as "impressive, respectful interactions between teachers, visitors and students. (It was) the only one of the three schools where students did not heckle us."

Oyster River also scored high with the committee on technology, with the report noting that "technology was present throughout the school and integrated seamlessly into the classroom. Students in the technology classes were learning current software technology rather than legacy programs."

It also describes Oyster River's library facilities as the "best ... of the three schools," noting that students are allowed full access to the UNH Diamond Library with Oyster River library cards.

The report makes reference to a number of support programs the school has instituted, including an advisory FOCUS program, a TA program involved with Honors Society Students who served the 3 to 4 percent of students "who don't qualify for an (Individualized Education Program), but need some extra help."

The board will ultimately have final say in the decision, but they will offer residents the opportunity to weigh in on the question in a non-biding vote at the town election on March 12.

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