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Manchester school superintendent chided on audit

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 28. 2013 10:40PM

MANCHESTER — Members of the school board expressed concerns Monday that the administration has been slow in pursuing reforms recommended in a highly critical audit presented in the summer.

Superintendent Debra Livingston told the Board of School Committee that she expected to have specific recommendations in line with the audit, which would be referred to the relevant subcommittees, “very soon.”

Ward 3 board member Chris Stewart said he expected there to be a time-line for moving forward on the recommendations outlined in the nearly 300-page report produced last spring by Curriculum Management Systems, an Iowa-based education consulting company.

“This is nice, but we spent $40,000 on this,” he said. “There are really no dates attached to this. It’s unclear to me what the plan is moving forward. I’d like to see more detail shortly.”

The audit found that city schools lag well behind the state average in test scores and have made little or no improvement over the past four years.

It outlined a set of recommendations, in particular developing unified policies and curriculum across the district.

Livingston, who became the school chief in July, said she has moved quickly in response to the issues she has been presented with. She pointed to the recent outcry over the Common Core State Standards and her decision to have the district develop its own Manchester Academic Standards

“This process has moved slower than I thought it would,” she said, referring to the audit recommendations. “There have been a lot of things, like the Manchester Academic Standards that I will say have slowed down this process.”

Ward 9 board member Art Beaudry said he expected to use the audit recommendations as a basis for evaluating Livingston. “I think under the contract, we have to evaluate you by January 1. I was hoping some of these topics could be used to show how things are getting accomplished and how quickly,” he said.”

Mayor Ted Gatsas was more supportive of Livingston’s efforts. “In the four months, you’ve probably stepped into more uncharted waters than I’ve ever seen before,” he said.

At its last meeting, the school board voted to back Livingston’s proposal for Manchester Academic Standards that would go beyond Common Core, the controversial national education benchmarks that are being pushed by the Obama administration.

Livingston said that in the coming weeks committees of teachers would be formed to plan the standards at all grade levels. The board rejected a proposal from Beaudry to have the administration make materials that would be reviewed by the committees available to the public two weeks before its meetings.

The district audit released in June also found fault with the school board, noting a tendency “to blur governance and administrative functions.”

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