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Manchester parents eye school redistricting

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 18. 2013 1:41AM

MANCHESTER - Superintendent Thomas Brennan is proposing minor modifications to school attendance zones that could affect nearly 70 students on the West Side and a comparable number in the east side.

Brennan presented the proposal at a community meeting Wednesday at Northwest Elementary, one of the schools that would be affected under the plan.

A second meeting, on changes on the east side, will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at Southside Middle School.

The changes represent the first steps in a broader redistricting plan that could involve the creation of a central city-wide preschool and the conversion of Manchester High School West into a multi-use educational facility. Wednesday's meeting, attended by more than 50 people, showed that even small changes could prove upsetting to some parents.

"Redistricting is one of the things superintendents like to do least," Brennan said at the start of the meeting. "Don't get too excited. I'm hear to listen. If we need to make changes, we will."

In response to some of the concerns raised by parents, Brennan indicated that he was willing to take a closer look at the 1,200 students who go to schools outside of their attendance area.

As proposed, Brennan's plan would move 28 students in the Amory Street neighborhood from Northwest to Gossler Park Elementary, and 38 students in the Granite Street neighborhood from Gossler Park to Parker Varney Elementary.

Brennan said he did not have a figure handy for how many students on the east side, where the majority of schools are located, would be affected under the plan. Nine schools would have their attendance areas redrawn.

A few of the parents at the meeting live in the affected neighborhoods.

"I toured both schools, and we bought our house because our daughter would be going to this school," said Jennifer Belanger, referring to Northwest.

Another parent questioned why, if there are 1,200 students attending schools outside their zone, the district shouldn't first address this problem.

Brennan had said that he made the decision not to take immediate action on the issue. "In some cases there are legitimate reasons, but what it does is put unrealistic pressure on schools by simply allowing students to attend just for convenience sake," he said. "But we're going to assess everyone."

Brennan also sought to allay concerns that there were plans to close Manchester High School West.

"I have never said, nor will I ever say, I will close West High," he said. "What we should do is think about how we should use our schools."

Pointing to a 2007 redistricting report, Brennan suggested that West be converted into a grade seven through 12 facility that could offer a specialized program in math and science.

Any such changes would be at least two years away, he said.

Mayor Ted Gatsas, who has been a strong proponent of redistricting, attended the first part of the meeting. "I think it's been a great discussion. We look forward to working with everyone," he said.

Several school board members also attended the meeting.

Ward 8 board member Erika Connors agreed that the meeting was an important first step. "It got the ball rolling," she said.

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