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Hooksett school discussion looks beyond Manchester

HOOKSETT - Hooksett parents and residents formulating their vision for the district at a school board-hosted roundtable Wednesday night were in striking agreement - they did not see the future including Manchester.

Hooksett formally declared Manchester to be in breach of contract with the town in December, largely over the issue of classroom overcrowding. The town's view is that various overtures, both informal and for the negotiation of an "amicable and mutual" early release from the contract, have either gone without response or been declined by the city district.

Parents criticized the attitude in Manchester, saying they felt like individual high school students were "just a number" and were being "left behind," and that the city district "lacks respect" for its sending towns.

Seventy-six attended the round table discussion, whose theme was, "What do we want for our community and our students."

That topic was broken up into six perspectives: Manchester, single school contract, multi-school contract, Hooksett's own high school, special education, and transportation.

All of the major points raised were written on a central board. At the end, color-coded stickers were provided (with a separate color related to each of the six topics), with attendees asked to place them on the issues they think are "most important."

Under the topic of Manchester, the statements "We leave Manchester," "safety of the children a concern," "budget concerns," "Manchester teachers don't want their kids in Manchester schools," and "education not valued" were by far the most identified areas of importance.

The question of Hooksett having its own high school was also up for discussion. Most seemed to believe, however, that while it was an attractive idea, the political and financial hurdles of such a project made it an unlikely outcome.

One of the subjects showing up repeatedly was the single/multi-school option debate.

The single school option would simply replace the Manchester School District with another contracted school of record (in practice, Pinkerton Academy, the only area school with the space at this time).

Supporters of the approach argue that it is more plausible logistically, and would maintain the district's sense of community.

The multi-contract option would involved the district holding contracts with multiple area schools, allowing parents a choice in the education of their students. One of the key points of its supporters is the diversity of student needs, with the associated idea that a single solution - a single school - can't hope to be a universal fit.

While some parents expressed concerns over the logistics of the multi-school option, "choice" and "different students, different needs" were oft-repeated notions across discussions at the roundtable, with some enthusiastic supporters even suggesting that the set-up might even attract new families tired of being "pigeon-holed into a school" to the district.

Attendees were largely split between the idea of having the town pay the full tuition for students regardless of where they go and the concern of "breaking up kids' sense of community."

On the single school option, however, attendees overwhelmingly identified with the statement that the district should "still allow students to go elsewhere by petition to school board."

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