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September 23. 2013 6:22PM

Dead end for driver’s ed after Salem School Board vote

SALEM — As of March, Salem High School will no longer have a driver’s education program.

The School Board unanimously supported Superintendent Michael Delahanty’s recommendation that the school do away with the driver’s education program, which several school districts have done in recent years.

Delahanty said that since 2007, the state no longer requires that school districts offer the program. Over the past several years, the program has not run smoothly, he said, adding that several instructors and the director have left.

“Several years ago we had many driver education instructors at the high school and one of those instructors also served as the director,” said Delahanty.

That director dealt with all the paperwork associated with the program and also made sure it met all state regulations. However, that director stepped down and the program lost two other certified instructors.

“When we had a director who oversaw the operation of the program, plus the drivers with their certifications, it was a seamless operation,” said Delahanty.

In recent years, Delahanty said it has been harder to keep the program running. A high school teacher who does not act as an instructor took over some of the program director duties, but Delahanty said it was difficult for the teacher to manage the program on top of regular classroom duties.

He also said several of the current instructors who are teachers at the high school have indicated they will not be renewing their driver education instructor certifications.

“Because this is not a required program, I think it is time for us to drop the program,” said Delahanty. If the program were to continue, Delahanty said the district would need to hire new instructors who are not teachers at the high school.

“Having driver education instructors who are not teachers here adds a significant challenge to the operation of the program,” he said. “I don’t think the administration here should assume that responsibility.”

One parent of two students who went through Salem High School, Joan McCoy, said she thinks the school program gives parents and students a certain level of comfort and convenience that private schools might not offer.

Delahanty said some schools still offer driver education programs, but others, such as Pinkerton Academy in Derry, merely provide a link to certified driver education programs.

Pinkerton Academy did away with its driver education program about two years ago, according to Jack Grube, Pinkerton’s director of Career and Technical Education.

“It was problematic to schedule, then the support that automotive dealerships used to provide to the schools began to dwindle and the vehicles became more challenging to get,” said Grube.

Since the program ended at Pinkerton Academy, Grube said there hasn’t been much of a push to bring it back. The school does list private driver education programs approved by the Department of Education on its website, but Grube said students mostly find programs through word of mouth.

“The kids will go to where their family members or other friends went,” said Grube.

Grube said there was a time when driver education programs were less expensive for students to take at the high school, but increased competition and a greater number of local driving schools helped to eliminate that difference in price.

The Salem School Board unanimously supported Delahanty’s request to end the program at the end of the winter session in March.

Board Chairman Bernard Campbell asked whether it would be possible for the district to rent out space in the high school to a private program for the convenience of the students.

“It might be an opportunity for a private business,” Campbell said.

Although there isn’t much of a price difference between programs offered by public school districts and private driving schools, there are a number of districts that continue to provide driver education programs and have had success with them, including Nashua North and South high schools and Goffstown High School.

“We do have driver education, and I think it is working very well,” said Goffstown High School Principal Frank McBride. “Typically, we are jam-packed every session. It meets the needs of the kids and the driver education instructor is invested in it.”

At Goffstown, McBride said the major appeal for the students over private driving schools is the convenience and not the price. The price of the driver education program through the high school is comparable to that offered by local driving schools, he said.aswift@newstote.com


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