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November 12. 2013 11:34PM

City schools plow ahead with alternative to Common Core

MANCHESTER — Superintendent Debra Livingston says state Department of Education officials are supportive of the district's efforts to develop its own academic standards in place of Common Core.

Livingston presented an update on the Manchester Academic Standards at a school board meeting Tuesday that was held at the Internet technology company Dyn. The board also discussed and approved a plan for an "Innovation Zone" to address deficiencies at seven struggling elementary schools, a program that will be closely coordinated with state education officials.

The meeting was held at Dyn to highlight a new program that will be put in place at Manchester High School West next school year that will allow students to earn up to a year of college credit while in high school. The program, dubbed STEAM Ahead (for science, technology, engineering, art and math), was developed over the past year by city leaders, state higher education officials, and executives from Dyn and other technology companies.

During the public comment period of the meeting, opponents of Common Core again criticized the standards as unsound and an example of federal overreach, and faulted state education officials for pushing the standards on local districts. The board last month approved Livingston's proposal to develop the Manchester-based standards, with the Common Core math and English benchmarks as a foundation.

"The (state) Department of Education has been very supportive of us creating our own standards," Livingston said. "I met with the commissioner."

Assistant Superintendent Dave Ryan said committees of teachers and principals have been formed to review current curriculum materials, as well as those of other school systems around the country. "Some of these should be familiar for people who would like to see something other than Common Core," he said.

In response to a concern raised by Ward 9 board member Art Beaudry, Ryan said he would seek to bring in teachers who haven't been as involved in past curriculum overhaul efforts.

Compared to past discussions on Common Core, there was less concern expressed at Tuesday's meeting about community involvement in developing the standards.

Following public comments from the Common Core opponents, Mayor Ted Gatsas said, "We're going to move forward with the product we have, with our own standards. We're going to seek a waiver for Smarter Balanced (the planned state assessment test). If people want to continue to come and talk about Common Core I can't stop them. I think a clear message has been sent to the administration, and I think they understand it."

The board also approved the "Innovation Zone" plan for seven under-performing elementary schools. Four of those schools have previously been labeled "schools in need of improvement."

Among the components of the plan are teacher and assistant principal evaluations, and the hiring of an executive director to oversee the "zone." The plan, as originally drafted, includes the implementation of the Common Core math and English standards. Livingston said this would be modified in light of the new Manchester standards.

The program is estimated to cost around $650,000. Funding would come through grants and the state, Livingston said.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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