Last Monday, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas told the Board of School Committee that the school district should “woo” the parents and students of Hooksett. The mayor gets it. Manchester’s public school system has to compete.
The city schools are at a crossroads in their history. Though there have always been private schools in the city, they have never been numerous or large enough to constitute a real threat to the government school system. The system has been a monopoly provider of education to most of the city’s students, and to the students of some of the surrounding towns. That has changed.
Bedford withdrew its students as soon as it could afford to build its own high school. Hooksett got out as soon as its school board could arrange for a plausible alternative (Pinkerton Academy). As soon as more school choices become available for Manchester parents — charter schools, scholarships, more private schools — more of them will leave, too. The district can no longer count on its monopoly status to maintain enrollment. It has to fight for it.
The era of public school competition has begun in Manchester. Now the school district has to get serious about aggressively courting students and families. That starts with Hooksett, where the school board’s tuition contract with Pinkerton Academy faces approval by the voters. Sell Manchester schools (highlighting substantive reforms such as West’s STEAM Ahead), or take the blame when Hooksett leaves.