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Manchester schools ready for a challenging year

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 02. 2014 7:48PM
Kathryn Craig, a fifth-grade student at Webster Elementary School, gives a speech for Manchester teachers during a district-wide assembly on Tuesday morning. School starts in Manchester on Wednesday for more than 15,000 students. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — With memories of a carefree summer stowed in emotional storage, thousands of Manchester school children begin their first of 180 days of classroom instruction this morning.

On Tuesday, teachers in the state’s largest school district returned to work and started their day with a pep rally at Verizon Wireless Arena. They saw a multi-media presentation and heard remarks from three students.

“The buzzword was challenge,” said Samantha Dion, a reading instructor at Hallsville Elementary School. “They want to be challenged, they’re willing to rise to the challenge.”

Challenge, and change, is in store for Manchester students.

• At West High School, about 60 students will begin the district’s first STEAM class, a learning track that emphasizes science, mathematics, arts, technology and internships.

• At Central High School, police are expected to clear the nearby Bronstein Park, the scene of multiple drug overdoses last month. Mayor Ted Gatsas wants the park closed to anyone but students and teachers during school hours.

• New principals will start at Central High School, Southside Middle School, Hallsville Elementary, Highland-Goffe’s Falls Elementary, and Henry Wilson Elementary.

• Instructors will be eyeing the district’s own Manchester Academic Standards, a set of academic standards that tweaks the multiple-state Common Core standards used by most New Hampshire schools.

Superintendent Debra Livingston said principals will also emphasize professional learning communities, where teachers of similar grades or content areas can collaborate. As for students, they shouldn’t expect a gentle transition to schoolwork.

“We want to have our kids learning within 5 minutes of the start of school,” Livingston said. She said everyone’s suffered through a first day where a teacher goes on and on about class rules. “Set the rules and get on with the learning,” she said.

Livingston said 15,009 students were enrolled in Manchester schools as of Tuesday. Last Oct. 1, Manchester reported 14,737 students to the state, so if the enrollment numbers hold true, Manchester would break a recent trend and see an increase in student enrollment.

But Livingston stressed that the October enrollment number can’t be compared to the pre-opening day enrollment number.

“We still see some movement in and out of the district,” Livingston said. “It usually takes a few days, even weeks, until enrollment settles out completely.”

Livingston said a few classes in grades 3 through 5 may exceed the maximum number of 30. In classes that exceed the maximum, principals will allow teachers to call in a substitute teacher for assistance, Livingston said.

Eventually this year, no classes will exceed the state standards for class size, she said.

At Hallsville Elementary School, teachers visited the school last week on their own time to prepare for today, said Christi Michaud, the new principal. The K-5 school expects 340 students. None of the classes are expected to exceed standards for size, she said.

“We will hit the ground running. Learning will start the first thing (Wednesday) morning,” Michaud said. She replaces Rachelle Otero, who is taking the job of assistant principal at Smyth Road School.

Michaud said the rally at the Verizon had teachers standing and cheering. The remarks from an elementary, middle and high school student reminded teachers how rewarding the job is, she said.

“It’s motivating,” Michaud said, “it’s inspiring.”

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