Ire Over Hampton Academy Changes

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Parents Accuse Board of Secret Decision

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, April 17, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- School officials were blasted Tuesday night for their closed-door decision last week to eliminate programs and staff next year as part of a plan to restructure Hampton Academy.

Over 100 parents and teachers showed up at the board meeting demanding that its members reconsider eliminating the consumer science and technology education programs, as well as seven teaching positions.

Those in attendance said they were outraged that the decisions were made without any input from teachers or the community.

"Board members are elected to serve taxpayers in an open and honest manner, and not to be dealing in back-room politics," said parent Linda Morrison. "The board has a responsibility to inform the public of their intentions, and this board miserably failed."

School Board members — after listening to over an hour of public comment against the move — refused to change their minds. They continued to contend that the new plan will benefit students.

Chairman Russell "Rusty" Bridle announced the cutbacks were done as part of the board's decision to revert back to the junior high school model.

A traditional junior high is a high school for younger kids focused on core curriculum, while a middle school, which the Hampton board adopted in 2005, is more exploratory and takes into account the social, emotional and academic needs of the early teen.

"This is not something that happened over night or behind closed doors," Bridle said.

The change back to a so-called "vertical model" of instruction, Bridle said, will not increase class size.

The new school format, the board said, allows flexibility in student groupings according to academic and social needs. It also assists in creating opportunities for students with specific needs to have specialized instruction, the board contends.

In addition to the core subjects of math, language arts, science and social studies, every sixth-grade student will have a reading block taught by a certified reading specialist. They will also have a so-called "unified arts" block that would contain a combination of physical education, art, music, library and computer literacy.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students will have two blocks of unified arts that will include all of the above, plus French for the seventh-graders and Spanish in the eighth grade.

As part of the restructuring, five teachers were eliminated, including consumer science teacher Joan Greenwood and technical education teacher Carole LePauloue.

Two other teaching positions were eliminated, one due to retirement and the other one, which is held by Andrea Shepard, because Shepard has been appointed as the new vice principal of the Academy.

A special education teacher was also cut, and the hours of one art teacher and both foreign language art teachers were reduced.

Board members did not comment on why the positions were eliminated, but on Wednesday issued a press release.

The board stated the proposed restructuring was a culmination of six-plus years of board dissatisfaction with excessive time currently allocated for teacher planning that takes those teachers away from their classrooms and limits their time spent with students.

At the Tuesday meeting, the board defended the decision to revert back to the junior high model.

"We needed to see a change," said board member Sandra Nickerson. "We are trying to offer a better education than what has been happening.

"We want (students) to be prepared and successful when they go on to high school," Nickerson said.

She also said the middle school concept was not working.

Board member Norm Silberdick said the change was made in order to improve student test scores and to ensure they are proficient in core subject areas.

"The (change) will result in a better school and a better education for the children," said Silberdick.

Parents, however, were disturbed by the board's actions.

"If you're reducing the number of teachers and eliminating programs, how is that benefiting the students?" asked parent Eric Cadey. "Why abandon the middle-school structure that we (as a district) have made investments into."

Parent Robin Day handed the board a petition signed by 80 parents asking the board to hold off on the decision until a further study is done.

"We are all asking one question and that is why?" Day said. "What is going on to make such a drastic shift from a philosophy that is working and that board members before you supported?"

Others were upset about the process.

"Every school has its difficulties and problems," said resident Patrick Collins. "My concern here is not the product, my concern here is the process.

"Were the parents asked? PTA? Students? Taxpayers? Nobody asked me, so I assume no one asked them," Collins said. "This is not how we do things in Hampton."

"You're a School Board, not a board of directors," Winnacunnet High School teacher and Hampton resident John Croteau said. "This is not way to run a public school. We need to collaborate if we want to be successful. When you chose to divide and do things secretly, you're going to lose."

Others questioned the need to eliminate programs and staff when the approximately $18.2 million school budget that included them was passed by voters in March.

The reductions in staff translates into roughly $780,000 in savings, School Board members said.

"I'm distressed this decision came out of the blue, and I'm very concerned my daughter will be entering the school in an atmosphere of chaos," said resident Michael Myers.

After the meeting, Day and several other parents wrote board members demanding a special School Board meeting to discuss the issue further.

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