Hampton School Board Owes Voters Explanation

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An Editorial

Hampton Union, Friday, April 17, 2009

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

Parents, teachers and community members are concerned about decisions made by the Hampton School Board concerning Hampton Academy, pictured here.
[Shir Haberman photo]

The Hampton School Board has been making moves that would be a publicity agent's worst nightmare. In the past week, it has announced a massive restructuring of Hampton Academy, the school's principal announced his resignation and after she thought her job was intact for next year, an educator who is in the running to be the state's Teacher of the Year was told a mistake had been made and that she would be laid off.

Reportedly, Christina Hamilton got the news via cell phone while on her way home from school.

It was an oversight by the decision makers, whether it was the SAU office or the board," said Kevin Fleming, grievance chairman of the teachers union. "Even though she is recognized as a candidate for Teacher of the Year, they have to go on seniority."

Fleming said the union plans to fight to save Hamilton's position, as well as those of four other employees who are being let go.

And through all this, neither parents, nor teachers, nor students have much of an idea about how the changes came about and, more importantly, what they mean.

For its part, the board isn't supplying many answers.

Principal Chris Sousa announced his resignation just before what was to be an informational session on the changes on Tuesday night, possibly because the board is switching from a "middle school model," which involves students being placed in teams, and now wants to go to the more-traditional "junior high school model."

Board members have chosen to play it close to the vest when it comes to disseminating information. This, of course, has led to all kinds of speculation, and the rumor mill in Hampton has kicked into high gear. The town is in a tizzy and confidence in SAU 21 officials and the School Board has been shaken by the unwillingness of the decision-makers to be forthcoming.

On a more materialistic note, in these difficult economic times, neither the superintendent's office nor the School Board will tell the voters (who approved an almost $18.2 million school budget in March) what they intend to do with the savings that will result from this reduction in staff, a figure that could be in the neighborhood of $780,000.

It is almost inconceivable that an elected board would be this unresponsive to the demands of its constituents, who just want to know why all this is happening. It is a sign of the kind of arrogance one would expect to see on Wall Street or in the boardroom of an automobile manufacturer.

These board members are acting like they think they are the only ones capable of making an informed decision about what the community's children need. And that is not so.

Parents, teachers and other community members can contribute greatly to the debate and, potentially, to a solution as to why more children are not succeeding academically. Sadly, they were not given the chance to do so before this board unilaterally decided it was only vessel of educational awareness in Hampton.

That should be unacceptable to voters.

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