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2013: The year  of education

If 2012 was the year of politics, a polarizing time when rational debate was increasingly trumped by hardening positions, maybe 2013 will come to be defined by something that ought to be less polarizing. Certainly nationally, but more specifically here in the Monadnock region, 2013 is poised to be the year of education.

That’s because there are a whole lot of decisions coming up that will impact our students, our teachers and our taxpayers in the months ahead. Some issues are certain to get lots of spirited debate, while others will set the course for the future of public education in our communities. Here’s a road map for some of the key issues that will play out in the year ahead.

Who will lead our districts?

Three of the region’s four school districts ­— ConVal, Mascenic and Wilton-Lyndeborough — have opened national searches for new superintendents. ConVal’s Richard Bergeron is stepping down at the end of the school year and his replacement will take control of a district at a crossroads. ConVal’s nine-town structure makes problem-solving difficult and reaching consensus on big issues remains harder than it needs to be. Whoever takes the reins will need a steady hand to balance the competing interests and a clear vision that will unite staff, parents and the many communities. Mascenic, meanwhile, has rebounded in recent years following the withdrawal of Mason from its district and structural problems that were discovered at two of its elementary schools. Today, the towns of New Ipswich and Greenville enjoy a jewel of a new elementary school, and the middle school and high school have been honored for their achievements in recent years. Betsey Cox-Buteau continues to serve as interim superintendent, and a search committee is scheduled to meet early this month to discuss the search.

Dropping enrollment

In the ConVal School District, the numbers show a community in transition. We are an aging population with far fewer students enrolled in the public education system. And there is no expectation that this will change as fewer young families move into the region, and more young families decide to move elsewhere for work. That leaves us with both an enrollment problem and a resources dilemma. Should voters amend the Article of Agreement that requires all the towns in the district ­— minus Sharon — to have their own elementary schools? Will communities consider closing one of the middle schools? Should the school board or should voters ultimately make the decisions that are bound to leave some towns on the outside looking in? These aren’t new questions, but they’ve gone unanswered for too long. Is this the year we find a solution?

School safety

Last year, voters rejected a warrant article that would have placed a school resource officer inside ConVal High School. And earlier this school year, the Jaffrey-Rindge School Board said it planned to eliminate its school resource officer position, citing budget concerns. Will the Newtown, Conn., shooting and the growing debate over gun-control legislation alter how residents and administrators see the issue of police in schools?

What we teach

School districts across the state are planning for changes to the Common Core Standards that will go into effect for the 2014-2015 school year. The standards strive to give students a more meaningful set of skills that readily apply to the real world.

According to Bergeron, parents will see changes continuing to unfold. These include:

∎ Students will be asked to write more, using argumentative and persuasive style. Reading and writing skills will be more connected.

∎ Students will be required to analyze, show evidence, support claims and draw conclusions in their writing.

∎ Students will be exposed to fewer math objectives but they will be asked to delve deeper into math understanding.

∎ There will be a greater problem solving focus in mathematics instruction. Students will be instructed to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

How we teach it

Any teacher, parent and administrator will tell you about the daily frustrations of having to meet unrealistic testing standards. What becomes easily lost is the individuality of a teacher, a student, a classroom. Through these difficulties, there continue to be shining examples of our schools incorporating technology into the classroom to offer the types of lessons that standardized testing just can’t give. Last week, we told you about seventh-grade students in the Jaffrey-Rindge School system that are using iPads to learn critical skills in research and data management. And today, on Page 6, we bring you into Great Brook School in Antrim where another group of seventh graders are putting together a morning broadcast that folds in real-world lessons of problem-solving, storytelling and responsibility. These are the types of efforts that serve to inspire a new generation of leaders, and we hope to bring you more of these stories of success in the year ahead.

Restore university funding

The push toward an improved public education system won’t deliver the promises of a stronger economy and more connected communities if an increasing percentage of high school graduates go elsewhere for college degrees. There’s lots to be proud of in New Hampshire. But our level of funding for our state education system is a shameful black eye. We currently rank last in state funding for higher education, and tuition and fees at both 4-year and 2-year colleges are among the highest in the nation. This means our state college graduates are entering their careers with the nation’s highest level of student debt. The incoming Legislature must work to reverse this shortsighted trend with long-term implications.

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