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NH schools granted waiver — so now what?

At the end of June, the New Hampshire Department of Education received an Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind Flexibility waiver from the United States Department of Education. I wanted to take a few moments to review the old system, discuss the waiver, and explain what it means for the students, families, and community members of the Contoocook Valley Regional School District.

In January 2002, then President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 into law. The goal of the legislation was a lofty and noble one to ensure that all students achieve at high standards no matter who they were or which school they attended. There was also a commitment made by the federal government to offer more resources and support to states. At the time, this legislation garnered broad bi-partisan support in Congress. However, over time there has been a realization that although the premise of the Act may have been well-intentioned, the outcome has created some challenges including labeling some excellent schools as “failing.” As an example, New Hampshire is often listed as having one of the best educational systems in the country when measured by things such as scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the annual Kids Count survey. Nevertheless, many schools throughout our state have been labeled over the last several years as “failing” and “needing improvement” based on scores students received on the New England Common Assessment Program test, also known as NECAP. These situations led to the recognition that the ESEA/NCLB Act needed to be changed to better support our schools and students. However, up to this point, No Child Left Behind has not been reauthorized because the U.S. Congress cannot come to agreement on what the new legislation should contain. The waiver was created as a means to refocus efforts on the most needy schools while the U.S. Congress works on a more permanent legislative solution.

The wavier request was crafted by the New Hampshire Department of Education and was initially submitted in the fall of 2012. After many discussions with the U.S. Department of Education and several changes to the initial waiver, New Hampshire’s request was approved in June. The goal of the waiver was to fix the situation whereby over 70 percent of all schools in New Hampshire were labeled as “failing” and “in need of improvement” and replace it with a system that would assist schools most in need of help by providing those schools with intensive services and resources to bring up their level of achievement.

The waiver establishes the identification of Priority, Focus, and Reward schools. Priority schools are those schools in the state that are struggling the most and have the overall lowest performing students. They are identified by rank ordering, by student achievement, schools that receive Title 1 funds and identifying those schools that fall into the lowest 5 percent, or that have received School Improvement Grants from the state. These schools will receive intensive supports that include the implementation of specific principles of strong leadership, instructional effectiveness, additional instructional time, strengthening the school’s instructional program based on student needs, using data to inform instruction, establishing a safe school environment, and providing ongoing family and community engagement. Focus schools are those schools in the state that have the largest achievement gaps between specific populations (special education students, English language learners, economically disadvantaged students) and the other students in the school. Schools were rank ordered based on an average of this gap over three years, and the lowest 10 percent of schools receiving Title 1 funds, that had not already been identified as Priority schools, were identified as Focus schools. Focus schools will also receive the intensive supports mentioned above.

Though none of our schools has been identified as a Priority or Focus school, we remain committed to offering all of our students the opportunity for academic success. In light of the waiver and our ongoing efforts toward continuous school improvement, our school district is no longer identified as a District In Need of Improvement and none of our schools is identified as a School In Need of Improvement. As a result, we will no longer be required to offer school choice.

The waiver allows the district to use its resources to move our instructional programs forward in our pursuit of having all students college and career ready and prepared with the 21st century tools necessary to thrive in our global community. This would not be possible without the ongoing dedication of teachers and staff and the support we receive from the community. We sincerely thank you for all that you have done and continue to do to support our schools and students.

Brendan Minnihan took over as the Superintendent of the ConVal School District in July.

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