Tue 2 Aug 2011
It is hard to believe that it has been two years since my unsuccessful campaign for school board at-large. I learned a lot during that campaign and in the intervening two years I have learned a lot more. This time around I was planning to run for the Ward 4 seat being vacated by Chris Herbert, who is running for Mayor. However, because of the 2010 census I am being redistricted into Ward 5 and ineligible to run for either seat.
Why would I want to run for school board? I have a number of reasons.
1.) The first reason is my sense of civic duty.
I was born and brought up here and I feel a sense of responsibility to leave the place as good as or better than I found it. Besides, if decent, committed people aren’t willing to run for and serve in these offices, the government can’t run. Sadly, there are people who work really hard to keep public service an unattractive proposition. I think these people want to keep ordinary citizens away so they can have the field to themselves. While I wouldn’t describe myself as a person who is exhilarated by politics, I’m not afraid of it either. And this issue is so important to me that I am beyond being intimidated.
2.) The second reason is my experience.
I have been a consumer of the Manchester Public School System for 17 years. I have had two children go through the system. My daughter graduated in 2007 and my son will be a senior at Central this year. In those 17 years I have served as a PTA officer at McDonough School and PTO officer at Hillside. I have been on the District In Need of Improvement Committees since the beginning. I helped found Manchester Coalition for Quality Education, a citywide group of parents and community members that advocates for better schools. I have been involved in two superintendent searches. And recently, I helped found a local education foundation committed to identifying new resources that can be applied to improving our public schools. Between that and the work I have done to educate myself and others about promising practices in school reform I think I have a good idea of what we need to do.
3.)The third reason is that I am worried.
In many ways Manchester is the perfect place to raise a family. It is big enough that there is every convenience and every opportunity that a family would want and small enough that you don’t feel lost or threatened. Young working families, many of whom aren’t interested in a sterile life in the suburbs, should be flocking to Manchester, but the school system is a deal breaker.
This report by Ken Johnson at the Carsey Institute shows that the middle class is leaving Manchester. People who can afford to move out of the city are buying houses in the suburbs. The median price of a home in Manchester has declined by 15% and the recent property tax revaluation by the city confirms that home values in Manchester have gone down between 15% and 20%. Commercial property values will likely also decline because when the people with money to buy things leave town, retailers follow them. This is the usual pattern of urban decline.
The Carsey study also states that the number of children living in poverty in Manchester has doubled over the last 10 years to more than 20%. Unless our teachers have the best training and resources, they cannot meet the challenges posed by children of the poor. Without a good education they will never be able to secure decent jobs and will never know life without poverty.
Concerns about the quality of education in Manchester are not unfounded. The U.S. Department of education announced last year that Federal School Improvement Grants would be used to turn around the 500 worst performing schools in the country. Each state was asked to identify the 10 worst performing schools in their state. In New Hampshire 5 of the identified schools were in Manchester.
It is well past the time for us to take our heads out of the sand.
4.) The fourth reason is the potential
A city like Manchester is in a great position to take advantage of the growing trend of people moving back to urban areas. I also think that the community would support improvements to our school system if we engage and educate them.
We have a lot of talented and dedicated people working in our school system who could do amazing things with the right leadership and support in place. Manchester is a diverse city with businesses, colleges, and cultural institutions. By engaging these resources our school system would be able to offer students unique learning experiences that they could never get in the suburbs.
Re-energizing our school system is within our grasp but we need to have vision, leadership, and a plan.