Mayor Joyce Craig responded to an article in the Manchester Union Leader saying, “in her mind the points raised in Girard’s blog don’t raise any red flags.”  This was in response to School Board Member Rich Girard withdrawing support for Manchester Proud.

It’s a community-driven effort,” said Craig. “We’ve got residents, business leaders, colleges and universities who have come forward and said we want to help Manchester public schools by doing outreach to the community. I have no fears that it is politically based or they are going in with any preconceived notion.

But Mayor Craig sat next to me during a meeting with Reaching Higher NH for Manchester Proud and during that meeting, Reaching Higher NH’s Policy Director Dan Vallone, introduced the audience to the concept of changing local schools into Community Schools. During the meeting, we were introduced to this concept without any critical analysis.
 
Progressive.org support this change to local schools and says this about Community Schools, 
 In Minneapolis, the concept of what, exactly, constitutes a “community school” is incredibly fuzzy. Right now, there are no less than three school models that include the word “community,” making it difficult for people to know which one to support. This also raises an important question: what is a community school, and who gets to decide?
 
They also go on to try to describe a Full-Service Community School promoted by the Federal Government and national teachers unions as: “a way to create equitable schools in the middle of an increasingly unequal society (the American Federation of Teachers refers to this model simply as “community schools”). The equity piece looks like this: a school that receives a grant from a state or federal government to become a full service school first hires a site coordinator. This coordinator is then charged with conducting a survey of the community, to find out where the greatest needs lie. The goal is to then establish and maintain access to “wrap-around” services, such as medical, dental, and mental health care, in order to address these unmet, community-identified needs.
 
Reaching Higher NH, the organization charged with facilitating the meeting for Manchester Proud, promotes Community Schools on their web site too:
 “It provides an up-close look at how when communities come together, as they did in Oakland, it fosters engagement and investment in public schools and advances equity.”
 
The link to a short video focuses on supporting additional funding for the schools. 
“In the clip above, parents and the community come together to address the inequities in their district. By organizing and uniting behind a vision for their children, they are able to ensure that students and families have a voice in decision making.”
 
The rallying cry appears to be for additional funding through community organizing.   
 
What is it, Manchester Proud and Reaching Higher NH, want for the Manchester Schools?  Was this another example of promoting a federal education agenda versus directly addressing what parents, and teachers need? Reaching Higher NH promotes federal education reforms, and seems to be using their affiliation with Manchester Proud as a way to implement these changes in the Manchester schools.

The list I put together, provided by Manchester parents, never suggested following the federal initiative to turn their school into a community school. Whatever that means.  In fact, it might be a good time to ask Manchester Proud, and Reaching Higher NH, since they seem to be teaming up on this federal education agenda, exactly what they mean when they suggest turning Manchester schools into Community Schools.  Since it’s not coming from parents and teachers, it would be good to have them provide an exact blueprint of what this political agenda would look like if implemented. 

Does it mean that children will now be treated for medical, mental health, or dental services in the school? Where is the peer reviewed/independent studies that their blueprint improves academic outcomes? Where does this funding come from and is it sustainable given the restraints on the school budget? There’ve been incidents when children have been treated for mental health, and medical care in schools without parental knowledge or consent.

Several years ago parents sued doctors and nurses for performing genital exams on girls in a Pa. school. In testimony presented by the girls who were traumatized, it was revealed that parents were never informed until after the genital exams were given. The school district hired a pediatrician to perform the examinations without notifying parents.

When schools abandon their mission for providing a quality academic education, academic outcomes can and do suffer.  That’s why it’s critical that the BOSC ask questions and demand evidence from peer reviewed/independent sources. 

Reaching Higher NH’s article is a call to community organizing.  While I certainly support parents and community members working together to improve the local schools, how do their political solutions solve the problems identified by parents and teachers?  

Reaching Higher NH is conducting a survey in the community, but has not released any of the results yet.  In the meantime, they have been working through Manchester Proud to promote a political education agenda.

I don’t know what this means for Manchester. I don’t know what to tell parents who contact me upset that Common Core is still in Manchester, their children have no supplies to work with, or how bullying is a big problem.  

Instead of addressing those concerns, Manchester Proud has dismissed those concerns during a school board meeting, and promoted changes that parents never asked for.  I hope Mayor Craig will put aside political affiliations and instead make it known that the parents are the ones who should be driving changes. Instead we are seeing political agendas born in Washington D.C., promoted by political organizations in New Hampshire through a local community organization that is on record for dismissing parental concerns. 

Dr. Vargas, Mayor Craig and the BOSC need to give parents and teachers the respect and support they deserve. If a community organization wants to help the district, they should make it clear that parents and teachers are the priority, not the Federal bureaucrats in D.C.

Ann Marie Banfield began volunteering as Cornerstone’s Education Liaison in 2009. As an education researcher and activist she took her decade long research on education to Concord to lobby on behalf of parental rights and literacy. Working with experts in education from across the country, she offers valuable insight into problems and successes in education. She holds a B.A. in Business Management from Franklin University in Columbus Ohio. Ann Marie and her husband have three children and reside in Hampton, NH.