Shaker Regional questioned on computer program and more (924)

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

BELMONT – The Shaker Regional School District's proposed operating budget is up by less than 1 percent, or $199,666 for 2016-2017, but there were some other issues on the minds of the people, many of them district employees, who attended last Thursday's public hearing in Belmont.

Culture survey

Initially, a Canterbury resident asked if the culture survey was finished. The study was requested at the end of the 2015 district meeting because some people felt there was a lack of communication and understanding between the administration and the staff and parents.

"There is no conspiracy," said School Board Chairman Sean Embree, who said the board expected the survey to be submitted by the UNH team in time for last week's meeting. He said the reason it was late was because the survey team said it was still getting responses as the year headed into the holiday season. Embree said the School Board wanted as many voices as possible, so it was decided to give them a little more time.

Embree said the results would be made public but any comments that were specific to any employee would be kept confidential and considered a personnel matter.

Empower

Others wanted to know how much the Empower computer program Shaker educators are transitioning to cost and whether or not it is effective. Many seemed confused as to how the school was going to teach the teachers, the students and the parents how to use the software while others were not happy that the parent portal is not yet working.

According to its website, Empower "is a tool for designing, creating, and assigning standards-based curriculum for students and teachers. It is meant to be a supplemental instructional tool for teachers and professional development facilitators."

Empower, said Superintendent Maria Dreyer, is a training and learning  computer program specially designed for competency-based learning. This is the first year that freshman high school students are using competency-based grading, a grading system Dreyer and the School Board say is aligned with the Common Core and most closely measures not just how much students learn but how well they can apply it and show mastery of the subject matter.

Throughout the budget are appropriation lines for staff training, and Dreyer explained that the original Empower design teams teachers and administrators get stipends and the teacher teams will also get stipends from federal grants to learn the program.

She said the district has planned for a three-year rollout for Empower, but one woman noted that while all 1,400 students have signed licensing fees, most of them are not using it yet. Others, who were district employees, said they felt the Empower program was "fast-tracked" and are unsure of future expectations.

Dreyer said she has contact the company and they are willing to offer some credit toward the licensing fee costs for 2016-2017. She said once all of the teachers are ready to use the program then all of the students and parents will be able to as well.

So far, Dreyer said, the design team for Empower is trained and represents about 15 percent of the 114 teachers in the district. She said she expected that number to be much higher by the end of this school year as the design teams works with the rest of the division leaders and teachers to teach them how to use the program.

Moderator Roy Roberts, who led the call for the culture survey at the 2015 meeting, wanted to know how many other districts use Empower. He was told Inter Lakes Regional School District uses it.

Roberts reiterated what he said at last year's meeting by saying there doesn't seem to be any leadership from the administration.

Curriculum coordinator

Attendees also spoke about the upcoming decision to hire a curriculum coordinator or to subcontract the job to a company in Wisconsin with New England staff. Dreyer said the company is one that specializes in competency-based curriculum for schools that use Empower.

Many who spoke said they were for a human being as the curriculum coordinator and didn't support hiring the outside company.

Selectman Jon Pike, who spearheaded the petition to implement the Official Ballot Law, or SB2, in the Shaker district, said he thinks there's a need for greater transparency within the budget so the taxpayers can use it to monitor the direction of the school district.

Shifting money

Taxpayers also wanted to know what happened to the $84,000 in the 2015 budget for support staff raises and the $93,000 officials told them they would save in transportation costs if they implemented all-day kindergarten.

Administrators explained that this year Shaker Regional had well exceeded its budget for special education needs and the School Board had shifted the savings, and some saving from other lines, into that line item.

Officials also explained the $84,000 was for the 2015-2016 budget year but when the support staff organized into a union, their wages were frozen until a contract could be negotiated. With the contract in hand, voters will be asked to support $117,679 in raises for them for next school year.

When someone said the district wasn't being transparent, members of the School Board pushed back and said all of their meetings are open to the public, all of their line item transfers are voted on by the board, and that anyone can read the minutes.
When pressed about the details of the Special Education Budget, SPED Director Tonya Mitchell said they were asking about very personal and private information surrounding a few children in a very small school district and she was not comfortable answering any specific questions.

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City fire tested mutual aid as several emergencies happened at once

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Fire Chief Ken Erickson said yesterday that the response to a fire in a three-story, multi-family building at 63 Gilford Ave. on Wednesday reflected the efficiency of the mutual aid and recall systems, which enabled the department to deal with several emergencies at one time.

The fire was reported at 5:07 p.m. and firefighters from Laconia, Gilford and Belmont were immediately dispatched to the scene. En route, Erickson spotted the smoke from Church Street and requested a first alarm, which called in off-duty firefighters while alerting the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Association to deploy engines to cover the city.

Erickson arrived to at 5:09 p.m. to find smoke showing from the first and second floors and requested a second alarm, which brought crews from Meredith, Franklin, Tilton-Northfield and Sanbornton to the scene. Firefighters from Belmont and Holderness staffed the empty stations and responded to three calls for service in the city.

A man was found on the lawn at the scene of the fire suffering from smoke inhalation. Since both ambulances from Central Station were on other calls, Stewart's Ambulance Service transported the victim to Lakes Region General Hospital.

Erickson, Lt. Chad Vaillancourt and firefighter Dwayne Mann were first at the scene, but had no ladder truck. Erickson requested Meredith to dispatch its ladder truck and one of the ambulances from Central Station left the hospital and came to the fire. Vaillancourt entered the first floor apartment, located the fire and closed the door until two hose lines were run to the fire. Gilford firefighters started a backup hose line then went to the second floor to check for fire and search for occupants. A man was found on the third floor and taken from the building to the hospital where he was treated for smoke inhalation.

As more firefighters arrived, ladders were raised to the upper floors and the front and rear of the building, enabling crews to open walls and ceilings. Fire was found within interior walls climbing to the second floor, where it was stopped. Erickson said that five off-duty firefighters arrived before the first mutual crew while others brought the Laconia ladder truck from Central Station, which reached the scene before ladder truck from Meredith.

Erickson described the fire as "a grease fire that rapidly got out of control." He estimated the damage at $70,000. In addition, four adults and five children were displaced by the fire and provided with food, clothing and shelter by New Hampshire/Vermont Region of the American Red Cross.

Erickson noted the two men taken to hospital brought the number of victims suffering from burns or smoke inhalation this year to five. He stressed the importance getting out of the reach of fire and smoke as quickly as possible. He explained that research shows that fires in modern homes, built and furnished with synthetic materials, burn much hotter and spread much quicker than in the past. Moreover, the volume and toxicity of smoke from modern synthetic materials is much greater than from the natural materials used in construction and furnishings in the past.

Underwriters Laboratories has found that the temperature of a fire in a modern home can jump from 250 degrees Fahrenheit to 1,500 degrees in a matter of seconds. At the same time, in modern rooms "flashover," when most exposed surfaces within a space heat to a temperature at which they ignite of themselves and emit flammable gases, occurs in less than five minutes.

Erickson recommends that renters insure their belongings. He said that 40 percent of the fires in the city occur in rental units, which is three times the national average, while estimating that nine of 10 renters have no insurance. Renters' insurance, he said, is relatively inexpensive, particularly compared to the cost of replacing clothing, furniture and other property damaged or destroyed by fire.

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Plenty of skiing and off-slope fun at NH resorts

Provided by Ski NH

It's that time of year again for families to address the ever pressing question of what they are going to do over February school vacation. In New England, the simple answer is to head to the ski resorts.

New Hampshire's ski areas have enjoyed a return to wintery weather over the last week, and a combination of fresh natural snow and snow making for many resorts over the last few days means that there will be abundant trails open for those looking to enjoy some mid-winter skiing and riding. Ideal snow making temps and additional snow showers expected over the coming days will help set up some great trail conditions for the February vacation week.

Traditionally, a ski vacation was only a good option if everyone in the family was a skier or snowboarder. However, not only do ski areas make learning to ski or snowboard easier today than it ever has been, there are also now so many activities to choose from beyond skiing and snowboarding, making a trip to New Hampshire's ski resorts the perfect family getaway for any family.

For those who have never tried the sport or who perhaps feel that their skills could use some work, ski areas  offer cutting-edge learn-to programs that truly put the fun in the learning process. Some ski areas, such as Cranmore Mountain Resort and Pats Peak, have learn-to-ski/ride programs in which a beginner will receive a complimentary pair of skis and other benefits after completing several introductory lessons. All New Hampshire ski areas also offer excellent programs for children of all ages and abilities, as well as day care programs for the youngest future skiers and riders.

From snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to fat biking and zip lining, there's almost no need to even buy a lift ticket. Almost. Better still, most resorts offer a wide variety of non-skiing or riding events all through the end of February, giving visitors even more off-piste options to enjoy.

If the thought of trying out some of the other offerings in the North Country strikes your fancy but you want to get in some skiing as well, Bretton Woods offers their Zip and Ski package for just $99. In addition to their highly-acclaimed Canopy Tour adventure, you will get a lift ticket to Bretton Woods that may be used the day before, after or on the day of the tour.

For those that have never ventured out on snowshoes, Gunstock offers a perfect opportunity with their Saturday Night Snowshoe Ridge Tours, where experienced guides will take you for a unique snowshoe tour crossing the ridge of Gunstock Mountain. Arrive by chairlift and traverse with headlamps back down to the Nordic Center for hot chocolate.

Loon Mountain offers its own take on snowshoeing adventures with their Snowshoe and S'mores Après Party. When the lifts shut down for the day, you'll ride up the Seven Brothers Double, and then take a guided snowshoe down to the Camp III lodge. After working up an appetite, enjoy a spread of hors d'oeuvres, cheese, beer, wine, hot cocoa - and s'mores, of course.

The Jackson Ski Touring Center is holding a two-hour full moon guided snowshoe tour on Monday, Feb. 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. A Jackson XC guide will take guests on a tour of the trails lit by moonlight.

If you've watched the Olympics and wondered how difficult the biathlon could be, now's your chance to find out. Waterville Valley will hold its very own paintball biathlon on Saturday, Feb. 20. Bring your snowshoes or XC skis and see if you have the speed on the loop course and accuracy to hit the cartoon character, bingo board, and traditional biathlon targets.

Mount Sunapee offers the chance to test your stamina and strength on Saturday, Feb. 27 with their 6th Annual Winter Wild Racing event. Race to the summit and back down. Grab your skis, snowshoes, favorite running shoes or whatever you think it will take to be the fastest. More information can be found at www.winterwild.com.

For more information on all the other great events and activities at ski areas around New Hampshire, visit www.SkiNH.com.

Ski NH is the statewide association representing 34 alpine and cross country resorts in New Hampshire. For more information on ski areas, vacation planning, and updated winter events at Ski NH resorts, call Ski NH at 603.745.9396 or visit the Ski NH website at www.SkiNH.com. For statewide travel info, visit www.VisitNH.gov.

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