Belmont High School introducing grading system based on 'competency, not 'seat time'

BELMONT — Members of the freshman class at Belmont High School is the first that will see competency-based grades on their report cards this year.

The number grades compare to those seen in colleges and is based on a 4.0 scale. Rather than a "A" or a "B" parents will see a "4", which means a student has exceeded proficiency in that particular subject. A "3" represents proficiency and "complex knowledge" and is roughly equivalent to the former "B" grade.

Competency-based grades correspond with competency-based learning that focuses on mastery of a subject rather than "seat time", says Julia Freeland who writes for

"It's really reflective of what you know versus what you did or did not do," said Shaker Regional School District Superintendent Maria Dreyer.

According to Freeland, in 2005 New Hampshire eliminated the Carnegie Unit or the 100-year-old standard that each student must have 120 hours of "seat time" for each subject taught at the secondary level. This translates into one hour per day for 24 weeks.

With Shaker's change comes a change in teaching styles that will frequently assess each student for individual learning, create competency-based learning pathways and use the grading system outlined above to reflect what students have mastered.

She said parents will have access to all of the standards expected of their children and will be able to track their progress in real time as opposed to waiting until the end of a semester and seeing a "C-" in a core class. "C-" is not proficient.

Dreyer said competency-based education gets away from the one-size-fits-all system and allow a student to flourish if that's what he or she is capable of or conversely, to get extra attention and assistance early in the process so he or she can achieve proficiency.

"It's kind of like the way of the world," she said, noting she recently met an exchange student from Thailand who is learning in a competency-based system.

Dreyer said parents can look at typical technical manuals for electronics and other items and see that their children will have to be proficient in algebra and have mastered high-levels of reading comprehension just to function in their future adult lives.

"We're preparing our kids for jobs that we don't even know about," she said, using a former physics student of hers who wasn't passing her class with the level of proficiency he needed as an example.

"He got it, he just needed it taught a different way," she said.

Now, said Dreyer, her former student is a one of the people who determines where a cell tower needs to be placed — or the intersection of physics and politics.

"Fifteen years ago, we wouldn't have thought of that job"

She said society doesn't know what jobs are in our future but an education that provides proficiency in the skills students will need to access needed information and understand it when they see it is the goal of a competency-based education.

"The Internet has changed teaching forever," she said, adding that teachers used to teach facts but now the facts are available to anyone with a computer and the internet.

"We need to be teaching complex thinking," she said.

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'We're all not using': A talk with heroin addicts in the local Recovery Court program

GILFORD — While waiting for Horizons Center counselor Jacqui Abikoff earlier this week, the six current participants in Belknap County's Recovery Court program sat around a large table in a too small room and bantered.

Watching and listening to these six people — three men and three women — one conjures up a picture of the classic NBC sit-com "Friends".

But while they are friends, this is no sit-com. Heroin addicts all, the six have all been in the program for varying amounts of time but on this day, all are clean and sober. They willingly provided urine samples to prove it.

While Recovery Court participants and team members meet in Judge Jim Carroll's 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division court room every Tuesday at noon, much of the hard work is done behind these traditionally closed doors. This is the one piece of Recovery Court that cannot be skipped.

This is when they sit down and discuss how they feel, what they are thinking, and what daily obstacles they have to staying clean. Three counselors including Abikoff keep the discussions on track, because like most discussions among friends, their topics and comments tend to wander. Unlike a sit-com, their off-topic comments can cut and burn with brutal honesty.

The common thread in this group is honesty. It's actually one of the only things, short of a major crime, that can get someone expelled from Recovery Court with a one-way, non-stop ticket back to jail — handcuffs and all.

"We see it as a success if someone slips and comes immediately to get help," said one.

All admitted to lying while they were using — especially to the people they loved and to themselves. Most admitted to stealing from friends and family. All said they recognized the moment when they realized they were "junkies".

"It was easier to get high than to get healthy," said one of the women.

"When you're wrapped up and in that life style, it's your normal," said one. "When I got clean I remembered some of the things I did and I said, 'That's crazy.'"

When Abikoff asked if they felt they were still the face of addiction — all said no. "We're all not using."

They discussed the common perceptions of junkies. Many said society stigmatizes heroin addicts as dirty, foul-smelling people who stand around on street corners. They perceive them as thieves, manipulators, liars and think they not to be trusted.

One person challenged this view. He also said most of the people who are addicts that he knows are "regular hard-working people who ran into a problem."

"We're sick people," he said, nodding when Abikoff said the brain is like any other organ in the human body — over time it can heal.

One participant said he recently went to an AA meeting on the Seacoast and met a man who was celebrating 36 years of sobriety. Because most recovering addicts tend not to disclose their past because of possible negative repercussions, he said the faces of addicts are rarely seen unless it's mugshots.

"You don't see too many front page articles headlined 'Man Celebrates 36 Years Sober." he said.

He talked about one of his relatives. He said his relative drinks, takes Percocet and smokes weed but insists he's not a junkie because "I don't stick no needles in my arm."

One spoke about his time in jail. He said the word inside jail is that Recovery Court "just sets you up to fail" because it's nearly impossible to meet all the demands. He said he chose the program despite the naysayers because he knew if he went back to the world he was in he'd just start using again. When asked where he'd be right now if he hadn't entered the program, he replied he would probably be dead.

Most will attend the upcoming funeral of a friend who died recently of an overdose.

One of the biggest component, and the one most important to this group other than sobriety, is their community service. While the minimum required community for the program is 250 service hours, most of this group is well beyond that. Two of the groups members even have an ongoing rivalry about who can perform the most community service. Both are well over the minimum requirements.

"When we were using, we took something from our community," said one. "We want to give that back and have society trust us again."

Between the six of them, they have painted the fence around the Bayside Cemetery in Laconia, done all the mulching at Veterans Park and the Circuit Court House, and helped the Police Department at National Night Out.

One man works at a senior home where he helps cook. He started as a maintenance volunteer. All of them have helped some area elderly people move into homes.

Others have volunteered at the senior center, the family resource center, and the Salvation Army with one of them becoming cashier. Some are active in Stand Up Laconia.

All of them said they are busier than they ever were but in a productive way that makes them feel good. "Being busy but being in control," said one.

"We are earning the respect of our higher ups," said another, quoting Judge Carroll when he says that if you respect them (society), they'll respect you.

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LPD using grant money to buy 9 more semi-automatic rifles

LACONIA — The Belknap County Commission and City Council this week signed off on accepting a federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) that Laconia Police will use to purchase nine additional rifles for the department.

The total amount of money for the rifles is $11,085, which Capt. Bill Clary said will bring the total rifle arsenal to 18. He said he estimated each will cost around $900 with an additional $100 to $200 for lights, slings and other equipment.

Clary said the reason the department needs a total of 18 semi-automatic 5.56 mm caliber urban patrol rifles is because the current protocols on active shooter situations is such that the first responding officers should be ready to enter a building, such as a school, and neutralize the shooter(s).

He said every officer will be trained on how to use a semi-automatic rifle and each one will be assigned to two officers at the most, mostly because of sighting issues.

A second part of the grant will allow the Belknap County Sheriff's Department to purchase speed radar units for $3,000.

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