Ann Ransom addresses those attending a meeting of the Alton Teachers Association and concerned residents Thursday evening. (Courtesy Photo)
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
ALTON — The Alton Teachers Association has appealed directly to residents and parents to join with teachers in a concerted effort to bring the School Board and the administration to heel.
The appeal followed the impasse reached earlier in the week when, with four of its five members present, the School Board split evenly between the two nominees for chairperson — the former chairperson Steve Miller and a newly elected member Peter Leavitt — and recessed for lack of a chairperson.
At a public meeting hosted by the association at Prospect Mountain High School on Thursday Richard Brown, president of the association, urged more than 50 people to press Sandy Wyatt, a member of the School Board who voted for Miller as chairperson, to convene a meeting of the board and join with Leavitt and Michael Ball, the second newly elected member, to elect Leavitt as chairman.
At the same time, the association circulated a resolution alluding to the grievances of teachers, parents and other stakeholders with interests in the success of the school. The resolution closed by affirming that "the Alton School Board shall authorize at least one of its members to participate on a committee dedicated to improving transparency and collaboration with respect to decisions that affect students." The resolution prescribed that the committee shall consist of one or more administrators, School Board members, teachers, elected by their peers and community members.
George Strout of NEA-NH, who attended the meeting, said that the resolution mirrors similar resolutions adopted by school boards around the state that have found themselves in circumstances like those that have roiled Alton for months.
Brown said that the resolution spelled out "how the School Board should conduct itself in the future." In addition to the resolution, he said that the association is also asking the board to reinstate those teachers whose contracts were not renewed, and convene a committee to address the issues reported by a survey of teachers (see accompanying article).
Addressing the meeting, Ball said that he had spoken with Superintendent Ward, who assured him that she would be "more than willing" address a public forum to explain the changes introduced at Alton Central School that have aroused so much controversy.
Those changes prompted parents to petition the School Board in February, expressing no confidence in Ward as well as with the principal, Cris Blackstone, and special education director, Jennifer Katz Borrin, of Alton Central School and listing eight demands. Miller, who than chaired the board, told the petitioners that the board would consider their concerns at its meeting April, which was abruptly recessed when members failed to elect a chairman.
Repeatedly stepping to the microphone, Anna Ransom addressed these issues Thursday evening. She challenged the administration's contention that the school is overstaffed, with which it has justified the decision to not renew the contracts of a number of teachers. Citing data from the New Hampshire Department of Education, she said that teacher-student ratios at the school match state averages. Likewise, she claimed that census data indicates 31 preschool pupils will be enrolled in 2016-2017, not the 13 projected by the administration, which let go one teacher. She said that when she questioned the superintendent, Ward refused to discuss "personnel issues."
Ransom also questioned the board's decision to contract with Ward to mentor her successor, Pamela Stiles, who will come aboard on July 1, as well as to extend the contracts of the principal and special education director for three years. The superintendent's contract, she said, is unnecessary and the extensions, granted after less than 50 days of the school, were unwarranted.
Changes in scheduling, including the introduction of "looping'' for grades K through 2 and "block scheduling for grades 5 through 8 and adding 20 minutes to the school, Ransom charged were undertaken without explanation or justification.
Ransom said that in 2013 the School Board, with participation from members of the community, developed a strategic plan for the school while the administration and board have introduced changes contrary to the existing plan and without a plan of their own. Although the administration and the board have insisted that the changes are required to improve low scores on standardized tests, Ransom said that tests results "do not reflect the dismal scenario the superintendent is projecting.
"There's a lot of discontent, but nobody knows what to do with it," said Steve McKnight. "The teachers are putting themselves on the line," he continued, "and the rest of us are like an ant hill that got kicked over. We need to organize, to stop being the ant hill and start being the community."
"You oughta stand tall," urged Paul White, who called himself "a senior citizen and taxpayer. "This crap's got to stop. Don't kowtow!"
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