Alton teachers, residents demand action from superintendent and school board

04-09 Alton SB meeting

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!"

Teacher survey reflects a "caustic environment"

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

ALTON — A survey conducted by the Alton Teachers Association revealed what Richard Brown, president of the association, describes as a "caustic environment" at Alton Central School, the responsibility for which he said "falls on the superintendent's desk."

Maureen Ward, the superintendent of schools, could not be reached to comment on the survey.

The survey, which was conducted in February and March, drew responses from 38 of the 44 teachers and support staff at Alton Central School.

The survey posed four questions to teachers, one about their relationships with their peers, two sounding their opinion of the administration and the fourth measuring morale among teachers, support staff, students and administrators. Teachers were also invited to comment in response to each question as well as to offer remarks at the end of the survey.

Nearly three-quarters of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that that their fellow teachers treated them with respect and nine of ten said that their peers listened when they offered suggestions for "doing things better." One teacher commented "I strongly believe that one of the objectives of the administration was to create a divide and that is being accomplished," which was echoed by three others, one whom wrote "Some are targeted and some not."

Asked if they work with an administration that respects them, the teachers were divided, with 38 percent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing and 34 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing and the remainder neutral. Of the 38 respondents, 16 offered comments. One referred to a "culture of intimidation" and called the administrators "the least effective group of administrators I have ever worked with." Another said "I have yet to meet the superintendent" while a third described the administration as "not approachable." But, one teacher insisted "I have felt nothing but respect from our administrators" while another expressly confined criticism to the superintendent.

More than eight of ten teachers disagreed or strongly disagreed that the administration communicates effectively, operates under a shared vision for the school and helps teachers fulfill their vision. Seven in ten disagreed or strongly disagreed that the administrators valued input from teachers and parents.

"There is no shared vision as parents, teachers, support staff and more have not been allowed to be part of the process," commented one teacher, an opinion expressed by more than a half-dozen others. "Communication is abysmal," a teacher wrote, "and I do mean ABYSMAL."

More than eight of ten teachers and seven of ten support personnel disagreed or strongly disagreed that their morale is high.

"How could it be high?" asked one teacher, while another declared "Morale is the lowest I have ever seen it on all fronts" and another offered "Everyone seems miserable except for admin."

Many of the general comments touched on the theme that the administration, primarily the superintendent, has failed to establish sound relationships with teachers while at the same time fostering division among them. "A select chosen few have been pulled into the inner circle and are clearly getting preferential treatment," wrote one teacher.

However, a colleague remarked "I feel as if those teachers who are happy do not feel comfortable speaking out because they do not want to offend other teachers who are more vocal about their unhappiness."

"It is just an awful place to be right now," a teacher wrote. " A really awful place."

Laconia police charge Tilton felon with possession of loaded handgun

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — A Tilton man has been charged with one count of being in possession of a firearm after a city police officer saw him in his car near Stark Street at 7:34 p.m. and knew there was a warrant for his arrest.

Police affidavits said Izaiah J. Conway, 19, of 957 Laconia Road in Tilton headed up Stark Street and was stopped just over the town line by a second city police officer.

He was arrested for an outstanding bench warrant issued by the Division of Probation and Parole on April 1 for failing to report his new address, for failing to allow the probation officer to enter his home after she learned where he was living, and for admitting that he used methamphetamine on March 8 and heroin on March 9.

Police said when Conway pulled over his car, he was parked halfway over the fog line and was alone, so police ordered that the car be towed.

While conducting a non-investigatory inventory search, the officer found a black backpack in the trunk. When he looked inside, he allegedly saw a pipe with burned residue and a black pouch. The officer seized the backpack so he could bring it to the police station and apply for a warrant to complete the search.

The inventorying officer also noticed the glove box "was jammed and zip-tied" shut. He said he was able to slightly pry open the glove box and noticed a black, textured item that appeared to be the grip of a handgun with a magazine inserted. Affidavits said Springfield Armory was stamped on the bottom of the gun.

Police told the tow company they were impounding the vehicle and arranged for it to be towed to the Laconia Police Department impound.

After getting a warrant, police found a .45 caliber Springfield Armory .45 that was loaded with a full clip and a bullet in the chamber. A second, loaded magazine was found in a tactical belt.

In the backpack, police found several needles, and some 1-inch by 1-inch clear plastic bags. He also found two small bags, one containing a substance that appeared to be heroin and the other containing a substance that appeared to be Suboxone.

After appearing before a 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division judge Friday morning, Conway was held on $10,000 for the receiving stolen property and $5,000 for the parole/probation violations.

Conway, said police, had a prior felony drug conviction in December of 2015.

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