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Laconia & Gilford adopting Common Core school standards with minimum of fuss

LACONIA — As Lakes Region school children prepare to return to the classrooms next week, educators are working to ensure that their course material is compatible with the new Common Core State Standards, an educational approach that is overhauling classroom instruction across the state and most of the country.
The Common Core Initiative, which is being put forth by the U.S. Department of Education and a consortium of states and was adopted by the New Hampshire Department of Education three years ago, contains standards regarding the learning of math and English language arts/literacy curriculum that emphasize critical thinking and problem solving and are meant to better prepare students for success. New Hampshire is one of 45 states which has adopted the Common Core standards which are being rolled out ahead of new nationwide assessment tests which N.H. students are scheduled to take for the first time about 1 1/2 years from now.
Laconia School Superintendent Terri Forsten said that teachers in the district have been preparing for the transition to the sort of standards contained in Common Core for close to three years. She explained the new standards were devised under what she called the school district's "non-negotiables" — a series of skills that students need to demonstrate at various grade levels in the areas of math and language arts/literacy. As Laconia educators worked to develop the school district's own revised curriculum, they sought to incorporate many of the Common Core standards into the "non-negotiables" program.
The Gilford School District is fully behind the Common Core program as well, according to Superintendent Kent Hemingway.
"We are embracing this, and we're fully on board," he said.
He said that the district has invested considerable energy in professional staff development to ensure that teachers are knowledgeable about the Common Core standards in their respective areas. And to inform parents and other members of the public, the district has posted detailed information on its website on how the program is being implemented and how it will affect students.
For example, the special pages on the website spell out how Gilford second-graders studying English will need to write an informative composition in which they "introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points and provide a concluding statement." Likewise in math, fifth-graders will need to "calculate geometric measurement, understand the concept of volume and relate volume to multiplication and addition."
Forsten said that to date her district has not incurred any major additional expenses associated with bringing the new standards into Laconia classrooms. Teachers can make use of a variety resources, such as workshops and on-line information, to better prepare them for changes in the material they will present to students. She said that the classroom technology which teachers and students use is adequate to the needs of the new curriculum. And while some school districts may purchase new textbooks as part of the roll-out of Common Core, Laconia has no plans to do so anytime soon, preferring to wait to see how the new Common Core-compatible texts shake out, she said.
"Textbooks are not what drive our teaching," Forsten said. "They are a tool."
Likewise the implementation has not had a major impact on the Gilford school budget.
"We've made choices within our normal budget spending," Hemingway said. For example he said when the district decided to buy a new English text used in high school it chose one that placed greater emphasis on non-fiction writing — an area stressed on the Common Core standards.
Gilford's classroom technology is ample enough for any changes which Common Core will bring, he added.
On the whole Forsten sees Common Core as a positive development in education.
"Overall, the (new) standards are higher, but not necessarily (higher) across the board," she said.
According to the state Department of Education, Common Core standards specify what students should know and be able to do in each grade and by the end of high school to be college and career-ready. Common Core supporters say how students get to that point is for each school system to decide.
The first critical test of Common Core's success is expected to come in spring 2015 when the Smarter Balanced test will be required for students in Grades 3 through 8 as well as 11 for math and English language arts/literacy.
For Forsten Common Core is an improvement over No Child Left Behind, the 2001 law which required schools to test students annually and penalized those districts where too many students got poor or marginal test scores.
"No Child Left Behind had high accountability, but did not give (districts) guidance and direction that Common Core shows," she said.
Hemingway believes Common Core standards will help students develop higher levels of thinking skills which will become evident when they are tested.
"When it comes to taking a test, they will be thinking rather than guessing," he said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 12:50

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Democrats trying to ensnare Forrester in Bragdon controversy

CONCORD — While State Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) toured her district with Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill yesterday, the New Hampshire Democratic Party nipped at her heels, charging she is "neck deep" in the controversy arising from the hiring of Senator Peter Bragdon (R-Milford), then president of the Senate, to lead the Local Government Center.

Forrester countered that she had done nothing wrong and indicated that any suggestion that she had was based on a lack of understanding of the time line connecting related events.

In a statement released Thursday, Democratic spokesman Harrell Kirstein claimed that documents obtained from the LGC reveal that Bragdon spoke with Forrester about seeking the $180,000 per year position three days before he appointed her to a study committee charged with reviewing the conduct of the LGC and studying changes to the statute governing it. The information, he said, contradicts earlier explanations of the circumstances leading to the committee assignment offered by Forrester and Bragdon.

"Forrester and Bragdon owe the people of New Hampshire a full explanation — and this time an honest one — of their recent conversations about the LGC," Kirstein declared.

Local Government Center is a quasi-public organization that oversees a health care trust, a workers' compensation trust and a liability and property insurance trust for member municipalities. It is embroiled in litigation with numerous municipalities over $36 million is surplus funds it collected and has an appeal pending before the state Supreme Court.

Bragdon was originally one of five people targeted for recruitment by LGC's board for the executive director position. He began working at LGC on August 14. At first he intended to remain as Senate president but later agreed that was inappropriate. He will, however, keep his Senate seat.

A string of e-mails between Bragdon and George Bald, interim executive director of the LGC, indicate that Bragdon first took an interest in succeeding Bald following a recruitment conversation between the two on July 11. "It was a pleasure talking with you earlier today . . . quite an unexpected turn the conversation took," Bragdon wrote, adding that he attached his resume.

Bald replied "I am glad you are giving this some consideration."

The exchange of e-mails resumed on July 16, after Bragdon returned from a forum of state senate presidents in Seattle. After discounting concerns about conflicts of interest and indicating he could serve for 18 months or more, he remarked "I happened to be on the phone with Senator Forrester a few minutes ago, and given her background as a former town administrator, as well as having worked with people like Don Jutton at Municipal Resources, Inc., I thought I'd mention the conversation you and I had. Her reaction could not have been more positive to the idea."

Three days later, on July 19, Bragdon — or Bragdon's office — wrote to Forrester formally appointing her to the study committee.

"No wonder she was silent about the massive and inherent conflicts of interest in Bragdon's new LGC job," Kirstein wrote. "She knew about it nearly a month in advance and said nothing. What did Forrester and Bragdon discuss on July 16th?" he asked, calling Forrester's appointment "a clear breach of the New Hampshire General Court's Ethics guidelines."

When Kirstein originally leveled the charges earlier this week, Forrester said that she was not aware that Bragdon was contemplating the position with the LGC when he approached her about serving on the study committee. She said that she could not recall just when this conversation occurred, but insisted it was before she knew of his interest in the LGC job. Likewise, Bragdon told the Concord Monitor that he appointed Forrester before he began considering the position. "Obviously I would stay from that," he was quoted to say, "and most likely if there were legislation that came from that I would recuse myself from voting."

Presented with the documentation released yesterday, Forrester clarified that she and Bragdon had separate conversations about the committee assignment and the LGC position. Again she insisted that when Bragdon verbally asked her and she agreed to serve on the study committee she was not aware of his interest in the LGC position, but could not recall just when that conversation took place, only that it was before she learned he was speaking with LGC.

"I don't know whether he was or he wasn't," she said. "It did not come up. He asked me if I would serve on the committee and I agreed."

We had two conversations," Forrester continued, confirming that Bragdon spoke to her about the position with LGC, presumably on July 16 as Bragdon's e-mail indicated.. "He asked me If he could use me as a reference and I said absolutely. Senator Bragdon is an ethical and honest person and I thought he was well qualified for the position."

Forrester rejected suggestions that Bragdon sought to "stack" the study committee, noting that the president of the Senate had only the one appointment and three of its five members are Democrats. "He had to appoint a senator. You tell me how that is stacking the committee," she said. Furthermore, she insisted "I can tell you with certainty that he didn't call me to tell me how to vote."

Last Updated on Friday, 23 August 2013 02:28

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County Attorney says she needs pay raise for prosecutor

LACONIA — Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen told Belknap County Commissioners Wednesday morning that her office is seeing an increase in heroin use in the county, as well as increasing problems with "spice", a synthetic compound which mimics the affects of marijuana.
''Drug abuse is a big issue for law enforcement,'' said Guldbrandsen, who said that officials had hoped that the recent conviction of a major oxycodone dealer in Belknap County Superior Court would cause a drop in drug abuse.
She said that spice, which is widely available in convenience stores, poses a problem as the change of one molecule can shift it from ta banned to a legal substance.
She said the county drug court program is working well and that there have been seven participants, several of whom are making progress in turning their lives around.
''It's a resource intense program,'' she said, pointing out that it involves the court, law enforcement and social service agencies.
Guldbrandsen said that her 2013 budget for medical services, including autopsies, is already over expended but that funds were available in other line items to cover the costs.
She also said that she would be asking for a pay increase for one of her department's prosecutors in the 2014 budget.
Asked by Commissioner Steven Nedeau (R-Meredith) if it was ''gift'' given that most county employees aren't receiving pay raises, she said that she needed to be able to offer competitive salaries in order to keep experienced employees with the her department.
''Experienced litigators can go to private firms and make over $100,000. It's important that we keep them whenever possible. The cost of having to train a new person far outweighs the cost of increasing an existing employee's salary,'' she said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 August 2013 02:16

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Belmont wants to use part of mill space for welfare office but will need federal OK

BELMONT — Town officials are considering relocating the General Assistance Office to the space on the second floor of the Belmont Mill that was vacated last winter when the Lakes Region Community College Culinary Arts Program was forced to relocate.

The college used the space on the second floor for offices and a classroom.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin told selectmen earlier this week that she is checking with the Community Development Finance Authority to see if relocating the welfare office is an acceptable use of the space that was renovated using a $1 million USDA Community Development Block Grant.

Beaudin explained that because the Belmont Mill was restored with a federal grant there are accepted uses for the space in the building and according to the terms of the grant received by Belmont, at least 51 percent of the total renovated space must serve low-to-moderate income people.

"We're not supposed to use the space for town facilities," she said, saying the selectmen are hoping the estimated $200,000 needed from the town to fix the structural deficiencies in the mill would be an acceptable token of good will for a change of use, in the eyes of the federal grant administrator.

Initially, officials thought they would be able to relocate the Department of Parks and Recreation to the second floor space but said it would be difficult to quantify how many people who participate in town-sponsored recreation program were low-income. Beaudin believes the general assistance program meets the criteria of the grant.

If the CDFA gives it seal of approval, it is likely the Recreation Department would use the bottom floor of the Corner Meeting House and the former Winnisquam Fire Station could be vacated.

Should the CDFA not agree to the program shift, the other alternative is to reimburse the federal government in the amount of $21,600, which is calculated by dividing the total grant of $1 million by 20, or the years in the payback period. That leaves $50,000 annually that must be paid back over the next six years because the grant is 14-years old. Seven percent of $50,000 represents the amount of total space that would be used by a non-qualifying agency or $3,600 which is multiplied by the six years remaining in the payback period, or $21,600.
Beaudin said she expects an answer regarding the change of use from the CDFA before the next selectman's meeting. She said she is also meeting with the directors of General Assistance and the Parks and Recreation Department to see if the proposed new spaces are a good fit for their clientele.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 August 2013 01:54

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