Laconia to begin new system of assessing student progress

LACONIA — The Laconia School District is preparing to become one of a number of a "PACE" districts in the state by introducing "Performance Assessment of Competency Education," an accountability system designed to offer students greater opportunities to acquire critical knowledge and practical skills while measuring their performance by assessments developed and administered locally.

Academic Coordinators for Teaching and Learning Gail Bourn and Angel Burke told the School Board this week that the district applied to participate in the pilot program in January and recently learned it has been accepted by the New Hampshire Department of Education.

Bourn explained that the accountability will be designed and implemented by local educational officials, in collaboration with their counterparts from other district working together in a network and with support and guidance from the New Hampshire Department of Education. The system will be accompanied by competency-based approaches to instruction and learning aimed at preparing students to enroll in a higher educational institutional institution or begin the pursuit of a career.

Bourn stressed that PACE will provide several benefits for students, foremost among them less standardized testing and more instructional time. Students will still sit the Smarter Balance tests in English Language Arts and Mathematics in the fourth and eighth grades as well as the SAT in the 11th grade, but otherwise undergo the local performance assessment, one of which will be common assessment administered by all PACE districts, in the remaining grades.

At the same time, Bourn said that PACE applies the recent understanding of of people learn through "project-based learning," which enables students to acquire knowledge and develop skills they can apply circumstances and problems encountered in the world beyond the classroom.

Mal Murray of the School Board was skeptical. "How much more paperwork will this mean for out teachers who are already overworked and underpaid?' he asked. Bourn replied that that before seeking to participate in the program, the teachers were consulted and responded positively. Unconvinced, Murray said "we keep piling more things on our teachers. I'm going to stop, because I'm not happy at all."

School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said that the initiative would have no significant impact on the district budget. "It ties costly into a lot of what we are already doing," he said. The program is expected to begin with the 2017-2018 school year.

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Biathlete qualifies to compete in Finland, Estonia


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Alex Howe of Gilford has qualified for International Biathlon Union Cups 7 and 8 in Finland the first weekend in March and Estonia the following weekend, the local biathlete reported.
Howe competes in biathlon, a winter Olympic sport combining cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. On Dec. 14-19, his team from Craftsbury Green Racing Project of Vermont entered the Biathlon trials at Mt. Itasca Winter Sports Center near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Following the conclusion of trials races, Howe, Emily Dreissigacker and Hallie Grossman of Craftsbury Green Racing Project were named to the U.S. Biathlon Association International Biathlon Union Cup Team.
The first weekend of IBU Cup competition is in Kontialahti, Finland. The second weekend is in Otepaa, Estonia.
Howe said his qualifying races were this past weekend in Lake Placid, New York, and the previous weekend in Jericho, Vermont.
"Both qualifying weekends went pretty well for me, I shot 80 percent in all the races and felt pretty good skiing," he reported. "That is good enough here in the states, but I know that when I get over there I need to up my game. Generally the winners of the IBU Cups are shooting in the high 80's and even low 90's percentages."
Howe said he is excited to qualify to go back over. "It's such a different level over there, and it's always exciting to race the best," Howe reported. "I am also excited because this time I will have gotten my nerves out of the way and can just relax and do what I know how to do. It's going to take great shooting and awesome skiing to even break into the top 30 for me but that is my goal. Another problem I have been working on the past couple weeks has been my shooting time. I need to cut my times down by 10 seconds for each shooting at least to be competitive with the leaders."
Racing in Finland and Estonia also provides the opportunity to earn a start spot on the World Cup, "which would be incredible," he noted.
"That would be an awesome ending to the season but who knows what will happen. Biathlon is really a sport where anyone can win because the shooting is such a huge part. It really makes things exciting!" he reported.
To follow Howe's progress, visit his team's website at

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Snowshoeing blind – and loving it

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Members of "Youth Adventures," a program by the New Hampshire Association for the Blind, enjoy an outing at Gunstock Mountain Resort. (Courtesy photo)

Gunstock outing christens ‘Youth Adventures’ series for visually impaired


GILFORD — Young people with visual impairments could feel the cold, crisp air and hear the rustling of nature as members of "Youth Adventures" strapped on snowshoes and ventured down the Nordic trails at Gunstock Mountain Resort last weekend.
This outing, organized by the New Hampshire Association for the Blind, christened an effort to welcome young people who are blind and visually impaired and give them an expanded list of fitness activities that they can enjoy.
"These opportunities broaden the perspective for kids," giving them a bonding experience and helping to build their self confidence, said Stephanie Hurd, community relations coordinator for the association.
Hurd, who is blind, said the new "Youth Adventures" program is open to any youth in grades four through 12 with any kind of vision loss.
"It's peer support, as youth with vision loss get an opportunity to connect with one another. It's an adaptive way to exercise, it builds confidence for youth, and it's just a whole lot of fun," Hurd explained.
The Gunstock outing was the first time for many of the young people to explore and learn how to snowshoe.
The group largely dispensed with white canes or other aids, following along by sound and staying in clusters. "You have to give a little more space," Hurd said, noting one of the lessons learned, as the participants had to judge the distance between each other while on snowshoes.
Many parts of the outing were typical of a winter excursion — snowball fights, tasting the snow, listening to the creaking of trees.
Gunnar Stohlberg, ski instructor, pointed out a brook that ran through the area, and the group grew quiet and listened, Hurd recalled.
"They had a good time. I think it was a successful kickoff," she said.
Armed with a grant, the association plans additional monthly trips.
The next one is in March, at Carriage Barn Equine Therapy in Kensington, when the participants will enjoy horseback riding at an indoor arena. In April, the group plans to visit Concord for indoor rock climbing at Evo Rock Climbing. In May, the New Hampshire Forest Society will take the young people on a guided hike in Concord.
"We didn't have to create the wheel, we just had to find places that would be willing to work with the wheel," Hurd said.
A theme of the series is "living and thriving with vision loss."
Participants learn that they don't need to feel limited, Hurd said. The outings shatter stereotypes about the visually impaired, so there's an educational component.
"It's a great thing for the public to know about, too, because blind people don't just sit in the corner and knit, rock in a rocking chair," Hurd said.
At Gunstock, one 11-year-old who typically grew tired from physical exertion found a boost of energy on the Nordic trail.
"It was nice to see kids flourish and challenge themselves," Hurd said.
Two boys became friends, sharing information so they can write Braille back and forth, Hurd noted.
The outing instilled some children with confidence, breaking the ice, so to speak.
"Sometimes it's not always easy to be included in a gym class or picking up a game if you have trouble seeing," Hurd explained.
Spots are open in upcoming excursions. The outings are for young people with visual impairments, who are between grades four and 12.
The association also welcomes anyone 18 and older who would like to help out.
"We are always looking for volunteers who would like to get involved with us," Hurd said, noting that the Lakes Region is an area where volunteer help is especially needed.
For more information, visit the New Hampshire Association for the Blind at


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