To The Daily Sun,
It is my hope that all of Sachem Nation is enjoying this week of relaxation as we begin preparations for the final stretch of our school year. As everyone knows, the final six weeks of school are typically a very busy time with Advanced Placement exams, NWEA Spring assessments, the Top 10 Dinner, Prom, lots of sports, concerts (the band will be getting back from their Disney Trip at 1 a.m. on the first day back from break) and multiple awards nights culminating in the 138th Commencement Exercises on the athletic field. To put it mildly, students, staff and parents will be very busy as we finish this school year.
The 2015–2016 school year has come with a unique set of budgetary problems that this district has worked diligently to address. The goal throughout the process has remained crystal clear: How do we meet the reality of significant cuts ($1.2 -$1.7 million) with the least amount of damage to the overall educational program? It is my opinion, having been involved with this process for the last seven months, that we have done the best job possible. That being said, the answer to the question many are asking is, "What are the impacts?" The answer is that the core of all our programs will remain in place, however, the overall program will be impacted for next year. With that in mind, it is my goal with the remainder of this letter to express exactly what the impacts are so the misinformation that always exists when situations like this are "in process" can be effectively addressed. My comments are specifically about Laconia High School and how the budget will impact our programming for the upcoming school year.
At the high school, the following positions were lost due to budget cuts: One Social Studies position, One English position, two-thirds of one Math position, one Science position and one World Language position. In the area of extra-curricular programming, we lost four athletic teams (bowling, cheer, skiing and swimming) and two coaching positions from the football team. On the administrative end, the high school lost one full-time administrator (the academic coordinator position is now shared evenly with the middle school and the student service director has been reduced to part-time.) We lost some great teachers due to the reality of this year's budget reductions and they will absolutely be missed by this school community as we move into the next school year. Obviously, these losses will increase class size at LHS and reduces our ability to run some courses that had lower enrollments. However, the increase to our class sizes still allows us to remain within state and federal guidelines. We are confident that as schedules come together in the fall, we will get every course in the best place possible. Contrary to some of the rumors going out in in much of the social media world, there were NO CUTS to the elective/fine arts program at LHS. That is correct, all positions remain fully funded. Sadly, as many of us remember, that area has been the focus of cuts over the years. It was very good to know that Music, Art and Health & Wellness courses were spared this time around.
However, due to the reduced numbers of teachers in each of our academic areas, we no longer have the flexibility we once had to meet the needs of what has become a very robust catalog of courses. Therefore, to effectively offer some fine arts programming at the best level possible required thinking outside the box of the 4x4 schedule. For Chorus, we can continue to offer it in the regular schedule but all 50 students will be together for the entire 90 minutes. This means concert choir and select choir will work in an integrated fashion throughout the 90 minute block. Students can take this program for the full year or semester-based only. This is not unusual and is a common practice in offering chorus across the state. We will also continue to provide Music Appreciation and a music elective this year.
With Band, the problem with our lack of flexibility was even more complex. To address this, we moved the program to "5th block." While some folks may think this means extra-curricular, our thinking on this structure goes back many years. Flexing the high school schedule leads to providing students with MORE opportunities to access the overall, credit bearing educational program. It also allows Band to be taught as it normally is; 45 minutes of symphonic band and 45 minutes of jazz/pep/pit. Add to this the option of using our Sachem Support Block for additional practice and Band is minimally impacted. Finally, to ensure students who participate in band can also access extra-curricular sports at LHS, no practices will start prior to 3 p.m. each day. This is already the case for many athletic programs, including football which has a required one-hour supervised study period after school each day, but it is now the law of the land for all sports. Students will not have to choose between band and the sport they also enjoy. Band participants will also continue to receive full course credit for their participation and no stipends (other than the department head stipend) have been lost. This includes stipends that support music associated with drama.
One other benefit of moving band to this position ensures we can now use all four blocks to offer "singleton" courses at LHS. These are courses that are offered only once each year. We have historically avoided putting Advanced Placement courses in fourth block (the time that band has traditionally met) because many band students also have high academic standards and want to access these courses. This schedule enhances everyone's opportunity to do so because it allows us to spread singletons, many of which are high rigor courses, among all four blocks available.
Next year will offer us new challenges. I remain confident that we will have a great year, we will continue to prepare students for college and career readiness and we will continue to ensure students can access the programming that they both want and need. It will not be exactly the same as it has been but with the reality of this budget situation, some changes had to be made to meet the needs of the overall program. it is my belief that we can celebrate what excellent programs we do have and continue to be able to offer!
Jim McCollum, Principal
Laconia High School