LACONIA — The school district is drawing up plans to increase individualized instruction, boost parental involvement and better prepare students for college or a vocation.

Overarching goals are set out in a draft strategic plan that will be refined to include ways to measure success before being presented to the School Board for approval, Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said Wednesday.

Main headings are “21st Century Learning Environments,” “College, Career and Life Ready,” “Community Relations,” “Community Based Education,” and “Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment.”

“Our vision is ensuring student success every day and every way,” Minnihan said.

One very public measurement that Minnihan says is imprecise are school report cards based on standardized testing and posted on the New Hampshire Department of Education website.

By that measure, the Laconia district lags some of its neighbors.

For example, 59 percent of Laconia High School 11th-grade students showed competency in reading and 38 percent in math, compared to 70 percent and 56 percent respectively at Gilford High School. For 6th-grade students in Laconia, 39 percent showed competency in reading and 26 percent in math, compared to 68 percent and 58 percent in Gilford.

Those test scores don’t take into account the socio-economic challenges in Laconia, where most students have family income low enough to qualify for the federal program providing free or reduced-price school lunches.

Minnihan said standardized state tests aren’t “overly relevant.”

“If we saw Billy had a hard time with sentence structure, we’d want to help him regardless of what the standardized test score showed,” he said. “Some students take the standardized test seriously, some don’t. These tests are not as big of an influential factor as it seems on the internet.

“What I look at more are outcome measures. Let's say I do mediocre on state testing, and end up going to community college and get a two-year degree in automotive maintenance. I end up working for one of the auto dealers even though I did not do well on testing.”

Some jobs in automotive repair and construction trades pay more and workers are more in demand than in some white-collar fields accessible with a four-year degree.

The best measure of a good high school education is the ultimate outcome for the student, whether that is a prestigious college or a vocational path, Minnihan said. 

One thing the district strives to do is provide support for struggling students.

“We want to personalize the learning down to the individual student,” Minnihan said. “We want to start to think about what it is that ‘student a’ knows and is able to do and what ‘student b’ is able to do.”

One district goal states that “a district professional development focus will be on using flexible spaces, technology and flexible groupings in a way to meet the individual needs of each student more effectively.”

Another goal calls for students to develop skills needed to “access a viable career path and be contributing members of their community.”

School Board member Mike Persson said the key to all these goals will be to draw up good yardsticks to gauge success.

“There needs to be measurements, time frames for progress,” he said.

Persson said the district is on the right track.

“We have a lot of strengths,” he said. “We’re really into the whole individualized learning and attention model. There’s a lot of one-on-one.

“We get people into the buildings and are providing more than reading and writing. We are looking out for so many of these kids who have tough home lives.

“Look at where our graduates have gone to college, the number of kids who have taken and received passing grades on Advanced Placement exams. Those stack up well.”

Success means different things to different students.

“For me personally, having kids ready to follow their own path, whether that is college, the military, the Huot and then a career at one of the manufacturing companies, or community college, that’s a key,” Persson said.

Another goal states: “By actively outreaching, networking and collaborating with local media, online resources, and in-person communications, Laconia School District families will participate in educational and social opportunities with a measured increase in parental engagement and attendance.”

Persson said that is an important goal that will help determine the future success of the district.

“The perception of the school district is so important,” he said. “The district is good and moving in the right direction. That’s true and we need to get that out there, or we won’t attract people with kids.”

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