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Lebanon Parents Consider School Building Upgrades

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/2/2016 1:14:18 AM
Modified: 5/2/2016 12:49:50 PM

Lebanon — What should administrators keep in mind as the Lebanon School District prepares its long-term goals for students, teachers and buildings?

That’s the question about 15 parents and residents worked in groups to answer at a community forum on Thursday, as the district prepares a new three-year strategic plan.

Superintendent Joanne Roberts said preparation of the plan began when she first took on the superintendent role last year. That’s when she had an initial meeting with teachers and together came up with more than 40 goals for the upcoming school year.

Looking at a single year was a good start, Roberts said, but the district needs to look further ahead and set targets. Last fall, more than 300 community members were surveyed on their hopes for the district’s future. That was followed up by a community forum and creation of a 13-member panel tasked with collecting ideas and shaping them into a plan.

A draft — broken down into three categories; curriculum, culture and facilities — was completed and presented to the School Board last Wednesday, Roberts said. But that doesn’t mean work is finished.

“We have this design. We have this road map. What might we have missed?” Roberts asked the group.

A commitment to student learning was one of the strongest themes that came out of the community forums, according to Christine Downing, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. So, the curriculum proportion of the plan looks at how to best prepare students for life after school.

“We’re hoping to turn the traditional model of learning upside down,” Downing said, and that means pursuing a model of competency-based learning.

Students will someday receive an education that’s more personalized, Downing said. Rather than learning everything that can be offered in a grade level and then moving on to the next, learning will be considered more of a continual journey on an individualized level.

Parent Amber Hanna asked what that would do to class sizes and whether teachers would be supported enough to tackle the new approach.

“As a parent, I certainly hope class sizes stay small,” she said, adding that they’re a bit too large right now.

The average class size for grades 1 through 8 in Lebanon is about 18 students, according to the New Hampshire Department of Education. 

Downing said class sizes will be part of the district implementation of competency-based learning. She said it’s also possible that elementary school students would go to several teachers in the future.

Lebanon resident Bill Secord also asked about partnerships with local businesses and community organizations and whether that could play into a new curriculum.

Roberts said the district hopes to work alongside businesses like Hypertherm to get children to work on real world applications to projects they learn in school. She’s also reached out to the Rotary Club of Lebanon and solicited help there.

“There’s so many people who want to partner,” she said. “It’s just ‘how do we do that?’ ”

Culturally, the district wants to “create a climate where all are welcomed and supported” while also promoting communication with parents and the greater community.

Jonica Leuthauser, a Lebanon mother of three, asked that officials and teachers strike a balance with students who might be more conservative, especially on the issue of gender identity. She’s seen gender-neutral issues being discussed in other districts and worries that children who might not be considered “progressive” are instead singled out as hateful.

“All should belong. I totally understand that. But we’re finding that if you’re conservative, you don’t belong,” Leuthauser said. “Nobody should be put down, not even the ones who disagree.”

Lebanon High School Principal Ian Smith said he understands the district should do its best to create a balance. He co-teaches a class with a left-leaning teacher and they together try to be supportive of students sharing a full spectrum of talks in the classroom.

Parents also asked about school district buildings and parking lots.

The district hired North Carolina-based consulting firm Prismatic Services Inc. last November to take a comprehensive look at school buildings. Consultants came back in March with a draft plan that calls for $6 million in needed spending to maintain the buildings, and another $4 million in recommended upgrades.

Although much of their assessment focused on infrastructure, such as paving and HVAC systems, Prismatic also called for renovation of the “gymnacafatorium” at the Mount Lebanon School, the Lebanon Middle School playground and the library at the Hanover Street School.

By giving guidelines rather than a precise or multi-year plan, Prismatic is giving the district the opportunity to be a smart client, said Tom Martineau, an architect with the firm. He said many districts use their facilities plan as a doorstop and nothing more. By creating a continuous plan that can be added to, he said, Lebanon won’t fall into that trap.

When asked about how technology plays into the report, Prismatic founder Tatia Prieto said Lebanon operates on a more “traditional” level with technology.

“It’s not a huge priority yet for the district and we’re not here to force a vision on you,” she said.

Parent Jen Langley said parking is a big issue that she would like to see change. Her children attend the Hanover Street School and she said the shared driveway with the high school can be problematic.

“It’s mostly parents and the high school students” who are the problem, she said.

Dana Arey, director of facilities, said the district is planning an upcoming charrette on a recently purchased property on Evans Drive, south of the high school. With it, he said, it’s likely to get all parking back on-campus.

The draft strategic plan can be found on the district’s website at sau88.net. The School Board is slated to discuss the plan at 6:30 p.m. on May 11 at Lebanon Middle School.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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