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November 21st, 2012
District’s answer to overcrowding: Blended learning
Manchester, N.H., superintendent’s plan would put students in virtual courses to overcome crowded classrooms
Could technology help solve the problem of crowded classrooms?
The Manchester, N.H., school district is poised to find out as soon as next semester, when it plans to offer virtual classes that students at the three high schools would be able to take without physically being in the same room as a teacher.
Superintendent Thomas Brennan has presented the plan to the school committee in the form of a report titled “Maximizing Educational Opportunities.”
The plan calls for the creation of “blended classrooms,” in which students could take courses through the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (known as V-LACS), the state’s first virtual charter school, and “remote classrooms,” which would allow students at any of the high schools to participate, through an interactive computer monitor, in courses being taught at one of the schools.
Under Brennan’s plan, students also would be able to take college-level courses through the University of New Hampshire-Manchester. In addition, Brennan said he hopes to establish a “Principal’s Academy” in the summer through Southern New Hampshire University, to foster and train future principals from within the district.
The proposals are part of an education reform agenda pushed by Mayor Ted Gatsas following an outcry over crowded classrooms and other problems in the early weeks of the school year. The problems have prompted Hooksett and Candia to reconsider sending their students to Manchester high schools. Auburn already has notified the district it will be withdrawing to send its students to Pinkerton Academy in Derry.
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Brennan said he wasn’t prepared to present a redistricting plan, a key component of the education reform agenda, because he needs to confirm enrollment figures at all the schools.
“I think we are headed in the right direction,” Brennan told the school board, referring to the technology initiatives.
Gatsas wholeheartedly agreed. “I want to congratulate you,” he told Brennan. “This is a concise report that provides a direction to take this district in.”
Brennan acknowledged that there were funding challenges in implementing the plan, which he estimated would cost close to $80,000, at the least.
The superintendent said he would look to the mayor to help raise outside funding for the program.
Gatsas said in an interview that he would do his best, and he noted that businesses already had contributed to support the district’s search for a new superintendent. He said he was hopeful he could get a computer company or store to donate some of the necessary equipment.
“We can do advertising now,” Gatsas said, referring to the new policy adopted by the school board allowing ads on campus. “Maybe [a business] can hang a poster up.”
Brennan estimated the cost for the three “blended learning labs” at $30,000 for hardware and $43,500 per semester for three lab facilitators.