By: Margaret Donnelly (LNH '17), Marketing and PR Consultant
First Period: An Example of Local Innovation (Quality, Access)
Kathleen Murphy, Superintendent of Hampton School District (SAU 90) kicked off the program day with a positive message of change. Hampton is a relatively new school district; they left a cooperative district so the residents could have a strong voice in how education is funded and implemented in their town. The result is a much more community-focused, integrated and inclusive school with programs and resources (including a social worker) for their underserved population. Hampton believes that the way we teach is evolving, so they’ve implemented project-based, experiential learning and technology solutions to enhance education. It was great to start the day with a view to how one district is embracing inclusion and innovation as part of it’s core, but it begs the question: How can all NH schools fund and fuel this kind of inclusion and innovation?
Second Period: Inventing Change (Quality)
Following Kathleen (and what a hard act to follow), Meryl Levin, Founding Chair of the Mill Falls Montessori Charter School in Manchester discussed how she helped start the first public Montessori school in New Hampshire. Meryl gave us another perspective on innovation in public education, this time from the lens of educational process and, as a Leadership NH alum, inciting change in our educational system.
Charter schools have been politically controversial; many people harbor the notion that charter schools take ‘tax dollars’ away from other public schools. Given that NH charter schools are funded as a legislative line item in the NH State budget – no local money is given to charter schools – this takes away the local funding dilemma for NH charter schools. However, there is a huge funding challenge for NH charter schools; the State provides less than half of the average education cost per pupil. Charter schools must make up the gap, and 80% of those funds are received through community giving.
What’s clear is that the Montessori method is a successful alternative approach to education that has taken hold across the nation. Learning is skills-based and focused on mastery rather than based upon age or class. The mixed-age classrooms and 3-year class cycle enable students to progress together, to hold different roles within the class, and to learn valuable social skills. Today, there are approximately 25 charter schools in New Hampshire, with two additional schools slated to open in 2017. What’s telling is that it takes just a few people with vision to implement new alternatives to traditional education. That Meryl is an LNH graduate speaks volumes.
Third Period: How Do We Pay For It? (Cost)
After all that inspiration, it was time to discuss challenges. AndruVolinsky (LNH ’02), the Lead Counsel for the Claremont School funding case, spoke to us both about the Claremont case as well as the school funding system in New Hampshire.
The fierce independence that is a hallmark of living in New Hampshire provides the freedom for individual towns and school cooperatives to tailor the educational experience for their local residents. However, this “keep it local” implementation also brings to light the educational inequities in less affluent areas of our state. The State only contributes approximately 10% of the non-capital educational cost/pupil; the rest is up to local towns or districts.
While ‘keep it local’ enables towns and districts a great deal of autonomy, less affluent areas of our state are severely hampered by this model. In looking at the equalized valuation per pupil in each town, the disparities are profound between the richest and poorest towns in the state. So, how do we enact a fair funding model to ensure that all of our children receive the same opportunity regardless of their zip code?
Fourth Period: The Changing Face of Higher Education
Of all the sessions of the day, the conversation with Dr. Mark Huddleston, President of the University of New Hampshire, seemed to be the most discordant for the class participants. New Hampshire has the highest average in-state tuition and the highest student debt load in the country. Given this, it’s not surprising (but it is highly troubling) that NH’s funding for higher education is the LOWEST in the country.
Dr. Huddleston’s views on UNH’s future—bridging the funding gap and his vision for the University—were what concerned many of the LNH participants. He acknowledged that the landscape of education is changing; that the ‘unbundling’ of higher education is a huge trend. Online education is removing the barriers to access and that competency-based certification may be the “last bastion of value.” There are around 5,000 colleges in the US. We’re seeing a winnowing of these numbers; some are not adapting to changes in education and the need to deliver value, and may not survive. What spurred lively discussion amongst the LNH participants is the discord between the need to ‘adapt or die’ and no clear answer as to how that will happen at UNH.
Immediately following this session, we were able to venture out and experience some of the innovation and advancement that Dr. Huddleston discussed. We split into groups and were able to tour the Innovation and Interoperability Lab, the EOS/NASA program or the Ocean Engineering Lab. It was great to learn how UNH is partnering with business/industry and their students to innovate and to graduate students with proven skills and capabilities!
Fifth and Sixth Period: New Pathways to Education
The last two sessions of the day left us with a flavor of how education is and can change.
Fred Bramante (LNH ’99) founded the National Center for Competency-Based Learning on the premise that experience leads to mastery. Competency-based learning means that you must demonstrate mastery to move to the next level rather than using time/place/age as the barometer of learning. To foster that learning, Fred wants to recruit 10,000 mentors to teach young learners skills that will not only provide pathways to employment but also provide course credit at the same time.
Our classmate, DeoMwano (LNH ’17), described the process of forming SNHU’s College for America. There are 48M blue-collar workers without degrees who have no way to progress in their careers and have struggled to attain degrees in traditional learning environments. College for America was designed as program run in partnership with employers to provide adult learners with an affordable, flexible, mastery-based degree program. Along with SNHU’s nationally-recognized College of Online and Continuing Education (COCE), SNHU is in the forefront of new and affordable educational models that will not only help students in New Hampshire, but around the country.
As you can see, Education Day was quite an education for our LNH class. These program days are designed educate us, help spur ideas and incite us to action. The clear funding challenges are the hardest to tackle. Is there a way to better fund both primary and secondary education without a tax revolution (or revolt)? How do we drive funding equity for educational systems in less affluent parts of our state? How can we take our ideas and put them into action? It’s great to see former LNH grads have taken inspiration from this day’s education and are out making change happen. I wonder…who from the 2017 class will be next?