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HAVERHILL

School committee considers strategic plan

Tilton Elementary School would be transformed into one of the state’s first innovation schools. Haverhill’s youngest students would have access to free, full-day kindergarten classes. And high school students would have an opportunity to explore different career paths in structured academies.

These are some of the goals outlined in a strategic plan now being considered by the Haverhill School Committee. The seven-member committee is expected to take action next month on the proposed vision for the future of public education in this former shoe city.

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“This strategic plan updates our district improvement plan and incorporates all of the things we are doing with our Race to the Top grant,’’ said Mary Malone, assistant superintendent for curriculum, referring to a federal grant the district is using to support local education reform initiatives.

She noted that a group of parents, administrators, School Committee members, and teachers worked for about 18 months on the plan.

The culmination is a 38-page document that calls for the district and each of its schools to formulate “clear, credible, and academically sound improvement plans’’ that ensure accountability and effectiveness, while encouraging parents to work collaboratively with educators to improve student performance.

The strategic plan seeks to reinstate foreign language classes for seventh- and eighth-grade students and build partnerships with local businesses to enhance classroom lessons.

Other goals include the development of new career-focused academies at the high school; the creation of an innovation school, an option the district is now considering for Tilton Elementary; and expanding the city’s limited number of full-day kindergarten classes, which are now available only at the Greenleaf, Walnut Square, and Golden Hill elementary schools with tuition of nearly $5,000 per year, per student.

“The focus is, obviously, to improve teaching and learning in our schools,’’ said Malone.

The strategic plan, unveiled at the Dec. 15 School Committee meeting, is being considered as the district works to update its curriculum to ensure classroom instruction aligns with the new frameworks, or core standards, set by state education officials. All districts must incorporate the new standards by the 2013-2014 academic year, Malone said.

School Committee members Paul A. Magliocchetti and Raymond Sierpina, who helped to develop the strategic plan, said the document provides a uniform set of goals for all schools in the district. Each principal will be charged with developing a school improvement plan that outlines what steps, or action items, his or her school will undertake to achieve each goal.

“The principals will be able to look at these plans and see which programs are working, and which are not,’’ said Magliocchetti. “If one elementary school is having difficulty meeting a particular goal, the principal will be able to look at the improvement plans for the other schools and identify programs that have been proven effective.’’

The School Committee also will use the document on a meeting-by-meeting basis, Sierpina said, to help guide budget and programming decisions.

“The strategic plan not only incorporates state and federal mandates, it also reflects the goals of the School Committee,’’ Sierpina said, noting that the district is already working toward meeting several of the key goals detailed in the plan.

At the high school, a new science, technology, engineering, and mathematics academy is being launched in January to encourage students to consider careers in those fields. And educators are now starting to explore the possibility of transforming Tilton Elementary, a school that has failed to meet federal benchmarks for student achievement, into an innovation, or specialty, school.

Innovation schools are public schools that operate under the auspices of the local district’s central office, but have mission plans that free them from many of the bureaucratic encumbrances that limit traditional public schools.

“An innovation school may have a different philosophy and different programs in it, but they are cost neutral to the district,’’ said Malone. “The principal at Tilton is very much interested in developing an innovation school there. We’re looking at the grant guidelines now to see if it would be a good fit for us.’’

Other goals outlined in the strategic plan will probably be examined as the district begins drafting a budget blueprint for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1. The city’s preliminary spending plan is typically presented to the School Committee in April, with a final budget set in June.

The School Committee is expected to consider two proposals that would expand foreign language instruction. One would incorporate Latin instruction in seventh- and eighth-grade history classes. The other would give eighth-graders the opportunity to study a foreign language during first period at the high school, and then be bused to their respective middle schools.

“Because the high school is on an earlier schedule than the middle schools, the students would not miss out on any of their regular class time,’’ Magliocchetti said. “The only additional cost to the district would be for the extra buses, which would be a lot less expensive than hiring foreign language teachers for the middle schools.’’

The School Committee may also consider expanding the city’s full-day kindergarten. District officials are hoping to secure a state grant to fund the program, which would cost about $1 million to implement at each of the eight schools that educate kindergarten students, according to Malone. The district would like to offer free full-day kindergarten classes.

“In the first year, we would have to hire additional kindergarten teachers and buy equipment and materials to furnish the classrooms,’’ Malone said. “In subsequent years, the program would cost the district about $400,000 to $500,000 in salaries.’’

Many of the goals established in the strategic plan have no set date for implementation because, Magliocchetti said, “everything is dependent on funding.’’

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.
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