City parents upset with school split

NASHUA – When Chris Stewart is old enough to go to high school, he wants to go to Nashua High School South.

The Sunset Heights sixth-grader wore his purple Nashua football jacket to a public hearing Thursday night where the future of kids such as him was the major topic of discussion.

“I have great friends here and all my friends are going south,” said 12-year-old Stewart after the meeting. “I don’t want to have a hard time making new friends when all my friends are going south. It’s not right.”

Stewart was flanked by his two older brothers. They were wearing purple jackets too. It’s their favorite color.

“I don’t want to wear blue (the color of the north school),” he said. “I want to wear purple.”Stewart and his brothers are among the students who live south of the Nashua River that the school officials want to send to the north school.

Starting next year when the school district moves to two high schools for the first time, as many as 150 students who live in neighborhoods around Sunset Heights Elementary School will attend the city’s new high school off Broad Street.

About 100 people attended Thursday’s meeting and about 20 of them spoke about the plan. Most of those who spoke were opposed it.

It would penalize their children with extra long bus rides to the north school, they said.

It would separate their children from their best friends and divide neighborhoods, parents told members of the Board of Education.

Find 150 students from another school or don’t do anything at all, parents urged.

Without a change, Nashua High South is expected to have about 2,250 students next year, while Nashua High North is expected to have about 1,900, according to school officials.

Currently, all children who live north of the Nashua River as well as those who live within the boundaries of the Dr. Crisp neighborhoods will go to the north high school. All other students living south of the Nashua River would attend the south high school by the start of the next school year.

Superintendent of Schools Joseph Giuliano began the meeting with a presentation about the two schools and stressed they had been designed to be equal from the get-go. He explained that the Sunset Heights neighborhoods were chosen because they help preserve the socioeconomic balance between the two schools and because of their proximity to Dr. Crisp Elementary School, which is also scheduled to go to the north school.

Keeping a socioeconomic balance between the schools wasn’t a good enough reason for many parents.

“It’s because we’re a middle class school; that’s why we’re being targeted and being split,” said parent Peter Marcoux. “That disgusts me.”

Before the meeting began, board members were presented with 120 signatures from parents who oppose the move.

Although the meeting was held at Sunset Heights, it wasn’t just parents from that school who attended the meeting.

Terry Kharajian is a parent of students who attend Ledge Street Elementary School and who will eventually attend the south high school. Ledge Street is the school many Sunset Heights parents want the school district to pull students from.

“My children are walkers,” she said. “That’s ridiculous to put my kids on a bus when they can walk to the south school. Ledge Street’s already been redistricted once; everyone’s got to take their fair share.”

After everyone from the audience had a chance to speak, Board of Education members took no action on the recommendation. The two people who could have voted on the measure, Latha Mangipudi and Rick Dowd, as members of the board’s support services committee, decided to wait until Tuesday to take a vote.

Both Mangipudi and Dowd said they wanted to get answers to some parents’ questions before they decided to move forward. Before they came to that conclusion, they carefully eyed a city map and asked Giuliano to look at other neighborhoods in the Sunset Heights area west of Main Street, at the suggestion of one of the parents in the audience.

“My honest feeling is we need to start out with even numbers (at both schools),” Mangipudi said. “We still need to do what’s educationally best for the students and that means keeping the schools even.”