Divide grows over city dropout rate

NASHUA – Kim Shaw said credit for lowering the dropout rate belongs to the school district, not the city.

Edwina Kwan complained that a section of a report on dropouts didn’t reflect everything that was discussed in her subcommittee.

The two members of the Board of Education went on the offensive last week against an annual report of the Nashua Stays in School dropout task force, which Mayor Bernie Streeter formed more than a year ago.

Their objections exposed an emerging rift between leaders in the school district and City Hall.

Both Shaw and Kwan attacked Administrative Services Director Maureen Lemieux’s report because it stated the city, and not the school department, has been committed to widespread curriculum development, creating a new alternative middle school, and moving to block scheduling and smaller learning communities at Nashua High School.

No one from the city side of government attended the school district’s planning meetings on any of those initiatives, Kwan said.

“I felt this was so misrepresentative of the school department,” Kwan said at a meeting last week. “I felt the credit was not being given to the school administration. I felt that it wasn’t putting any credit where it was due.”

Shaw picked up where Kwan left off.

“I don’t want anyone in the school department to feel that people are not recognizing the work that they’ve done,” Shaw said.

Lemieux, who chairs the committee, said she was blindsided by those comments.

“I don’t understand where it’s coming from,” Lemieux said later in the week. “I view the school department as part of the city.”

Ward 7 Alderman Lori Cardin felt the same way. She was surprised by the perceived split between the city and the school department.

“I’m an elected official just like you,” Cardin said to Shaw. “To me, we’re both the city. I don’t know where this division came from, but it’s unfortunate.”

Some school board members have made it clear they don’t get along with Streeter. All but one_dorsed Steve Bolton for mayor in the past election. They have complained about Streeter’s directives to cap school spending at certain levels regardless of need, and have accused him of handpicking candidates to run for the school board. Some accused Streeter of forming the Stays in School committee so he could take credit for a reduction in the city’s dropout rate.

“Some members of the Board of Education are reluctant to recognize there is a dropout problem and it is a community-wide issue,” Streeter said. “I’m sad that some members of the Board of Education think this is some sort of devious plot to undermine their efforts.”

Now that the election has passed, Streeter hopes the city’s elected officials can work together to lower the city’s dropout rate.

“We need all the help we can get for all parties concerned,” Streeter said.

Lemieux agreed.

“I want to make sure the content (of the report) is right,” Lemieux said. “Even though this committee has been racked in controversy, we clearly need members of the Board of Education.”

Last month, amid accusations that the annual report was being released a week before the mayoral election without allowing committee members to review it, Lemieux postponed the release of the document.

The committee’s first meeting since that decision was Monday, and Lemieux started off defensive.

“My intent was to write something as factual as I could be and as objective as I could be,” she said. “To be honest, I thought I represented everything accurately.”

All of the subcommittees accepted Lemieux’s summary report except for the one Kwan sits on.

“I don’t think this report is ready,” Kwan said. “It might be nice to put this out after a year, but I don’t think my committee has done its work.”

Kwan was one of the first people to object to the report’s original release date, a week before the municipal election. She said she could not sign off on something she hadn’t seen and couldn’t review.

The report attempts to describe the committee’s progress during the past year.

It states the risk factors that contribute to students dropping out, including attendance, behavior, family involvement, participation and academic achievement. It reports on the goals and accomplishments for each of the four subcommittees.

Lemieux hopes the report will serve as a baseline for the committee’s second year of work. She hopes it can be used to determine the progress the committee, and community, have made.

And as she wrote in her report, she hopes the community as a whole can work together to lower the dropout rate.

“We as leaders of our community must be vigilant in this endeavor,” she said. “We must be innovative and creative and never lose sight of the goal – and that is to provide a community environment where all students can succeed and achieve and become whatever it is that they were meant to be.”