Freshman Seminar survives challenge

NASHUA – If Board of Education Chairwoman Kim Shaw wanted to draw attention to what she perceives to be a lack of communication between the district and the board, she accomplished that goal.

At Monday night’s board meeting, teachers, administrators and parents spoke on behalf of the Freshman Seminar program, implemented this year and a required course for all freshmen. They came in response to a motion Shaw made at the last Instruction Committee meeting, recommending a suspension of the seminar program until the curriculum could be reworked.

Shaw tried to explain the motion Monday night, saying she made it more for its dramatic effect. She said that she requested information from the district on several occasions about the program but was never answered.

“It was not my intent to do away with Freshman Seminar . . . but sometimes you have to take drastic measures to draw attention,” she said.

The board amended the motion, voting instead to continue the program into the 2005-06 school year, given the board is able to review the results of surveys administered to students, teachers and parents, and make changes based on their comments. Nashua High School North Principal Pat Corbin said that is something that would have been done anyway.

Superintendent Joe Giuliano recommended a similar solution. Giuliano expressed support for the program and said he has tried his best to work with the board on making sure information requested was supplied. But Shaw disagreed, saying the information “never came back.”

The board wants to be able to review the seminar program before scheduling for the next school year begins. But with the course scheduled to end in late January and scheduling for next year beginning in February, Theresa McGuinness, the head of the freshmen academy at Nashua North, knows that the window for review is short, but “we’ll be able to do it.”

The course is mandatory, but is not required for graduation. Students learn about the resources available to them at the two high schools, how to manage their time, SAT preparation, how to work with technology and teamwork skills, among other topics.

Mark Detering, a science teacher at Nashua High School South, said the course has made a positive impact on his students. He said one student who had a history of run-ins with the law expressed his desire to turn himself around.

“He told me that he’d really like to go to Rivier College, and he wanted to know what to do to turn himself around. We wouldn’t have reached him,” Detering said.

But several board members said the validity of the course was never the issue. The real issue, said board member Scott Cote, is that hundreds of freshmen are being required to take a course that the board never formally approved.

“There are real communication issues here. The board learned about it through a publication sent out by the district,” Cote said, referring to a guide of available courses.

McGuinness said the board must have known about the implementation of the program. She said they authorized plane tickets for teachers to travel to other schools and study similar seminar programs.

Several board members, including Shaw, admitted there was a breach in the board’s policies when the course was made mandatory. But teachers who came to the meeting to speak said they hoped that breakdown in communication would not affect the continuation of the seminar program.

Madeline Larose, the head of the English department at Nashua North, said that while she does not teach a section of the program, she helped plan it and had scathing remarks for the board and the district.

“It’s quite obvious to me that (the teachers) have become some kind of pawns in a political tug of war. That’s a shame,” she said.

Parents spoke about the course, but their opinions varied. Mary Erb and Janet Deedy said their children are benefiting from the course. But Mark Cloutier said the curriculum is so vague that his daughter, an honor roll student, didn’t know if she had an A or a C halfway through the class.

The next meeting of the Instruction Committee is scheduled for Dec. 14. Board members encouraged anyone else who wanted to speak about the course to attend that meeting.