The Manchester Proud mission
The entire state has a stake in the success of the Queen City’s schools
In his Valentine’s Day budget address, Gov. Chris Sununu made several proposals regarding funding of education in New Hampshire. He proposed what he described as $200 million in new spending, a reordering of the formula for distribution and increases in aid, not just to public schools, but also public charter schools and the so-called “freedom accounts” allowing some parents to spend on private school choices.
These proposals remind us all of the cost of education and its central role in how government provides services to society and how important they can be in unifying communities. Even in times like this, when many school districts have decreasing enrollments, spending continues to rise, the content of instruction can be controversial and educational issues can create heat as well as light.
Against this background, it is important that everyone pays attention to what is going on in the state’s largest school district. Unlike much of the state, with the rural landscapes and rather homogeneous populations, Manchester schools are increasingly diverse, with close to if not a majority of students from minority populations. The pro-education mayor and school board all work hard to improve and support the schools, and recently have engaged a consulting group to analyze the needs of the physical plant, last updated in 2005.
Proposals to reduce the number of high schools from four to three are also compared to the apparent desire of some to have one giant high school for the entire city. Proposals to reduce the number of elementary schools already have resulted in one closing, and more are suggested. Every time a proposal is made to close a school, its alumni and neighborhoods are concerned.
One of the brightest lights in all discussions of education in the Queen City has been the ongoing efforts of Manchester Proud. Begun in 2018, this group, coordinated by retired architect Barry Brensinger, has had staying power in its efforts.
The underlying premise is that, “We passionately believe that our public schools are Manchester’s most essential source of future prosperity, health, safety culture, civic engagement, and unity,” according to the group’s recent “Case for Your Support 2023.” Led by a “Champions Council,” a group of citizens from throughout the city and different parts of the population, it points to its accomplishments to date, which include:
- A strategic planning process broadly supported by businesses and community organizations in which the school board unanimously agreed to take part.
- The board later implemented the new strategic plan largely fashioned by community-wide efforts of Manchester Proud.
- Manchester Proud co-founded Manchester Financial Partners with the National Collaborative for Digital Equity, helping local banks and credit unions provide 500 free laptops to students.
- In September 2021, it organized the first CelebratED gathering to bring students, teachers, parents and administrators together to celebrate Manchester schools.
- It developed a “report card” process to see how the plan is doing.
Looking to the future, Manchester Proud has plans for school-community partnership, with 60 partnerships identified. It has a communications portal, plans to continue the annual celebrations, and wants to continue to hold events publicizing the successes and achievements of public schools in the state’s largest city, with its 12,000 students, who speak over 60 languages and have a significantly higher level of poverty than the state as a whole.
Critically, it will continue its efforts to involve people from all parts of the community, especially those from groups who have found it hard to participate in the past, in its efforts and the schools.
Manchester Proud currently is looking for prospective members of its guiding board, support for its efforts, and volunteers who share its mission and passion. More information can be found on its website, manchesterproud.org.
As stated, the entire state has a stake in the success of Manchester Proud and its efforts to keep focus on education where it may be hardest to provide and succeed. That is why everyone, including all 424 legislators and senators, from Manchester and beyond, need to consider what is going on in the city, as well as the suburbs and the rural areas, when considering the governor’s education proposals and how to equitably apportion all that money.
Our future as a state depends on it.
Brad Cook is a Manchester attorney. The views expressed in this column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.