With contract settled, many at Nashua schools feel hopeful

NASHUA – For Debbra Uttero, the new school year means a fresh start.

Uttero was a reading specialist at Ledge Street Elementary School up until last year, but this year marks the official start of her new role as the school’s Adequate Yearly Progress facilitator.

In the new position, Uttero will work with teachers to dig through testing data and find new ways to help improve student achievement on the state’s standardized tests.

“I’m very excited,” she said.

But it’s a fresh start in another way for Uttero and for all of the district’s teachers. This is the first year since 2006 that teachers will return to school with a new contract.

Last year, as contract proposals were rejected and negotiations continued into the spring, the issue came to a head in March when teachers were hours away from striking. But a contract settlement was reached at the last minute, and the strike was averted.

Now it’s time to look to the future, Uttero said.

“That’s all in the past,” she said. “Now we’re moving forward.”

That was the overall sentiment Monday on the eve of another school year.

“The stress was incredible,” said Ed Moses, a special education teacher, of the contract situation last year. But now that the contract has been settled, there is a greater sense of optimism, he said.”We’re looking forward to a new year,” he said.

In the morning, all of the district’s staff took buses from their schools to Nashua High School South for a district wide staff meeting. Gov. John Lynch was on hand to welcome staff back to school.

Superintendent Christopher Hottel, addressing the audience, said the past two school years began under difficult circumstances but said this year is different.

“I think we’re starting the year with a great deal of hope, a great deal of enthusiasm,” he said.

Elizabeth Krahenbuhl, a special education teacher for the district, said she is looking forward to start of the new school year.

“Last year was kind of a rough year to go through,” said Krahenbuhl, who was in the audience at the meeting at South.

Just before the meeting, Krahenbuhl had an opportunity to talk with Lynch. She said they talked about the state’s role in ensuring schools are committed to meeting the needs of all special needs students.

Lynch, a former teacher and academic administrator, told the audience that he has been impressed with the students he has met from Nashua during their tours of the Statehouse.

He encouraged teachers to continue to focus on ensuring that all students have a chance to reach their full potential.

“Education is all about opportunity,” he said.

School board President Tom Vaughan said the launch of the Phoenix Program, the district’s focus on small learning communities at the high schools, and the strategic planning process are highlights of what’s going on in the district now.

But he said ultimately, it is up to the staff working in the schools to define the district.

“You and what you do every day for the students – that is the Nashua School District,” he said.

In the afternoon, last-minute preparations were under way at Ledge Street. Many teachers were in their rooms making final adjustments before the students arrive today.

Principal Janet Valeri, who is in her first year as principal at Ledge Street, said it is important to set the tone for the new school year early on. Valeri moved from Amherst Street School to Ledge Street over the summer.

There are approximately 150 new teachers in the school district this year, and seven of the city’s schools have new principals, including Valeri.

From an operational standpoint, Valeri said teachers are making sure they have enough supplies for the first day and are also adjusting to the new student information system.

She said she held a staff meeting Monday to go over some of the district’s goals for the year, including creating opportunities for achievement and celebrating success.

“The nice thing is that all of the buildings have built around that,” she said.