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Charters “The NH Way”

February 23, 2013

Bill Duncan’s blog, Advancing New Hampshire Education, had a post yesterday reporting the repeal of a voucher bill that was passed a year ago when the Republicans dominated both the House and Senate and also reporting the broad support in the legislature for charter schools done “the New Hampshire Way”. He wrote of an NHPR program on charter schools that included a cross section of perspectives:

The program was notable for the consensus expressed in support of charter schools done “the New Hampshire way,” as Scott McGilvray, president of the National Education Association of New Hampshire, put it. The New Hampshire way, in this context, was seen as establishing charters that serve specific needs supplementing what the traditional public schools already do.  Governor Hassan had supported that idea in her budget address, saying that the she would give the New Hampshire Board of Education authority to “prioritize new charter school approval to underserved communities.”  Sen. Stiles, House Education Committee Chair, Rep. Mary Gile, Board of Education Chair Tom Raffio and NEA NH President McGilvray all sounded supportive of the governor’s approach but also felt that this was a good juncture at which to step back, review charter and public school performance and clarify state charter school policy.

Three NH charters exemplify the “NH Way”: the Virtual Learning Academy in Exeter, NH, which provides underserved districts across the state with on-line learning opportunities; the North Country Charter in operating in two venues in Northern New Hampshire and providing an alternative school for students who experience difficulty in the traditional learning environment; and the Ledyard Charter School in Lebanon NH that provides alternative opportunities for students in the Upper Valley. Each of these schools operates in conjunction with neighboring public school systems and each supplements existing public schools. Indeed, the North Country Charter was created by superintendents and high school administrators in the region who were looking for a way to address the high drop out rates in the region. The North Country Charter, in turn, drew on the programming offered by the Virtual Learning Charter in Exeter.

Not all charters in existence work as harmoniously with public schools as these three, but these schools exemplify “the New Hampshire Way” and exemplify the original thinking about charter schools. Charters were not envisioned as profit making entities intended to skim the children of the most engaged parents from struggling public schools but rather to provide alternatives for children who were struggling in schools of all kinds. Charters were intended to put students first, not shareholders.

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