Sunday, June 8, 2014

Winchester board seeks more information about its students at Keene High

 By KAITLIN MULHERE Sentinel Staff

WINCHESTER — A school board committee wants to know how Winchester’s teens feel about life at Keene High School as part of a study on whether the school is the right fit for the small town.
The decision to conduct a student survey was made at a Winchester School Board meeting Thursday. It followed a nearly three-hour discussion with Keene High School Principal Lynda C. Wagner, in which board members and residents told her repeatedly that they weren’t satisfied with the data and information the high school provides about the town’s students.
Wagner was presenting an annual report on Winchester students’ academics, involvement and behavior at Keene High during the 2012-13 school year. The school delivers the same report to each of the nine towns that pay tuition to send students to Keene.
In March 2012, Winchester voters approved a petition warrant article to study withdrawing their students from Keene High and either reopening Thayer High School, which closed in 2005, or sending the students elsewhere. Supporters said that with the price of tuition to attend Keene rising each year, Winchester should explore other options.
The withdrawal committee didn’t form until last year, though, and it only recently began meeting regularly. Committee members said in October the district wasn’t looking to breach its 20-year contract with Keene, but just wanted to research whether they were getting the best value for their money.
Winchester will pay $13,081 for each regular-education student next year and $29,000 for each special-education student.
School board Chairman Richard Horton told Wagner that Thursday’s presentation wasn’t about tuition prices or budgets. It was about how Winchester students are faring at Keene High.
And it was clear Winchester board members aren’t entirely pleased with their relationship with Keene.
They asked for more information on almost every category in the report. In several cases, Wagner said she’d have to report back to them since she didn’t compile the data.
Specifically, Winchester board members asked to see the graduation rates for Winchester students from the 2012-13 school year, the percentage of Winchester students in lower-level classes and the number of Winchester students participating in athletics, and to clarify several categories where the numbers didn’t add up or make sense.
In addition to Winchester, students from Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson, Surry, Sullivan and Westmoreland pay tuition to attend Keene.
Wagner said she would do her best to get the information the Winchester board requested, but that this was the same format and report that every town with students at Keene High receives.
“We’re not every town,” Horton said. “We want more information. We continue to ask and we’re not getting it.”
Those at the meeting, both board and audience members, said they’re not confident in much of the report because of the questions and mistakes they found.
Still, Horton wanted to know how Wagner planned to use the data she presented. If, as the report shows, Winchester students’ grade-point average (GPA) is lower than the rest of the student body and their number of discipline infractions is higher, he asked, what is the high school going to do to remedy those situations? In 2012-13, Winchester students’ average GPA was 2.49. The school-wide average was 2.92.
Wagner said more than once that she doesn’t single out groups of students from specific towns. She looks at students on an individual basis. After a decade of Winchester students attending Keene High, there’s no distinction among students, she said.
“We’re Keene High School,” she said. “You’re a part of us.”
Horton disagreed.
“I hear what you’re saying, but I think there are still labels,” he said. “When you say you’re from Winchester, it’s a different look you get.”
Parents of Winchester students who were sitting in the audience echoed many of the board’s concerns. Their students face a stigma at Keene High simply for being from Winchester, and it comes from teachers just as much as from students, they said.
Wagner was not happy to hear those reports, calling that attitude unacceptable. She said she’d work with her administrative team about ways to improve.
She also said she thought additional late buses would help Winchester students participate in more after-school activities, which build relationships with classmates and motivate students to do better academically.
Other improvements Wagner and the board discussed included better communication between Winchester School and Keene High in terms of planning curriculum and preparing Winchester students academically for Keene High, and more regular visits between administrators from the two schools.
“I’m offering you an open door to work with me,” Wagner said.
Board members were happy to hear that.
This is Wagner’s second year as Keene High principal, and she said she can’t explain or change anything that’s happened in the past decade.
This isn’t the first time the Winchester-Keene relationship has been less than smooth. In 2009, Winchester students were singled out by some Keene officials as a cause of the school’s low test scores. Since the tuition agreement began, many in Winchester have had concerns about the pre-dawn drives to Keene putting students at a disadvantage academically, and about how students fit into a 1,500-student school after growing up in a small community. About 380 students attend Winchester’s kindergarten through 8th-grade school.
One of the biggest advantages mentioned by supporters of sending Winchester students to Keene High is all the opportunities students have there that a smaller school couldn’t provide. But, Horton asked, if they find Winchester students aren’t participating in those sports and clubs, then how is that benefiting them?
That’s where the Winchester Withdrawal Study Committee comes in. The committee has toured Keene High, looked at other high schools and examined what would be required academically to reopen a high school in Winchester. Now the committee needs to hear what Winchester students think, board member Elisha Jackson said.
Questions on the survey will ask things such as how students perform academically, what extracurricular activities they’re involved in and whether they feel accepted and happy at Keene High.
The committee is aiming to complete the survey before school ends in a couple weeks.


The Bloviator said...

Sorry, concerned parents, if your backward little morons can't adjust to the big city environment of going to Keene High School.
Part of the value of school is the socialization process whereby youngsters learn how to cope, adapt and get along with those who are not like them.
If they stay cloistered in the Winchester no expectation environment they are going to have a hard time keeping a job in the real world where expectations can be cold and high.
Too bad Keene doesn't offer credit for what the Winchester stoodents and their parents excel at: procreating, rubbing scratch tickets, smoking weed and drinking Bud Light. And gabbing on those free government cell phones.

Points to be made: said...

About time the school board did something about the attitude at Keene High. Our students are not stupid. You can send a student to Keene State College for less money than we were paying. They did not want us to be part of SAU 29 because they would lose all of the extra $.