Category Archives: Superintendent

Understanding Bullying

Pittsfield School Board Policy JICK defines bullying consistently with state law as follows:

Bullying is hereby defined as a single significant incident or a pattern of incidents involving a written, verbal, or electronic communication, or a physical act or gesture, or any combination thereof, directed at another pupil which:

  • Physically harms a pupil or damages the pupil’s property,
  • Causes emotional distress to a pupil,
  • Interferes with a pupil’s educational opportunities,
  • Creates a hostile educational environment, or
  • Substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school.

Bullying shall also include actions motivated by an imbalance of power based on a pupil’s actual or perceived personal characteristics, behaviors, or beliefs, or motivated by the pupil’s association with another person and based on the other person’s characteristics, behaviors, or beliefs.

The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension’s Understanding Bullying (https://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource001364_Rep1823.pdf) provides us with very helpful information and suggestions on addressing bullying among our children.

According to this report, 30% of school-age children report having been victims of bullying, and 30% of school-age children report that they have bullied another person.  (These figures closely mirror Pittsfield’s data, according to our most recent Health Risk Behavior Survey in 2017.)  It has been reported that more than seven million cases of bullying are reported in public schools nationwide each year.

The federal Stop Bullying website (https://www.stopbullying.gov/) provides four actions that we adults can take to prevent bullying:

Bullying is often underreported.  Despite the fact that about 30% of our students have confidentially reported that they have been bullied, our schools receive only a handful of reports each year.  Students, parents, and families are encouraged to report suspected incidents of bullying, either by using the district’s reporting form (http://www.pittsfieldnhschools.org/sau/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/JICK-R.Pupil_.Safety.and_.Violence.Prevention.Bullying.Reporting.Form_1.pdf) or by speaking directly to an advisor, teacher, administrator, or any trusted adult.

Do’s when addressing bullying from this source include:

  • Do intervene immediately. It is ok to get another adult to help.
  • Do separate the kids involved.
  • Do make sure everyone is safe.
  • Do meet any immediate medical or mental health needs.
  • Do stay calm. Reassure the kids involved, including bystanders.
  • Do model respectful behavior when you intervene.
  • Don’t ignore it. Don’t think kids can work it out without adult help.
  • Don’t immediately try to sort out the facts.
  • Don’t force other kids to say publicly what they saw.
  • Don’t question the children involved in front of other kids.
  • Don’t talk to the kids involved together, only separately.
  • Don’t make the kids involved apologize or patch up relations on the spot.

While we may or may not agree with the African proverb it takes a village to raise a child, I believe that it takes a community to eliminate bullying among our children and youth.  If we all do our parts, we can support our children and eradicate bullying from our community.

Post-Secondary Certificates?

When talking about a student’s next-steps after high school, the conversations often starts with talk of college.  For some students, the talk stops there.  For a variety of reasons, many students are not interested in pursuing a two- or four-year degree at a college or university.

Instead, many students feel ready to jump into the workforce.  Certainly, the appeal of independence and regular paychecks are inviting for young people.  But, transitioning directly into the workforce without any additional education or training can be limiting in the long term.

An alternative to both a degree program and workforce entry with a high school diploma is a certificate program.  Certificates, the second most common post-secondary awards, indicate that the holder has completed a specialized program with a limited number of focused, career-oriented courses.

Our Community College System of New Hampshire offers a broad array of certificate programs to support entry into the workforce with focused, advanced education beyond high school.  I encourage our Pittsfield students (and their parents) to take some time to explore the offerings of our community colleges (www.ccsnh.edu).

The range of offerings is amazing and includes certificates in areas such as advanced automotive, wedding planning management, massage, electrical line worker, small business management, library technology, robotics, hotel and restaurant management, early childhood education, fire science, mental health support worker, welding technology, culinary arts, commercial driver training, sign language, bookkeeping, motor cycle maintenance and repair, personal training, heating services, and veterinary practice management, among many, many others (www.ccsnh.edu/academics/programs).

All told, our Community College System offers more than 200 certificate and degree programs which 28,000 students (93% of whom are New Hampshire residents) take advantage of annually.

Recently, I toured Manchester Community College and came away very impressed with both the facilities and opportunities for students.  For example, their automotive technology programs are offered in state-of-the-art labs (not yet one year old) and provide internships at the region’s auto dealerships, as well as competitions that provide scholarship awards to high-performing students.

It’s never too early to begin planning for the future.  And, it’s a good idea to plan for the long-term when looking toward high school graduation.  Traditional colleges don’t serve everyone’s interests or needs; certificate programs at our community colleges provide young people with focused learning which lead to well-paying careers.

National Red Ribbon Week

According to national statistics, children whose parents talk with them regularly about drug use are 42% less likely to use drugs than those whose parents don’t talk with them about drug use.  However, only about 25% of teens report having drug use conversations with their parents.

Since 1985, the importance of having drug use conversations with children and youth has been strongly encouraged by the National Family Partnership, most obviously through their sponsorship of National Red Ribbon Week.  Our Pittsfield students will be commemorating Red Ribbon Week this week, so this is an ideal time for parents to have a conversation about drug use.

This year’s Red Ribbon Week theme is Life is your journey.  Travel drug free.  Parents who would like some ideas about having drug use conversations are encouraged to take a look at the resources available from the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Hampshire on the organization’s website:  drugfreenh.org.

Parents might also consider taking the National Red Ribbon Campaign Pledge on that organization’s website: redribbon.org.   The pledge includes five elements:

1.       As parents and citizens, we will talk to our children and the children in our lives      about the dangers of drug abuse.

2.       We will set clear rules for our children about not using drugs.

3.       We will set a good example for our children by not using illegal drugs or medicine without a prescription.

4.       We will monitor our children’s behavior and enforce appropriate consequences, so that our rules are respected.

5.       We will encourage family and friends to follow the same guidelines to keep children safe from substance abuse.

Here’s a chance to increase the odds that your child or youth will be less likely to use drugs – 42% less likely – by having that critically important conversation this week.

41.1%

When our high school students completed our most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey in the early spring of 2017, 41.1% said YES to the question Have you ever used an electronic vapor product?

In the same survey, 27.2% of our high school students said YES to the question During the past 30 days, how many days did you use an electronic vapor product?

What are these products? Known by many names, including e-cigarettes, vapes, and by a commercial name Juul, electronic vapor products provide the user with an aerosol that may deliver nicotine (which is highly addictive) or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana (which is as addictive as alcohol).

Both of these substances are especially harmful to normal adolescent brain development, which continues into their early 20’s. Not surprisingly, vaping also may harm the user’s lungs.

The Centers for Disease Control warn us that “some e-cigarettes are made to look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some resemble pens, USB sticks, and other everyday items.” So they can be very challenging to identify. Use can be difficult to detect, as the usual odors associated with burning tobacco or cannabis are not present.

In addition to the health risks, use of an electronic vapor product is not permitted in our Pittsfield schools or on school grounds, including Drake Field. And, yes, a number of students have violated this ban in the new school year and have received school suspensions as a result.

To learn more about the risks that our Pittsfield high schoolers are taking and to learn more about electronic vapor product use, you are invited to two special events, organized by Stand Up, Pittsfield! and PMHS Health Educator James Cobern:

• Youth Risk Behavior Survey – presentation of most recent survey of our high school students
o 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, October 24, PMHS Media Center

• Vaping Info Meeting and Forum – presented in collaboration with Breath New Hampshire
o 7:00 p.m., Tuesday, November 27, PMHS Lecture Hall

For our middle high school students, we’ll be hosting presentations by Merrimack County Juvenile Services over the next few weeks. So, parents, be sure to ask your students what they learn in the upcoming presentations.

What’s New?

Well, the new school year, new students, new families, new staff, new program offerings: lots of new things in our Pittsfield schools this year.  Here’s my Top 12 answers to the question What’s new in the schools this year:

  • New Students and New Families. We welcome many new students and families to our Pittsfield Schools learning community. At this point, we have been joined by twenty new PES students and ten new PMHS students; so glad to have you newbies with us!
  • New Staff. New staff members include six teachers, two special educators, two nurses, and our school psychologist. We also welcome a number of new paraprofessionals, but are still in the process of filling all our positions. We’ve believe that we’ve hired very well again this year. (We’ll introduce new staff members in an upcoming notice.)
  • Positions Eliminated. Due to budget restrictions, a number of positions that have contributed significantly to our students in the past have been eliminated this year; these include our community liaison, our extended learning opportunities coordinator, our foreign language teacher, our technology education teacher, and a PES office staff member.
  • Rosetta Stone. Foreign language students are receiving instruction through the widely-known program Rosetta Stone. Students can earn up to two credits through this approach.
  • Project Lead the Way. Our woodshop has been closed due to staffing cuts, but we now offer our middle school students Project Lead the Way, which places an emphasis on math and technology as students learn important workplace skills.

Welcome to Our 2018-2019 School Year!

Hopefully, all our Pittsfield families have enjoyed a wonderful summer, a summer that is leaving you relaxed and recharged and ready for a great new school year. District staff has been busy preparing for the 2018-2019 school year.  All that’s needed now is the positive energy and enthusiasm of our students and the collaboration and support of our students’ families.

The start of a new school year comes along with great anticipation and excitement. Whether a student is new to Pittsfield or is a returning veteran of our schools, the opening of school is a special moment for both students and families.  Most of us enter the school year with an exhilarated feeling that comes along with a fresh start and a new beginning; it’s a truly energizing point in time.

I encourage families to look on the new school year with a spirit of positive anticipation. As our students enter their own school at the end of August, they will feel a strong sense of pride and passion from our faculty and staff, pride in our schools’ history and accomplishments in striving to create a truly student-centered learning environment and passion for the learning and achievement of each and every one of our students.

Our teachers and staff are committed to making an important difference in our students lives. Many of our teachers have been working this summer to support our students’ learning through extended year programs and our Summer Academies.  Others have devoted a good deal of time to developing our programs, especially through our new work with Universal Design for Learning, an approach to curriculum planning and instruction that is intended to support the learning of all students, regardless of individual strengths and needs.

As always, a number of our teachers and staff members have left us and have moved on to other opportunities. We’ll be introducing our new teachers and staff member to you in the weeks ahead, so you are encouraged to keep your eye on our district website and The Sun.  We’ll also be describing some key program changes in the weeks ahead, which will be of interest to our Pittsfield families.

But now, it’s time to celebrate the beginning of our new school year because this year will be packed with new learning experiences that represent another big step forward toward a wonderful future for all our students.

Education Funding in New Hampshire

Thanks to the many Pittsfield taxpayers who joined the recent meeting on Education Funding in New Hampshire. We were joined by many concerned taxpayers from across our state as we learned about the inequities in the state’s funding scheme and the failure of the legislature to address the issue in an equitable manner as required by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

School Funding Workshop – 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 13, PMHS

Reminder to Pittsfield taxpayers that the school district will be hosting a workshop on New Hampshire’s school funding system at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13, at PMHS.  All are invited.

The workshop will be presented by Attorney Andru Volinsky, a current Executive Council member and former lead attorney in the most recent challenges to the state’s funding system, which became known as the Claremont Cases.

In an opinion written for the New Hampshire Bar News and published in April, Attorney John Tobin, also a member of the Claremont legal team, recognized that the “inequities in NH school funding” have not only not been addressed by the state, but are indeed worsening.

In his article, Attorney Tobin reaches two conclusions: “first, by not paying anything close to the true cost of a constitutionally adequate education as the State itself has defined it, the State is violating its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education…”

(The state’s base per student allocation for the current school year is $3636.06, while the state average cost per pupil in 2016-2017, the latest year available, was $15,310.67.)

He further concludes that “by requiring school districts with greatly varying levels of property wealth per student to raise a large portion of the funds needed to meet the State’s duty, with the resulting disproportionate tax rates, the State funding system violates the holding” in the second Claremont ruling.

(For example, Moultonborough’s local education tax rate for 2017 is $2.12/thousand, while Pittsfield’s is $18.60.)

Important information on this topic can be found here published by the NH Center for Public Policy Studies, and in two recent documents written by Doug Hall, who has worked on the issue since the 1990’s.  Pittsfield and School FundingThe Claremont Reforms in 2018

To learn more about the state’s inequitable system and what might be done to correct it, plan to join the workshop at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 13, at PMHS.

New Hampshire Education Funding and Pittsfield’s Students

Our state’s over-reliance on local property taxes to support public schools disadvantages Pittsfield’s students and other New Hampshire students who live in towns that are often referred to as “property-poor” towns, towns with limited ability to support its students.

In multiple rulings, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has clearly affirmed the state’s responsibility to support public education.  But in reality, the state has provided little to no relief for taxpayers and continued inequity for our children and youth:  the unequal playing field that has been long established continues to be maintained.

The well-known Claremont Lawsuit and its successors was expected to remedy this problem, but in fact has not done so. In fact, the recent elimination of stabilization grants to property-poor towns has worsened the inequity.

The state’s negligence has been well documented in an analysis conducted by the former New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies issued in June 2017: http://www.nhpolicy.org/report/ education-finance-in-new-hampshire-headed-to-a-rural-crisis.

The result of this inequity has resulted in sky-high tax rates for Pittsfield and other property-poor towns and the limiting of opportunities for Pittsfield’s students. The Pittsfield School Board has recently eliminated teaching and support positions at both schools which increase class sizes and cut out such positions as foreign language teacher and technology education (shop) teacher.

At its meeting of April 19, the Pittsfield School Board discussed school funding with Attorney Andru Volinsky, the lead attorney in the Claremont Lawsuit. The Board is in the process of evaluating options regarding this very frustrating situation.

To assist in this decision-making process, Attorney Volinsky will be providing a workshop on New Hampshire school funding, to which all Pittsfield citizens are invited. This workshop will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13, at PMHS.

Pittsfield residents are invited and encouraged to enter into this very important conversation. Please give your participation your most serious consideration.

Teens and Sleep

Olympic gold medalist and former professional boxing champion George Foreman is credited as saying “I think sleeping was my problem in school. If school had started at four in the afternoon, I’d be a college graduate today.”

It’s likely that Mr. Foreman was thinking about middle school or high school when he hoped for a later start to his school day. Research generated over the last fifteen to twenty years documents the ways that sleeping patterns change over our lifetimes and points out the powerful impact of sleep deprivation on our lives.

We know, for example, that while some of us are early birds and others are night owls, most of us fall somewhere in between. And we also know that lack of sleep or lack of good quality sleep increases the risk of a range of disorders, including cardiovascular disease, depression, and obesity, among others.

We’ve also learned that teenagers’ sleep cycles shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty, typically between 10 and 14 for girls and between 12 and 16 for boys. As a parent of three former teenagers, I can recall the challenges of getting kids up and running for early-morning family commitments:  not my fondest memories of our kids’ growing-up years.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an organization of pediatricians and pediatric medical specialists, issued a report back in 2014 in which it recommended a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later for middle and high school students. (At that time, only 15% of American high schools started at 8:30 a.m. or later.)