Manchester Proud proposing a “community-centric” school planning process

The group is proposing to assist the city with key parts of the strategic planning process, including community engagement.

Smyth Road Elementary School teacher Shauna Webber with her kindergarten class. Image from MSD website.

A coalition of individuals, local businesses, and education leaders are coming together to propose fully funding a “community-centric” strategic planning effort for Manchester schools. The Manchester School District’s current strategic plan expires in June 2018. The group, Manchester Proud, is proposing to assist the city with key parts of the process, including funding a year-long community engagement process. The group’s goal is to develop a new five-year plan for the district based on input from a diversity of stakeholders across the city.

From the Union Leader:

The group, Manchester Proud, advertises itself as a “citizens’ coalition” committed to uniting the Queen City behind a vision for city schools where students, families and the community feel “supported, engaged, and proud to make Manchester their home.”

“We began as an ad-hoc gathering of local business and education leaders, wanting to better understand Manchester’s public schools, and how we might partner with others to create opportunities for their improvement,” said Barry Brensinger, design principal at Manchester-based Lavallee Brensinger Architects and one of the founding members of Manchester Proud. “We want to bring in parents, students, educators, and community-members to help shape a collaborative, strategic planning process for the district.”

Brensinger points out the school district’s current strategic plan expires at the end of the current school year. Manchester Proud proposes funding three aspects of the school district’s strategic planning team as it draws up the next five-year plan:

– Project management over the planning effort

– Strategic consulting

– And “intensive community engagement.”

“We will privately fund the proposed plan,” said Brensinger. “In an increasingly competitive world, our public schools are the key to Manchester’s future success.”

In an op-ed, Manchester Proud co-founders Barry Brensinger, Patricia Lynott, and Arthur Sullivan urged Manchester citizens to get involved in their community and support the public schools that have an impact on every person and business in the city:

We are seeing vital shifts in our city. The Millyard is a tech hub, with businesses like ARMI and PillPack rekindling our city’s inventive spirit. Manchester is teeming with impactful, well-run nonprofits. Our growing diversity brings a wealth of talent and cultural perspectives. We are surrounded by exceptional colleges and universities. Schools like Parker-Varney Elementary are leading the nation in reimagining public education, creating opportunities for students to challenge themselves and thrive across grade levels.

This takes us back to that crossroads we believe Manchester has reached. If we do not strive together to ensure our schools are truly delivering for every student in every neighborhood, we will miss an extraordinary opportunity to build on our city’s greatest assets.

This drive to help ensure that our students have champions for their success is what brought us together. Just about a year ago, we began meeting as an ad hoc group from businesses and organizations across our city. We started by discussing how we could better support Manchester’s students.

We all agreed that for our city to succeed, we must first ensure the success of all our students. Then, we learned that the Manchester School District needs a new strategic plan. The current plan expires next month.

We decided to take the seriousness of our commitment to our students and city, and offer to fully-fund a community-driven effort for the district to create a new five-year strategic plan.

In making this offer, we are committing to launching a year-long process that gives voice to every member of the Manchester community, with opportunities to fully participate in the visioning of a plan for our school district. We are also committing to ensuring that the resulting vision is inclusive, equitable, aspirational, and achievable.

Today, we are asking you as members of this community to join us in stepping up to support our students. We are asking you to offer your voice in this community-driven initiative.

Participate in town halls and workshops. Speak up at parent nights. Host your own forums and meetings, gathering input from your friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Let’s come together and develop a shared vision for our schools, one that sets our students and city, on a course to reach our fullest potential.

We are Manchester Proud, and we are asking you to be Manchester Proud, too.

The Union Leader Editorial Board praised the coalition, writing that the members can help bring new energy to the planning process:

What direction should Manchester schools take over the next five years?

Some of the Queen City’s leading citizens have taken it upon themselves to answer that question. Manchester Proud began with a handful of the city’s business leaders discussing how they could contribute to Manchester schools.

We applaud those giving their time and passion to this campaign. Tapping into their expertise could bring new energy and disruptive ideas into a public school system too often stuck in the status quo.