Community-driven plan becoming a reality for Manchester’s public schools

On Thursday, February 20, the Manchester School District Board of School Committee voted 12-1 in favor of a proposed strategic plan for city schools from Manchester Proud, a city-wide movement with a shared commitment to the success of every student. 

Some 700 people filled the auditorium where the Committee meeting was held. Students, educators, families, and city residents came out in support of the plan. Superintendent John Goldhardt and Mayor Joyce Craig also voiced their support.

“We are all coming together for the greater good, because everyone deserves the opportunity for a better education. This was a bold initiative, and I’m very grateful for all the work that went into it,” said Mayor Craig. 

James Porter, representing Ward 1, made the motion to accept “with gratitude the document as a powerful tool and road map.” The motion passed 12-1, with Joe Lachance, an at-large member, voting against the motion. 

Over the past two years, Manchester Proud has prioritized listening and learning, with over 10,000 members of the Manchester community coming forward to share their opinions and hopes for the future of students and schools. These voices were heard, and shaped the foundation of this plan.

“Yesterday’s vote was an important moment to bring a carefully developed plan into reality, but even more than that, it shows what’s possible for other places, and what all communities deserve. Hearing from the community is vital in any strategic planning process, and it plays an integral role in the plan’s success,” said Liz Canada, Reaching Higher NH’s Director of Policy and Practice.

Since 2018, Reaching Higher NH, a nonpartisan organization serving as a public education policy and community engagement resource for New Hampshire families, educators, and elected officials, has partnered with Manchester Proud as part of this initiative. They played a leading role in listening to, surveying, and documenting thousands of Manchester residents and community members—in all 12 city wards—needs and aspirations for their schools.

“Often, the strategic plans that shape the learning and future of our students, are developed by only a few behind closed doors. And even when the doors are open, it can be challenging to create meaningful avenues for community engagement. Our work with Manchester Proud has supported a truly community-driven approach, one where the perspectives, hopes, and vision of thousands of people from across the community, serve as the plan’s very foundation,” said Evelyn Aissa, Reaching Higher NH’s Executive Director.

With the motto, “Your schools. Your future. Your plan,”  this crucial outreach was designed to include voices from a broad range of Manchester: those with children in the district schools, and those without; those who can’t always make it to weeknight workshops or meetings; and, those who don’t feel included even though they have a stake in the decision-making process.

This example of community-level work is a model that other cities can use to work with their local school boards for the purpose of improving public schools through real engagement with students, parents, educators, and community members.

Learn more about Reaching Higher NH’s work with Manchester Proud:

And, review our in-depth reports exploring the findings from our community engagement work for Manchester Proud: