Last Wednesday, we held a town hall gathering at Memorial High School to update community members on what Manchester Proud has accomplished, introduce our new partner, 2Revolutions, and examine how the initiative’s next phase of work will unfold. Attendees were encouraged to ask questions and share their thoughts and perspectives.
About 50 people turned out for the event. Justine Dube, graduated from Manchester Schools and is now a Manchester parent and preschool teacher. She shared her thoughts about the schools, enthusiasm for the community-focused initiative Manchester Proud is building, and shared her own personal story about the choice to send her child to a private school.
She came out to hear more about Manchester Proud, both as a parent and a teacher. She says she left impressed with the presentation, and wanting to know more.
“I had great teachers at West. It’s not about the teachers. I think the problems in our district are financial,” says Dube. She thinks it’s good that a group like Manchester Proud wants to work with the community to help fix the school system.
“It needs fixing,” says Dube, noting that teachers are still working without a contract.
She is also a single mother of an 8-year-old. Her son attends private school. It was a difficult call for her to make, she says.
“I’m a major supporter of Manchester schools,” says Dube, who explains that as a teenager she chose West over Trinity after attending Catholic schools, and had “the best” experience there. But when it came time to enroll her son in school, she was advised by her previous experience as a teacher in the Manchester district. Her son would require an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in public school. Dube says he currently gets the individual attention he needs in a private setting.
Barry Brensinger, a founding member, and Coordinator for Manchester Proud, shared how the initiative evolved;
Brensinger said the hope was that they could privately raise some money to support their effort and somehow engage the community in learning more about the existing value of city schools – and how to make them the best they can be for all students.
“Our real mission was a process of community engagement to build a vision for our schools that is lasting,” for years and decades to come.
The end game will be to present an aspirational yet realistic and executable plan for approval by the district, and then to begin implementing it.
To get there, Manchester Proud mobilized a core group of volunteers who have spent months in small group sessions laying groundwork for the next phase, which will begin in earnest in mid-February when a larger Community Planning Group is assembled through an application process open now through Feb. 5.
We also introduced our new partner, 2Revolutions, at last Wednesday’s event. Adam Rubin, the founder of 2Revolutions, introduced his organization, and shared some thoughts on the work ahead.
Adam Rubin, left, of 2Revolutions, and Barry Brensinger, of Manchester Proud, fielding questions during a public town hall meeting at Memorial High School. Photo/Carol Robidoux
“Manchester is such an amazing city with so many assets already, and such amazing potential – and it’s not playing to its weight. It has the potential to be a world-class district and it’s within grasp, but it will take honest conversations,” Rubin said.
Rubin is a former educator and father of four, who said that while strategic planning happens a lot, it can often result in a lot of big ideas that go nowhere. His company will support the process of implementation guided by the “experts” that already exist in Manchester – teachers, parents, school officials and students.
“We believe the answers are in the community,” and that a cookie-cutter approach cannot meet the unique needs of a city like Manchester. What works in Akron, Ohio, can’t be imported here, he said.
Their process has already begun with a data-driven snapshot of five key elements – teaching and learning; finances; government; agencies and non-profits already engaged with education; and operations.
After all of that is assessed, the design stage begins.
Read more of Mr. Rubin’s remarks from Manchester Ink Link
Manchester residents inquired about Manchester Proud’s role in decision making.
Resident Ed Sapienza asked how much sway Manchester Proud would have in decision-making, or on other factors that directly affect the district, like the city’s tax cap or potential for closing a school building. Brensinger responded that volunteers working with Manchester Proud as members of the community have as much input as any other member of the community.
“I think what’s important is that we’ve structured this so that the community as a whole are the ones who will direct and guide this process. I will tell you there’s no agenda on behalf of Manchester Proud, and our opinions carry no more weight in this process than anyone else’s.”
Brensinger also said that as a plan evolves for the school district, a financial model will be generated with the help of a financial consultant to examine all relevant factors.
Another question pertained to how involved the Board of School Committee and Mayor and Board of Aldermen will be in the planning process, since they control the budget.
Brensinger said regular updates have been provided to both boards. In order for change to happen, the resulting plan also has to be realistic and “practically achievable.”
Dan Bergeron, a Boarch of School Committee member, asked how Manchester Proud will keep politics out of the process as it continues.
Brensinger said in the end, if city officials reject the strategic plan presented, Manchester Proud goes nowhere. So there is a conscious effort to keep politics out of the mix, and Manchester Proud will continue to conduct one-on-one sessions with board members to address concerns as they arise and “keep politics completely out of the process.”
Glenn Ouellette asked how Manchester Proud will make sure participants in the planning process include community members of economic and individual diversity. Brensinger said Manchester Proud agrees with the importance of inclusion, and is working toward a goal of having 40 percent of the Community Planning Group represent people of color to reflect the demographics of the school community.
Rubin reinforced to the group that the process is not so dependent on city leaders, but about a vision constructed by the community and supported by its leaders.
“Leaders will come and go – and you’re experiencing some of that now – but it’s ultimately about community,” Rubin said. He said his company is hired by a range of entities, from school districts and state education boards to foundations, and community-driven groups like Manchester Proud.
“What’s unique and exciting is that here the district and community are all on the same page. That doesn’t often happen. We go to places where there is a desire for change. At the heart of that desire is how to excite students about their education,” Rubin said.
“I’ve been an educator, an administrator, and an entrepreneur who became a consumer when I had children. And as a consumer, I’m radically dissatisfied because my school district does not instill a love of learning in my kids,” Rubin said. “I would love every kid to love learning,” that comment met with applause from the audience.
Please note and share our upcoming events!
- Jan. 28: NeighborWorks Listening Session, 222 Cedar St., 5-6 p.m.
- Jan. 30: Manchester Proud Town Hall 2, West High School, 9 Notre Dame Ave., 6-7:30 p.m.
- Jan. 31: Student and Family Listening Session, The Bookery, 844 Elm St., 4-5 p.m.
- Feb. 4: Franco-American Listening Session, Dana Center Conference Room at Saint Anselm College, 100 Saint Anselm Dr., 6:30-7:30 p.m.
- Feb 5: Student Listening Session, Manchester Community College, 1066 Front St., 5-6 p.m.
- Feb 13: Student and Family Listening Session at Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St., 4-5 p.m.
- Feb 16: Student and Family Listening Session, Waterworks Cafe, 250 Commercial St., 12-1 p.m.
Sign up for our email list at outreach@manchesterproud and follow us on Facebook to receive timely updates and information on the work we are doing. Interested in volunteering? Check out our Champions Opportunities here.