By: Barry Brensinger, Manchester Proud Coordinator
Great progress, the kind that reshapes our lives, often begins with bold imagination. Edison imagined safely lighting the darkness of night (1879). The Wright brothers studied the flight of birds, with curiosity and imagination (1903). Engineers at Bell Labs imagined portable, hand-held telephones, and now we have 15 billion mobile devices around the world (1946). In Manchester’s Millyard, scientists are imagining a day when damaged and diseased human organs can be readily replaced by healthy “printed” tissue – a brave new world indeed!
Four years ago, in 2018, under the banner of Manchester Proud, groups of parents, educators, students, and community leaders canvassed Manchester wearing T-shirts imprinted with the words “Talk to me about school!”. Their objective was to promote public awareness and exploration of the essential role of our public schools in the wellness and prosperity of our city. These proud supporters of our schools encouraged everyone in Manchester to imagine a future where: All of our children are encouraged, supported, and provided with the skills and opportunities needed to flourish; our educators and school staff are valued, respected, and enabled to do their best work; and, education is treasured as the currency of our future success.
Today, these imaginings are on their way to reality. Although sometimes obscured by the impacts of the pandemic and other challenges of contemporary life, the progress being made in the Manchester School District is profound. As expressed by our Superintendent, Dr. Jennifer Gillis, in her recent State of the Manchester School District presentation, fundamental change in our schools is being enabled by greater engagement, collaboration, and trust across the district. This change is inspired and guided by the clear goals embodied in the district’s community-driven strategic plan: “Our Community’s Plan for Manchester’s Future of Learning: Excellence and Equity for ALL Learners.”
A sampling of current change, upon which future greatness is being built, includes:
- District-wide focus on student-centered, student-driven learning – Adding relevancy to learning and enabling students to discover and define their pathways to success.
- Using the strategic plan’s Portrait of a Graduate, the attributes our educators and community believe to be essential to student success, to shape curriculum and define competencies.
- Hiring a Chief Equity Officer and establishing equity as a foundational principle – Creating a district where every student is valued and provided with the supports and opportunities needed to succeed.
- Developing a coordinated, district-wide network of Extended Learning Opportunities – Allowing our students to explore career pathways through real world experiences.
- Empowering our educators with more robust and strategically aligned professional development opportunities and the establishment of Shared Learning Communities.
- Building school “community” through enhanced communications with students and families, led by the district’s Director of Communications and boosted by collaborations with Manchester Proud and the Greater Manchester Chamber.
- Creation of a School-Community Partnership Network, managed by our Community Partnerships Coordinator (Manchester Proud’s first paid staff), which is fostering and coordinating the work of dozens of community organizations to optimize resources for our students and schools.
- Launching of The Compass, manchesterproudcompass.org, a community portal with user-friendly access to programs for: Out-of-school activities, health and mental health, career pathways, educator professional development, basic needs, early childhood, and more.
- Adding student voice to our Board of School Committee and streamlining board structures for efficiency and sharper focus on policies that support student learning.
- Directed attention to more competitive educator and staff recruitment and retention, yielding 250 new employees this school year and moving us toward greater diversity among our educators.
- Substantial investment in new instructional technologies, including interactive touch-screen panels in all classrooms and computers with internet access for our students and families.
All of this progress and much more is happening in large measure because of the Manchester School District’s passion for realizing the potential in each and every one of our students. Passion made actionable by determined implementation of a compelling strategic plan.
Although it will take time, the transformation that began with Manchester’s imaginings of exceptional public schools will continue to progress and shape better futures for all of us. The indicators of positive change are palpable. Tune into the happenings of the Manchester School District and you will experience ever greater commonality of purpose among our district’s leadership and staff, growing sense of accomplishment, and rising confidence. And, today’s progress will beget more progress and deeper community-wide pride in our students and schools as we move forward – together. All of which will inspire the people of Manchester to raise their expectations, imagine, and enjoy ever bolder achievements with our students and schools in the years ahead.