Letters

Amherst School Board

Hours to Change for Amherst Schools 

To the editor: 

      School Start Time Change – During our meeting on March 8, the Amherst School Board will vote to ratify new school times for the 2021-22 school year.  The new times, listed below, represent a multi-year effort by SAU 39 to shift start times in order to access the prime learning windows for all students.  Last month, the SAU Board voted 14-2 to send these new start times to the individual boards.  A brief recap of how we got to this point:

       In 2017, a community member approached the Amherst Board with concerns over the start time for our middle and high school students.  An exploratory committee was formed to analyze research and data surrounding the start times of all schools in the SAU.  Studies demonstrated that start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for middle and high school students resulted in better rested and less depressed students, better attendance, higher grades, and fewer traffic accidents for new drivers.

      In February of 2018, the committee recommended moving the start time for middle and high school students to 8:30 a.m., citing research from numerous sources including the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics.  One particular note they made in their research was a quote from Dr. Richard Schwab at the University of Pennsylvania, “...if school start times were based on sleep cycles, elementary schools should start at 7:30 and high schools at 8:30 or 8:45... it would increase their students’ sleep time and likely improve their school performance.”  At this meeting, the SAU Board unanimously voted to have the administration craft a plan, factoring in areas of impact including sports, after-school activities, transportation, and childcare.

      The administration created several polls and held a forum asking parents for feedback regarding various options. After hearing feedback on these proposals, the decision was made to table the idea for the 2018-2019 school year. 

      A new committee was formed in 2019, led by the high school athletic director and made up of teachers, students, and school board members.  At the conclusion of this committee’s work, it was decided that the high school’s schedule made it difficult to move forward.  The SAU Board asked the high school to create a new master schedule that would accommodate later start times while limiting impacts on education due to factors like sports.  The goal was to have a new schedule completed in the fall of 2020 to allow the schools and families a full year to get ready for the new times.  Of course, the 2019-20 school year was impacted by several factors, including an interim principal and the COVID-19 pandemic, so the master schedule took a backseat.      This brings us to this school year. In November, the SAU board voted to move forward with changing the times for all schools, with the understanding that changes to the master schedules in all buildings would be created and presented to their respective boards in February 2021 before final approval. As we received the schedules and heard feedback from the community regarding start times, the plans were fine-tuned using current information and input received from surveys, forums, social media, public

comments at board meetings, and letters to the boards.  At the February SAU Board meeting, the joint boards voted to approve the following schedule, pending ratification by individual boards: 

 

Clark-Wilkins: 7:45 a.m. - 2:15 p.m.

Amherst Middle School: 8:30 a.m. - 3:15 p.m.

Souhegan High School: 8:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

 

      These times honor the prime learning windows for all age groups while avoiding additional costs, keeping sports and afterschool activities available for all students, and ending the school day by 3:15 p.m. It also ensures we will be out of school no later than June 15 each year. As this process evolves, there is more work to come: streamlining bus schedules and reducing trip times, especially for elementary students; expanding after school childcare options; and even researching a before-school care option for young middle school students.  If your family has specific challenges or concerns with the new schedule, please share them with this board (ASB@sau39.org) or SAU 39 administration and please tune in to our next meeting, March 8, for further discussion. 

      Facilities Committee:  With the school construction bond on hold for a year, the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee (JFAC) now has the ability to move forward with fine tuning the construction expectations for both a new building at Clark-Wilkins and a renovation at the Amherst Middle School.  In the next couple of months we are going out to bid for contracts for key roles in the construction process. This will help make the runway shorter should this bond pass in March 2022. These contracts include Site and Civil Engineering, Architectural Design, Construction Manager, and Owner’s Project Manager.  Creating the bid contract, most commonly referred to as an RFP, interviewing, and signing contracts is a months long process.  Bringing on a Site and Civil Engineering service will help us answer some of the open questions that have been brought up by residents including the viability of building on the back Wilkins field due to soil quality. 

      Additionally the Cost Analysis Sub-Committee of JFAC is taking another look at the cost spreadsheet and plans for both buildings to see if and where additional cost savings can be found. Having the above mentioned services signed on will also aid in this process, assuring we will actually save money in the long run.

      Upcoming Meetings:

March 8, 6 p.m. - Amherst School Board Meeting

March 18, 5 p.m. - Joint Facilities Committee Meeting

March 18, 6 p.m. - SAU Board Meeting

April 5, 6 p.m. - Amherst School Board Meeting

Respectully,

Elizabeth Kuzsma, Chair

Tom Gauthier, Vice Chair

Ellen Grudzien

Terri Behm

Gerrymandering Tries to Give Advantage to the Party in Power

To the editor: 

       After the U.S. Census every 10 years, states reapportion the population into voting districts for the NH House and Senate, the Executive Council, County Commission and for the U.S. House.    When redistricting is fair, maps are drawn to consider how many in the town, what towns are in what school districts, whether towns have a shared economic source like a mill, or a shared geographic area.   And they must be contiguous.  

       When redistricting is NOT fair, it becomes gerrymandering, a manipulation of those maps for partisan gain.   Gerrymandering tries to give an advantage to the party in power by “packing” towns which lean one way together, such as New Hampshire’s Executive Council District 2, which snakes through blue-leaning towns from rural Hinsdale to urban Portsmouth, leaving the adjoining districts redder. 

       That district and several Senate and House districts were gerrymandered in 2011.   As usual, a bipartisan Special Committee was to draw the maps, but it was really created for show. The reality was that the maps were drawn by a handful of people, all behind closed doors and using a software program which still has never been publicly scrutinized.  During required public hearings in 2011, there were no maps shown at

the meetings.   For the NH House maps, it wasn’t until one week prior to the full House vote that most legislators in either party had the opportunity to see the maps  -- to analyze the districts for 400 state reps!   How much time did the public have to review the House map?   24 hours. 

       According to The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute recommends that “A redistricting process that is sufficiently accountable to voters must be open, transparent, allow public engagement and time for the public to provide feedback for the proposed redistricting plan. An open and transparent redistricting process can help ensure that public servants are elected who actually serve citizens. Sunlight will inspire confidence in a redistricting process and outcome recognized as fair.”

       The NH House is about to embark on a redistricting process for the next 10 years.   Please call or write your state representatives and demand that our redistricting process be fair, nonpartisan and transparent.   The travesty of 2011 should never be allowed to happen again.

 

William Maddocks

Amherst

MARCH 2021

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