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My Turn: Past decade has seen big changes in education



For the Monitor
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I’m sorry to leave the State Board of Education but am pleased with what we’ve accomplished over my 10-year term, the last five as chairman.

I’m most proud of the working relationship we built between the board and the department and, most importantly, with parents, educators, and businesses throughout the state.

One of the board’s key priorities since I came on 10 years ago has been to help our schools move toward personalized competency education. This is a big change for our whole school system. It’s a new way of thinking about each student’s progress through school, how grading works and many other parts of how our schools work. The biggest change our students see as our schools move in this direction is that teachers no longer move through a book delivering lectures on one chapter after another. They now coach students in setting goals and taking charge of their own learning.

This is a big change and has taken years but our Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) initiative has accelerated our move to personalization by providing what many teachers consider the best professional development they have ever had in how to challenge their students in a way that inspires them to excel. As a result, New Hampshire is considered the leader in what has become a national movement toward personalized competency education.

I’m also proud of the way we implemented the New Hampshire College and Career Ready Standards for English Language Arts and Math.

Interestingly, that started with the way we created, with Commissioner Virginia Barry’s leadership, the teacher evaluation plan. Commissioner Barry started with the teachers and created task forces that included school leaders and experts as well. The result was a model teacher evaluation plan that many school districts adopted.

But an even bigger result was a close relationship with the teachers that we have been building on ever since.

So, unlike the trouble many other states had when introducing the new standards, New Hampshire teachers were in strong support. They knew that the new standards and annual assessment would not be used against them. Although we had limited budgets to support teachers, they dove in on their own time and NEA-NH provided 30 teacher leaders to train teachers all over the state in using the new standards.

Our teachers, especially the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association, played a key role again when, after years of preparation, we adopted the Next Generation Science Standards last November. The new standards had already proved their value and were in use in the vast majority of science classrooms in the state so adoption was based on extensive local experience. So when the new commissioner pushed to begin a new yearlong rewrite of the science standards, the board was able to make clear in a unanimous vote that it is committed to our existing standards and will not review them in the foreseeable future.

Working with the department, the board made great progress on charter schools as well. Although local school boards can authorize charter schools, in practice the state board of education is New Hampshire’s main charter school authorizer. Unlike in other states, the board has been able to approve the vast majority of charter school applications and few charters have failed. That’s because the department worked with applicants their plans and ensured that their final applications were was strong as possible.

We can be proud of our 100 percent home-grown charter schools, including our Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, which must be the most successful online charter school in the country.

Finally, we accomplished great things in working with Lebanon and Unity to overcome local challenges and replace unsafe schools with functional new facilities that meet their communities’ needs. Several state board members, past and present, were responsible for shepherding this important life safety work.

A new team has taken over now – a new commissioner and three new board members. I leave the new leadership with schools that lead the nation in current achievement and in innovating for a future of personalized learning. The state board has a big responsibility to our students and their parents. I am confident they will look back in 10 years at an even greater record of achievement for New Hampshire public education.

Tom Raffio, president & CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, is also chair of the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education.