Hassan applauds changes at Pittsfield Middle/High School
Gov. Hassan enjoys listening in on a seventh grade language arts class about Greek mythology at Pittsfield Middle/High School on Friday, January 17, 2014 Gov. Hassan visited the school to see its improvements to a more student-centered learning environment after receiving a grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Also pictured are seventh-graders Jessica Rainville, left, and Lucas Whitcomb and Pittsfield School District superintendent Dr. John Freeman, right.
(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
Gov. Hassan listens to Pittsfield High School junior Quinn Boyce talk about his advisory class during her visit to Pittsfield Middle/High School on Friday, January 17, 2014. Gov. Hassan visited the school to see its improvements to a more student-centered learning environment after receiving a grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
It’s not every day the governor comes to your high school classroom. But at Pittsfield Middle/High School, the students handled Gov. Maggie Hassan’s visit yesterday as if it were routine, explaining a series of changes the district has made in recent years with poise.
“I’m here because the way we help all of you prepare for your futures really is important to the state of New Hampshire,” Hassan told them.
With the help of a $600,000 grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the school has drastically changed what happens in its classrooms and what role students play. (Pittsfield was one of four schools in all of New England to get a grant.) Hassan visited yesterday to see those changes firsthand and to hear from students. Teachers now focus more on collaboration and student-led discussions instead of tests and worksheets, and the students have taken a more active role in school governance.
Hassan’s visit included a trip to an advisory period, where students get extra help or talk about college plans, and to a seventh-grade classroom where students were discussing a story. It ended with a roundtable discussion with a dozen
students and several teachers.
“You’re doing what good students do,” she told the students as they sat around a table in the library. “You’re taking responsibility for what happens here.”
In addition to the Nellie Mae grant, which will last through 2015 and could be renewed, Pittsfield also received a three-year school improvement grant. Together, the money has been used to overhaul teaching and learning practices and to start initiatives such as a student-teacher council. The transformations show in student performance, which has increased on state tests. (The number of 11th-graders testing proficient in math nearly doubled from 17 percent in 2008-2009 to 33 percent in 2012-2013.)
Education Commissioner Virginia Barry said she sees a dramatic change in Pittsfield’s schools from five years ago, due strong engagement from students, teachers, school leaders and the entire community.
“What more could you ask for, really?” she said at yesterday’s event.
Students told Hassan their advisory period is what ties the various pieces of their education together. They can talk with their adviser about homework, outside community service and career and college options. In regular classes, the students said they’re focusing more on projects and group collaborations instead of individual worksheets that rely on memorization.
“I think it’s a lot more engaging, and I want to be in class,” said Lily Plummer, a sophomore.
During the roundtable discussion, Hassan asked students to share their personal classroom experiences and talk about the changes they’ve witnessed. Several students said that in Jenny Wellington’s English class, they lead the discussions themselves, which gives them more of a stake in their own learning.
Another student talked about the Site Council, a 19-member council of 10 students and nine teachers who discuss and vote on school policies. The council is currently rewriting the student handbook to make the policies more clear and concise. The students have also pushed for a “restorative justice” model to student discipline. Instead of giving detention to a student who constantly arrives late, for example, a teacher could require that student to participate in before-school activities that would ensure on-time arrival for class.
“Kids are stepping up and actually leading the school,” said Max Tuttle, a senior and co-chair of the council.
At the end of the discussion, Hassan encouraged the students to reach out to her office by email or phone if they want to share more about the school’s progress or other ideas and concerns about state government. She also asked them what they wanted her to remember about Pittsfield Middle/High School.
Brynne Gaudette, a junior, summed up the day’s remarks.
“We’re making a lot of big changes – and strong changes.”
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)