Franklin High-community college partnership prompted by extreme teacher shortage garners attention from Senator Shaheen

Franklin High School principal David Levesque shows U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen some of the equipment in the Maker Space that now enhances the school library on Friday, May 17.

Franklin High School principal David Levesque shows U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen some of the equipment in the Maker Space that now enhances the school library on Friday, May 17. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Brainstorm is painted on the wall of the Maker Space that has transformed the Franklin High School library.

Brainstorm is painted on the wall of the Maker Space that has transformed the Franklin High School library. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

The new electronic sign at Franklin High School welcomes U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

The new electronic sign at Franklin High School welcomes U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (left)) talks with students Cole Johnson and Kaylee Valliere in the new Maker Space during the tour of the school on Friday, May 17, 2024.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (left)) talks with students Cole Johnson and Kaylee Valliere in the new Maker Space during the tour of the school on Friday, May 17, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Franklin High School principal David Levesque shows U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen the new podcast area as the senator gets a tour of the school on Friday, May 17, 2024.

Franklin High School principal David Levesque shows U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen the new podcast area as the senator gets a tour of the school on Friday, May 17, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Franklin High School principal David Levesque talks with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen as students Cole Johnson and Kaylee Valliere look on at the new Maker Space during the tour of the school on Friday, May 17, 2024.

Franklin High School principal David Levesque talks with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen as students Cole Johnson and Kaylee Valliere look on at the new Maker Space during the tour of the school on Friday, May 17, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

 U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen meets Franklin High School student Kaylee Valliere during the tour of the school on Friday, May 17.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen meets Franklin High School student Kaylee Valliere during the tour of the school on Friday, May 17. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

 U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (center) talks with school officials and students in the new Maker Space during the tour of the school on Friday, May 17, 2024.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (center) talks with school officials and students in the new Maker Space during the tour of the school on Friday, May 17, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Franklin High School principal David Levesque shows U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen the gymnasium that is scheduled to be upgraded as the senator gets a tour of the school on Friday, May 17, 2024.

Franklin High School principal David Levesque shows U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen the gymnasium that is scheduled to be upgraded as the senator gets a tour of the school on Friday, May 17, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By JEREMY MARGOLIS

Monitor staff

Published: 05-21-2024 3:43 PM

At the beginning of this school year, the 270-student Franklin High School employed only one math and one science teacher, an educator shortage so dire that district administrators informed parents at a meeting last fall that they would be unable to run nearly all junior- and senior-level math and science courses, from chemistry to pre-calculus.

“We had some angry students, we had some angry parents, we had some tears,” principal David Levesque recalled.

But Levesque also had a plan: taking advantage of a concurrent radical change to Franklin High’s schedule, the district decided to expand a longstanding partnership with nearby Lakes Region Community College to supplement some of the courses they would be unable to run in-house.

It was an experiment by necessity that, as the end of its first year nears, has caught the attention of others in the state, including U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who toured Franklin High last week.

“We can’t continue to deliver education in the same way that we have for the past 100 years,” Sen. Shaheen said during a conversation with district administrators, LRCC President Patrick Cate, and students on Friday. 

If what Franklin is doing is a success, “it’s going to be an option that other schools are going to look at,” she added.

Seventy to 75 Franklin students have taken courses through LRCC this year, though some have been online or offered at Franklin High itself, Levesque said.

One of those students is Cole Johnson, a junior and the younger brother of last year’s Franklin High valedictorian, Lily Johnson, who is now a freshman at Dartmouth.

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Cole has taken a pre-calculus course online, as well as three LRCC cooking courses offered at Franklin High. He is also currently enrolled in a biomedical engineering course through the Huot Technical Center in Laconia. By the end of this year, Johnson, who intends to pursue a college degree in engineering, will have obtained 15 credits.

Some of the LRCC courses have only been accessible to Franklin students because this year the school – motivated by a desire to adopt a project-based learning model – reworked its class lengths on Tuesdays and Thursdays to include two two-hour blocks each day. The move allows some students to travel to LRCC for courses and others to support their families by working during the school day.

While other high schools in the state have partnerships with community colleges, Franklin’s schedule change is unusual.

“We’re getting a lot of questions [from other districts] about that,” Levesque said.

Franklin, a working-class city 30 minutes north of Concord, has long struggled to adequately fund its school district, which has led to persistent staff recruitment and retention challenges.

Its average teacher salary is among the lowest in New Hampshire, at $50,234, a full $14,000 per year below the state average. Last year, the district lost nearly a quarter of its staff. This year, 14 teaching positions went unfilled, according to an annual report. Only two teachers at the high school have worked there for longer than 10 years, superintendent Dan LeGallo said.

In recent years, in addition to the LRCC partnership, Franklin has sought out other creative workarounds to its funding woes, some of which were on display during Shaheen’s tour.

The first stop was a fitness center, filled with machines donated by Southern New Hampshire University this spring. In all, the district received three tractor-trailer loads of furniture, worth a cumulative $80,000, LeGallo said.

Shaheen also toured the high school’s gym, which is set to be renovated this spring through a $117,000 grant received from the Pat Connaughton Foundation. Following the renovation, the high school will be able to host basketball and volleyball games for the first time in decades, according to LeGallo. (A GoFundMe to raise additional funds for the gym is still open.)

The conversation with Shaheen took place in the school’s new Maker Space, set to open next school year. It includes a 3D printer, a glowforge machine and other technology, funded through grants from the Department of Education.

Franklin has also applied for a $500,000 federal grant through Shaheen’s office to redo its currently inoperable front entrance. That grant is still pending.

“We’ve had to be creative for a long time,” LeGallo said.

In an interview following the tour, Shaheen lauded Franklin’s expanded LRCC partnership, scheduling change, and increased emphasis on project-based learning.

“We don’t know yet what the final outcome will be, but we know that so far it’s successful because the students like it, they’re getting instruction to not just complete their high school, but in some cases to go on and get college credits at the same time, and it helps them see what the opportunities are,” Shaheen said. “. . .We’ve got to get more creative about how we provide education.”