Sununu’s education picks will help shape schools’ futures

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu greets voters at the polling station Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, in Bedford, N.H. Sununu is seeking the party's nomination in Tuesday's state primary. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Associated Press
Published: 12/9/2016 11:12:51 PM

Gov.-elect Chris Sununu will make key education appointments in his first three months in office, affording the Republican considerable power to shape the direction of public education in the state.

Sununu takes office in January as New Hampshire’s first Republican governor in a dozen years. He’ll immediately have to make three appointments to the seven-member State Board of Education, which approves education standards and charter school applications and sets guidelines for school curriculum.

He’ll also choose a commissioner of education in March when Commissioner Virginia Barry’s term ends. A Sununu spokesman declined to say whether Sununu would reappoint Barry or choose someone new.

The person he picks for the jobs could determine whether New Hampshire continues to explore competency-based education, scraps Common Core and opens more charter schools. And with the power to sign and veto legislation, he will likely determine whether full-day kindergarten moves forward in more districts and if students can opt out of standardized tests.

Sununu said early on in his campaign he wanted to “gut” the Board of Education. He has declared he wants to end Common Core and increase school choice.

“There is no place in our state more than our classrooms where Washington has reached in with their regulation, with their bureaucracy,” Sununu said in a September debate.

The Common Core standards, created and adopted on the state level, have been under attack for several years in New Hampshire and elsewhere. The mostly Republican critics say the standards are confusing and overemphasize testing and federal government involvement.

The board adopted the reading and math standards years ago and most recently approved new science standards. No school district in New Hampshire is required to adopt Common Core, and some have created their own standards. Still, critics are counting on Sununu to make good on his promise to end New Hampshire’s participation entirely.

“Since (Sununu) ran on scrapping Common Core, I’m going to assume and I’m going to hope that is one of his priorities when he makes a decision on commissioner or school board appointees,” said Ann Marie Banfield, policy director for Cornerstone Action, a conservative nonprofit.

Sununu also could appoint pro-charter school members to the board to ensure more schools open.

At the Department of Education, New Hampshire is adopting a series of measures aimed at de-emphasizing standardized testing. For example, 11th graders now take the SAT as their high school test rather than take the SAT for college admissions and Common Core-aligned exams. Also, the state recently began a pilot program for competency-based education, called PACE.

Sununu supports the PACE program and plans to continue it, his spokesman said.

During his campaign, he criticized what he said was an overabundance of testing in schools.

Democratic state Rep. Mary Heath, a former educator, said she’s worried the new governor and his fellow Republicans will stop progress made at the Department of Education.

“We want to keep the momentum going and not put a halt to it,” she said.

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