I July and August, I conducted a survey of Manchester residents, asking them about Manchester School District issues. This article presents the results of the 175 responses to that survey.
The two most important issues as ranked by the respondents were Standards & Curriculum and classroom sizes. Both of these issues were ranked significantly higher than the third-most important issue, Budget/Spending. The most lopsided and negative response was elicited when asked if they agree that “MSD motivates residents to move and to stay in the city.” Nearly 85% of respondents disagreed, with more than a third doing so “strongly.” Perceptions of education quality seem to be best at the elementary levels and worst at the middle schools. Management effectiveness, communication, and respect all fell short in the survey. Most respondents (79 to 55) felt that teachers in the district were not fairly compensated.
Most Important Issues
The first question asked, “How important are the following issues to you?”
Clearly, standards & curriculum along with classroom size were the most important issues. Surprisingly, redistricting does not seem to be linked with the classroom size issue. In speaking with parents and residents, I’ve seen (anecdotally) a great deal of concern over redistricting and its impacts. It’s unclear how many of those constituents concerned about class sizes are aware of the overabundance of space in the district.
The question also allowed respondents to offer any issue they thought should have been included in the ranking. The most common answer, by far, was special education. It would have been interesting to include this with the other issues, as it seems likely it would have resonated.
The next question asked respondents to rate the degree to which they agree with the statement, “MSD provides a high-quality education.”
The elementary schools fared reasonably well in this question, followed distantly by the high schools, with middle schools faring the worst.
When asked whether they agreed that, “MSD spends taxpayer money wisely,” respondents clearly disagreed.
They almost as strongly disagreed that, “The Board of School Committee (BOSC) provides effective oversight.”
MSD administration fared slightly better than the Board of School Committee:
When asked if “MSD motivates residents to move and to stay in the city,” respondents gave the most lopsided and negative answer:
Clearly, regardless of the reasons, blame, and/or deservedness, respondents believe that the school district’s reputation is hurting the city. This has far-reaching implications beyond the education system.
Respondents largely do not feel that “MSD communicates effectively with parents and the public.”
One of the more balanced responses was the question of whether or not the district competitively compensates teachers but the consensus disagreed with the statement.
There is a lack of confidence among respondents that the Manchester School District respects teachers, parents, or taxpayers.
The following charts show the demographics of survey respondents.
Note: I focused the promotion of the survey primarily in Ward 6, which is the reason for the high number of responses.
57% of survey respondents either currently and/or formerly had children enrolled in Manchester School District.
About the 2017 Manchester School District Constituent Survey
You can click here to download the raw results from the 2017 MSD Constituent Survey Results. Duplicate entries have been removed as has the “Comments” field because many of them contained personal stories that I was not sure they would want to be disclosed publicly.
Note: This survey was administered online and promoted via Facebook and email. It’s a non-scientific survey and may or may not accurately reflect the population of Manchester residents. Assuming the sample is representative, the survey has a margin of error of 6%.
Many of the comments submitted with the surveys contained stories that seemed somewhat personal and for that reason I’m not including them in the download. I’ve included a sampling below:
“Classroom size is the number one concern for all levels. Too often it is only talked about regarding elementary. We need smaller class sizes for all levels of education.”
“The taxpayers cannot afford rising taxes every year. Schools need to start teaching the basics again. Kids today can’t do basic math and they know little about this country’s history.”
“My concerns are the redistricting. Parents should have the right to choose the school they want their child to go to.”
“As a parent who has a child entering MSD and also an educator, I am VERY concerned about putting my child into the Manchester School District. We are going to move within the next school year ONLY because I do not want my child continuing in this district. I began my career as a teacher in [redacted], being RIFd each year. I finally moved to a district that believes in education and the teachers who are employed within their district. Manchester needs to change their practices if they want to see change. What they are doing, and have been doing for years, is not working. I am sad that the leaders of this city are not only lying to themselves about the state of education in the city, but they are lying to the people who pay taxes.”
“Need to stop focusing on costs, if education quality is high the costs will be covered by the increases in revenue from rising property values”
“Manchester school spending is out of control. Administration and staff are bloated in numbers, and most of them are grossly overpaid. Additionally, monies spent are not spent with an eye to efficiency. The budget needs to be cut in absolute dollars.”
“I do not feel that the city allocates enough funding for education.”
“Please pay more attention to extra curricular activities as well as music programs. We in the music department at [redacted] were given no money in previous years for new music, instruments, etc. It’s very sad to have to dig through bins of very old and very used music to scrape up something to use in a concert.”
“I would like my child to go to a safe school where we have no crime, no drugs, or bullying and if there is to let us know as soon as possible”
“I think there are a lot of things that need to be done in order to make MSD comparable to other districts . Especially in their athletics at the high school level. I can tell you as a mom to a high school level athlete ,it’s embarrassing . The coaching is a joke compared to other schools . You are losing kids on this basis alone. I had a college scout tell me that they very rarely visit a Manchester game unless they are there to see someone on the other team. That was very concerning and is making me reconsider keeping my kids in MSD. Academics as well as athletics lead to a college career.”
“I was a student of the Manchester School District, and I left. It was the best choice I ever made and I am forever blessed for it. MSD needs to look less at the numbers and more at the quality. Students are not getting quality education, and are not motivated to get a quality education because every single benefit is a fight. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education” (MLK). MSD doesn’t allow students to think, and only criticizes them. Please work to make this school district AT LEAST adequate.”
“Per-pupil spending needs to keep up with the rest of the state (or outpace it, given the challenges many of our students face). Stop cutting costs on maintenance — these come back to haunt us in the long run. Keep advocating for Manchester schools and stay focused on the things that make schools attractive to young families (rich curriculum, small class sizes, cohesive school communities) — there are amazing things happening here at all levels, but we need to improve our rep to stop losing our most education-focused families before they even get in the system. Leverage our uniques (multiculturalism -> informal language learning groups?) Admins should support teachers by helping relieve their bureaucratic burden (whether by cutting class sizes or other creative means) and eliminating distractions during the school day to give them the freedom to do what is best for their students. Eliminate homework requirements in elem. and give kids more time to play!”
“Class size may be relieved by redistricting Manchester teachers are very well paid in comparison to other districts in southern NH and have a better benefits package Not all needs of students are met: if students are not ELL, severely disabled physically or cognitively it is an exhaustive battle to get services or help in the classrooms. Teachers cannot manage 30 students and give each one what they need especially when needs are extremely diverse. Transportation: Manchester is one of very few districts that charges students/families to ride the bus.”
“BOSC members should not be allowed to sign on to MSD health/dental insurance. It’s called service to the community, not to be extravagantly compensated.”
“As a parent of [redacted MSD school], I cannot say enough of how great the school is. When my oldest son graduated we decided to send him to [redacted charter school]. This was a huge mistake. We are sending him to [redacted MSD school] and hoping for a much better school year. I just wish the starting time for elementary and middle school correspond a little better.”
“Coming in from a different state/school system I believe the MSD leaves MUCH to be desired. The curriculum seems a “One Size Fits All” and while below average students have a few options to enhance their learning, the above average students are left stuck in a “slower pace” environment that does not encourage/enhance their desire to learn more than that which is being taught.”
“Many valuable residents are leaving Manchester because our schools can not compete with some surrounding districts. This hurts our community and brings down our home values. I’ve also noticed throughout the years that teachers are not following a common curriculum and best teaching practices. Example: In second grade, my daughter’s class was the only class to take monthly field trips to a local nursing home. If this field trip was deemed valuable by this teacher, why were other classes not doing this field trip? If the rest of the grade 2 team didn’t find this trip valuable, why was this one teacher allowed to continue this practice with her students. If you have teachers, in the same school, in same district, doing different activities in the classroom, how do we know what practices are most successful? Manchester’s top priority should be education and our children.”
“BOSC & Superintendent needs to objectively analyze impact of MST-HS on CTE students & 3 other high schools. Valuable CTE programs are being “gutted” most likely to make room for additional MST-HS students. Go look at what used to be a thriving MST restaurant with built in student internships.”
“Class size is of major importance. As an educator in a local town, I see major issues with some of the Manchester elementary schools having class sizes of 30 students (Example HGF third grade last year). This is absurd. I know of other schools in the city that have very small clas sizes all around. Teachers should be shuffled to meet the needs of the schools each year.”