Health and Safety
School and community safety are a necessary prerequisite for education.
In March 2020, the threat of COVID-19 / Coronavirus prompted Hooksett schools to shift to remote learning for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. It was my first vote as a School Board Member. For 2020-21, Hooksett Schools provided families with fully remote and fully present options, allowing families to self-assess their COVID-19 risk and pick the appropriate model based on their situation. For 2021-22, Hooksett Schools were fully in-person. School safety protocols are rigorous, and in-person education has been very safe.
I’ve read hundreds of COVID-19 research papers and personally analyzed state and national data to separate legitimate risks from media hyperbole. I couldn’t find a sufficiently detailed analysis of NH’s COVID-19 data to assess our district’s reopening risk in fall, 2020, so I produced one myself which received over 120,000 views.
In 2022, safety concerns were for a different reason – following a horrible school attack in Texas. The next day, I toured a Hooksett school to personally see safety infrastructure and discuss concerns with administration, reviewed security assessments by NH Dept. of Homeland Security, collaborated with Board colleagues, and communicated with our community. The Hooksett School Board spent considerable time on the topic, and allocated $275,000 from fund balance for additional security upgrades for all three schools.
Providing full day kindergarten has been a School Board goal since 2015, when a study commissioned for this purpose advocated for school expansion as a prerequisite. In 2018, kindergarten it was tied to a $4+ million school expansion bond rejected by voters just short of the 60% vote required.
After reexamining classroom utilization in early 2020, school administration found room for seven full-day classes. A single full-day kindergarten pilot class was launched that fall, with 20 students selected via lottery. The “pilot” continued in 2021-22, and was slated to operate unchanged into 2022-23 year given budget concerns.
As a School Board candidate in 2020, I promised to, “roll up my sleeves and dig through data to identify kindergarten options for Hooksett to consider.” During the School Board’s October, 2021 Budget Workshop, I proposed a solution to reduce a large default operating budget increase – and produced funding for a full day Kindergarten program. I addressed a loophole in state budget law for contracted high schools and responded to changing Hooksett demographics. My proposal was approved by the School Board for its budgets.
I ensured the public was well-informed through work on social media, testifying at Budget Committee hearings, and giving a presentation at town deliberative session. My proposal benefited from a lot of advocacy from Board colleagues and other community members, too! The proposed operating budget with my full day Kindergarten solution was overwhelmingly supported by Hooksett voters in March, 2022.
My mother served our community as an elementary school teacher and a special education teacher. She often spoke of fostering programs or techniques with demonstrable results, identifying and utilizing excellent instruction as a template for others, and helping parents stay engaged with their children’s development. Clear goals, funding to support them, and focus and support both in school and at home are important for the growth of our students.
The bus driver shortage impacted Hooksett and many other districts with delayed routes, doubled-up routes, or eliminated routes. The uncertainty of when your school bus is going to arrive, particularly in times of day-to-day changes in bus routing, can result in a lot of unproductive time waiting for a bus or even a missed bus.
In early 2022, I researched providers of electronic school bus monitoring. After reviewing some candidates with school administration, we picked a vendor for a pilot program on three buses. I personally installed tracking devices on buses, setup routes, and worked with a small group of administrators and parents to test website and mobile app tracking of the school buses.
The results were encouraging. The Hooksett School Board approved a $10,000 allocation to expand the pilot into the 2022-23 school year. I installed more tracking devices on buses with my Board colleagues Amy Tremblay and Alexis Quinlan, setup about seventy bus routes, and spent dozens of hours comparing recorded actual runs of bus routes to plans, adjusting configurations where there were discrepancies or route changes to improve quality. School Principals provided very helpful feedback, and began using the system to optimize the queuing of students for afternoon bus pickup. They also provided the rollout of the system to many bus families in November. Unfortunately, due to ongoing bus staffing issues, not all routes are consistently run by tracked vehicles. But for many families, an app on their phone indicates where the bus on its route and how many minutes it will be until it arrives at their stop.
To maximize trust in schools by parents and taxpayers, transparency into operations and budgets is critical. Quality and efficiency both improve when other people are watching. Hooksett Schools have made it easier for citizens to find information about programs, classes, contracts, and spending. In particular, we’ve done a much better job publicly discussing fiscal matters and planning the upcoming budgets. I’m a member of the School Board’s Communication Committee responsible for Board content on Facebook, and as the Hooksett School Board Chair, I post reports on the Board’s work between meetings.
Taxes for schools are about 2/3 of everyone’s property tax bill. My experience as a Budget Committee member left me disheartened about the lack of public scrutiny given the school budget. Some people have an opinion that “spending for education” is incongruous with “fiscal responsibility”, in a way that spending for police, fire, or public works somehow is not.
In 2022, Hooksett Schools received its first Budget Committee approval for its proposed budget in several years. With the help of several Board colleagues and school administration, there is a renewed focus on fiscal transparency and more detailed budgeting. I’m proud of the quality of the conversation and how Hooksett schools are engaging our taxpayers, and am happy to have helped that turn for the better.
I’ve given presentations on how to understand public budgets to groups ranging from Cub Scouts to School Board Members, and have testified to NH House and Senate committees advocating for proposed legislation to improve budget detail and transparency.
School and Community Engagement
In 2022 the School Board embarked on several school and community engagement events: tours of all schools, social events with staff and parents, a staff survey, staff appreciation, and retiree recognition. I engaged families at Underhill School’s Family Fun night, helped setup the PTA’s Color Run fundraiser. I even ensured school policy was updated to ensure school staff could speak directly to School Board members.