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New Nashua Super An Anti-School Choice, Pro-Mask Advocate

Stephen Linkous, Nashua School District’s new superintendent, is on record opposing school choice and supporting facemask requirements.

Linkous was named this week as the next superintendent of the 11,000-student district that has been dealing with COVID-19-related turmoil since 2020. He is currently chief of staff for the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools and is slated to start in Nashua on July 1.

“I am extremely excited to have been selected as the next superintendent of the Nashua School District. I believe we have a great staff, community, Board of Education, and most importantly great students,” Linkous said in a prepared statement.

Linkous was among the Kansas public education leaders who waged a battle against that state’s expansion of its education savings account program last year. While the expansion allowed more low and moderate-income families to attend private schools, Linkous and others protested it would take money from the public school system.

“The increased eligibility will inevitably shift more tax dollars away from public schools to this new program,” Linkous said last year. “This change would take public tax dollars away from existing schools that educate any and all students.”

His pick as the next Nashua superintendent comes as the Granite State has successfully rolled out its own school choice program that is used by more than 1,600 families statewide. In Nashua, 77 families are using the Education Freedom Accounts to attend private school or pay for homeschool materials.

Sarah Scott, director of grassroots operations with Americans for Prosperity–New Hampshire, hopes Linkous’ selection does not signal a new animosity toward families who want school choice. Nashua is already home to several charter schools and private schools, including the Academy of Science and Design, one of the top-rated charter schools in the state.

“It’s clear that the community of Nashua sees the value in giving families choice when it comes to education. We hope the school board and school administration’s views and actions reflect the Nashua community’s commitment to education opportunity,” Scott said.

While New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Accounts have proved popular, they are opposed by the state’s education establishment. Democratic politicians at the New Hampshire State House are trying to rescind the program altogether, or restrict who can take part.

Gov. Chris Sununu also announced Wednesday that schools will no longer be able to mandate masks under the state’s new public health guidance on COVID-19. And without the state’s public health guidance, Sununu said, schools have no legitimate reason to turn away children who aren’t wearing masks.

“Given the new public health guidance released today, mask requirements in school policies are inconsistent with the Ed 306 rules,” a spokesperson for the state Department of Education said in a statement.  “A mask requirement may violate the district’s obligation to maintain policies that ‘Meet[] the instructional needs of each individual student.'”

Linkous was a strong proponent of masking in Kansas.

“The safety of our staff and students is No. 1,” he said at the start of the current school year. “Getting masks on, they’re not always the most comfortable thing. They are going to keep us safe.”

Linkous is taking over a district that was a flashpoint in the Granite State’s fight over how far to take COVID mitigation policies. Nashua parents were frustrated by decisions made by outgoing Superintendent Jahmal Mosley during the COVID-19 pandemic. While schools throughout the state tried to balance safety and educational needs, Nashua public schools went completely remote for nearly a year. The remote class started in March of 2020, and students stayed in remote until March 2021, when Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order forcing schools to return to in-person learning.

Some parents pulled their kids and went to private schools. Others waged a fight to pressure the school system to change policies. An organization called Nashua Parent Voice, with hundreds of members, rose up to advocate returning children to classrooms.

Data show the decision to close classrooms has led to massive education loss and an increase in mental health issues, particularly among low-income families and communities of color. Nashua has one of the most diverse populations in the state.

Mosley announced his plans to leave citing his difficult relationship with the board.

“As much as I want to see this district move forward and our strategic plan take hold, it is no longer feasible or tenable for me to manage a district as well as manage a school board that has been unable to work as a cohesive unit for many years now,” Mosley said in his resignation letter. “Our fundamental differences on governance, race relations, and re-opening of schools during a pandemic have proven insurmountable.”

Nashua’s Board of Education meetings devolved into debates over issues like remote learning, mask requirements, Critical Race Theory, transgender acceptance, 2020 election conspiracies, and other hot button issues. The protests began with parents advocating for children, but for a time, critics say, they were overtaken by extremists using the meetings to further political agendas beyond education.

“I look forward to listening, collaborating, learning, and leading as we continue the excellent work in many areas, and as we create excellence in others. I look forward to becoming a member of the Nashua community very soon,” Linkous said.


Confusion Surrounds School Science Standards in Concord, Local Communities

For one of Frank Edelblut’s first acts as education commissioner, he wanted the state Board of Education (BOE) to reconsider the state’s science standards, but they unanimously voted to reject his proposal. It’s expected to be the first of many issues that Edelblut and the BOE clash on throughout his term, highlighting the differences between pro-school choice Edelblut and public school advocates.

Last year, the board adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as the state’s standards after a lengthy two-year review process. The NGSS standards were developed by a consortium of 26 states and by the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council, and the nonprofit organization Achieve.

Several New Hampshire school districts had already adopted the NGSS, even though they aren’t bound by the state’s standards. Nearly 20 states have also implemented the NGSS across the country.

Reviewing the science standards was not an issue several board members were ready for at a BOE meeting on April 6.

“Why on Earth are we doing science?,” asked board member Cindy Chagnon. “What are we trying to give our schools and teachers whiplash or something?”

Edelblut said the review was his idea.

“So we in this state are aiming for high standards. And that’s really what we want. And I don’t know if the review was done prior to the adoption of this board or subsequently shortly thereafter, but those [science standards] have been evaluated by a third-party reviewer and rated as a ‘C’ standard,” he said.

The third-party reviewer Edelblut is referring to is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank that released a 2013 report giving the standards a “C” grade and told states to look elsewhere if they want to overhaul their standards.

“I don’t want to be the guy who’s responsible for a ‘C’ standard,” Edelblut said. “We want to have ‘A’ standards.”

Board members weren’t convinced though, since the state spent two years reviewing the standards and they had just been adopted in November. Reviewing them again would confuse schools and teachers who are starting to implement the standards.

“This would create chaos. This would create extra money spent. This would be ridiculous,” Chagnon said.

One board member suggested voting on a motion to make the board’s intentions clear that they wouldn’t touch the standards.

“I would hope that this board would support a commissioner who was interested in making sure that we have standards that represent the most contemporary, the most cutting-edge opportunities for our students,” Edelblut said.

Democrats were quick to point out that during Edelblut’s confirmation hearing in January, he assured Executive Council members and the public that his personal beliefs wouldn’t get in the way of his position, and he was largely “the implementation guy” for executing policy that the board, not him, largely decides.

The board ultimately voted unanimously not to review science standards until 2022.

The Pioneer Institute, a think tank in Boston, also weighed in on the controversy of New Hampshire of possibly looking at reviewing NGSS, calling the standards “disgracefully low” and “mediocre.”

“Our general take is that high performing states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire shouldn’t be adopting low quality standards,” said Jamie Gass, education policy director for the Pioneer Institute. “Unfortunately, that’s what we’re seeing more and more. Compliance with the D.C.-based outlook of K-12 is not in the educational best interest of the states.”

NGSS is not the same as the Common Core State Standards, which focus on math and English standards. Also, unlike the earlier roll out of Common Core, states have no federal financial incentives from grants to adopts the NGSS, so it’s completely voluntary. (The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed by Congress last year, removed those earlier financial incentives, though most states have chosen to keep the higher Common Core standards rather than revert). Specifically in New Hampshire, local school districts also aren’t forced to implement BOE policy.

“States should be developing their own standards,” Gass told NH Journal. “There’s no reason why New Hampshire couldn’t develop standards better than NGSS standards.”

However, even the discussion of reviewing the science standards is leading to ambiguity in cities and towns about the BOE’s commitment to the standards, said board member Helen Honorow at the meeting.

The Department of Education circulated a draft document about the status of the science standards, which was not approved by the BOE, leading to confusion in her city of Nashua, she said.

The Nashua Board of Education voted Tuesday to greenlight a pilot of the science standards in their schools, instead of delaying implementation while the state debates the issue.

Board President George Farrington called the delay a form of “political maneuvering.”

“For the last 18 months, I’ve heard, ‘Concord can’t tell us what to do,’ and now we have a change in leadership in Concord and we have to wait for the ‘white smoke’ up there to see what we can do,” he said. “The teachers are here tonight, and they’re saying, ‘This is what we want to do,’ and we’re saying, ‘We need to check it out because we’re better informed about it.’ “

The Nashua board passed a motion to allow a pilot program for the 2017-2018 academic year and the school would not formally adopt the standards until the conclusion and evaluation of the pilot.

Over 90 percent of New Hampshire school districts reported in November that they were already on the path to implementing NGSS.

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