School Choice Offering Awaits Decision on Federal Waiver

The Derry School Board is in a holding pattern as it waits for word from the New Hampshire Department of Education as to whether or not the state will be granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The U.S. Department of Education is still reviewing New Hampshire’s case, Superintendent Laura Nelson told the board and television audience at its June 11 meeting.

Nelson said she sent an e-mail to state Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry asking if there had been any news on the waiver, and Barry called her the next day to say there had been none. The waiver or its lack directly affects Derry’s School Choice program, in which families are allowed to select a different elementary school if their neighborhood school has not made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Nelson said Barry told her the waiver is now on the desk of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He received it June 7, she said, and there’s usually a 10-to 14-day window to have it approved.
While most New Hampshire educators expect to see the waiver approved, Nelson said it presents a problem for Derry. With only eight days of school left at the time of the board meeting, she could not give parents or schools information on next year’s School Choice options.

Board member Dan McKenna suggested taking a vote to terminate School Choice. But Nelson pointed out, “At this late date, it would cause some angst for families. Parents would have a lot of decisions to make.”
Nelson said students currently participating in School Choice would be allowed to continue if their parents choose.

McKenna asked about new School Choice students, and Nelson said, “We have not made any assumptions.”
The schools that have to offer choice are so designated because of their AYP scores, Nelson said, and there has not been any determination on that. “Last year we didn’t hear until June 15,” she said.

She said she assumed that students offered choice last year would stay through the next year, but it was premature to offer choice to new students or to discontinue the shuttle buses. “If the state does not get the waiver, all school choice decisions will have to be made over the summer,” Nelson said. The next School Board meeting is Tuesday, July 16.

In other business, the vote on the paraprofessionals’ contract is Tuesday, June 25, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School.