CONWAY — Frank Edelblut is excited about education and believes the sky's the limit in educational opportunities for Granite State children.
The commissioner of the state Department of Education was in town Thursday afternoon, and in a 45-minute visit at the Sun, he touted the creation of New Hampshire Career Academy; the Learn Everywhere program; and New Hampshire School Choice Week, which runs Jan. 20-26
“I like to call this I-Platform 9.75,” Edelblut said, referring to Harry Potter’s Nine and Three-Quarters. “It’s like a gateway into a mystical world of education. I like to say, you’re required to have some fun no matter what you do.”
Edelblut ran unsuccessfully in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2016 but lost to Gov. Chris Sununu, who tapped Edelblut as his commissioner of education.
“I’m having a ton of fun,” Edelblut said. “I’m just trying to run the place and get things done. I show up every day, and I give 100 percent. I enjoy the job. I like the team I work with, and I’m 100 percent in this game to try and help kids get ahead.”
Formerly a certified public accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers for eight years, Edelblut, 57, worked briefly as a chief financial officer for a small public company, which he left, he said, after discovering activities that were potentially illegal. So he started a company called Control Solutions at his kitchen table.
The company, an advisory services firm, grew to over 800 employees in 20 countries. He sold it in 2009 and joined a venture capital group, Common Angels, in Boston. He left in 2013.
"My life consisted of airplanes and soccer games," said Edelblut, who has been married to his college sweetheart, Kathleen, for 32 years. They have seven children.
Last month, Sununu and Edelblut announced the creation of New Hampshire Career Academy. Its premise is that by working through the community college system's existing funds, New Hampshire students can take advantage of an optional fifth year of high school that will let them receive a high school diploma, a certificate and an associate's degree free of charge. It also comes with a guaranteed interview with a New Hampshire company for a job.
“It’s a win-win for everybody around,” Edelblut said. “Conceptually we are using a program that is in the Rochester School District. Dean Graziano is the ELO (Extended Learning Opportunities) coordinator over there. He’s got 13 students, generally not your Advanced Placement students, who are seniors who take two academic classes in the morning at the high school, and the Great Bay Community College is right around the corner from that high school."
The students, he said, "literally walk around the corner and are enrolled in the advanced composite manufacturing program at the community college. When they complete that program successfully, Albany and Safran, a high-tech manufacturing company in the state that makes hot composite fan blades for jet engines, pretty high-tech stuff. Those students are guaranteed an interview with Safran, and if they do a decent job in the interview, they’re going to get hired.”
One of the problems with the program, Edelblut admitted, was that initially it was businesses providing funds to pay for it.
“I say we took the businesses and turned them upside-down and shook the loose change out of their pockets to pay the community college for the tuition,” he said. “The businesses were just partners, but they were thinking, 'I don’t own this program. You guys are supposed to educate the kids, and then I’m supposed to hire them. I’m not supposed to educate and hire them.'
"They were looking for a more sustainable funding model," Edelblut said. "I just looked at the tools that we already had in the state, and one of the tools that we have are charter schools."
Edelblut said he thought to himself: "'So, if I were to embed a charter school in the community college, then I can send funding directly to the charter school to be able to pay the tuition for those kids."
He said that $7,300 (per student) is the charter school funding mechanism that he had available. "I’m looking at it that for $7,300, I can send them to basically a year of college if they go directly to the community college," he said.
"It costs me about $15,000 a year to educate a kid as a senior in high school, it’s more in some communities. For the same money, I can get the kid a high school diploma, an associate's degree, industry credentials and an interview with an employer.”
Edelblut is a proponent of Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO), which he calls the “acquisition of knowledge and skills through instruction or study outside of the traditional classroom methodology,” and can be done through a variety of methods from independent study to internships or apprenticeships.
“These are outside-of-the-building learning experiences for children,” he said. “The ELOs are more connected to the Learn Everywhere program. Learn Everywhere is basically an opportunity to try and capture all student learning. This really comes out of a couple of observations that I’ve had from going around the state and talking with different people.”
Edelblut shared that one night he was at the Central School in Manchester where a student robotics team was practicing and working on their robots at about 8:30 p.m.
“A young lady, the captain of the team, came over to me and said, ‘Commissioner, you have to help us. The school closes at 9 p.m., we need it open until 10 p.m.’ My first inclination is, ‘Ding (the sound of a bell), I win.’ I’ve got kids begging me to keep the school open.
"But then I was thinking, these kids have been learning. They’ve been doing programming, engineering and everything else, (but) that doesn’t count. They’re going to go home and do their homework because that didn’t happen between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. inside the walls of the school," Edelblut said.
"Learn Everywhere is a program that really tries to capture learning that is taking place in our communities, all over the place.”
Edelblut said the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester opened up a program for art right in center city for low-income kids who are now offered this after-school program two or three days a week.
“They’ve got college professors teaching these kids art,” he said. “What a great opportunity for kids. I understand why the New Hampshire Institute of Art is doing this. They want to build a pipeline of kids to go to college at their school if they can get them early, but what do we care? If the kids are learning art, it’s a good thing. Why wouldn’t that count as an art credit?”
Edelblut recently met with state Fish and Game officials, and they are exploring the possibility of coming up with a physical education credit through the deer hunters and turkey hunters associations and the fly fishing associations.
“I call it an expanding universe,” he said. “I haven’t touched anyone’s money. All I’ve down is harness community resources to help get the education mission accomplished.”
Edelblut also shared other plans for, as he said, “allowing students to accelerate through other options.” One option is to have high school students (“16-, 17-, 18-year-olds,” he said) attend adult education classes.
He said he told Sarah Bennett, who runs the Bureau of Adult Education in New Hampshire, “Sarah, you run the largest high school in the state,”
He said there are 2,000 students in adult education programs,” and everyone’s there to learn.”
He said some high school kids are working at jobs in the morning, and then attending adult education classes from 3-6 p.m. “It’s not as disruptive an environment to them as high school might be.”
Edelblut is excited about New Hampshire School Choice Week.
Parents, schools and other organizers have planned 134 events and activities across the state, according to Sununu, “to shine a positive light on educational opportunity and raise awareness about the choices parents have, or want to have for their children. The events include rallies, roundtable discussions, festivals, school fairs and more.”
““If choice means we find a program that gets kid excited so that he or she can actually learn and not deteriorate then that’s what makes me excited,” Edelblut said.