CONWAY — Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut's "Learn Everywhere" initiative may have some support around the Granite State, but no one at Monday's Conway School Board meeting was touting it.
School Superintendent Kevin Richard said he and district principals oppose the initiative, and the board voted unanimously to immediately send a letter to state Department of Education declaring their dissatisfaction with the program.
Board members oppose the initiative — which was unveiled in January and passed the House Education Committee and State Board of Education — because it removes local control over students earning credits towards graduation.
They are not the only ones opposing it. On March 7, the state Senate voted to pass an amended version of SB 140 (the Learn Everywhere bill) by adding: “Each local school board shall determine whether to grant academic credit for alternative, extended learning and work-based programs.”
During his administrative report delivered Monday, Richard said he and his school principals have "had discussions about Learn Everywhere.
“I know that the school administrators and superintendents have chosen to not support Learn Everywhere. The (N.H.) Principal’s Association hasn’t chosen to do so officially, but within our district and in the SAU (9), we’ve had discussions about that,” Richard said.
He said the district has a strong ELO (Extended Learning Opportunities) program.
“There are 24-25 students currently enrolled in ELOs,” Richard said. “We are totally on board with 'anytime, anyplace learning,' but one of the things that we have done is really make sure that there is a level of accountability with the students.”
Richard said ELO Coordinator Christine Thompson and guidance counselors work with students and the community to create opportunities in everything from science to the arts.
“You name it, we have a wide variety of experiences out there,” Richard said.
“What our teachers and staff do is, say, ‘OK, what do we want for our learning outcomes to come back as?’ and then we assure the process and make sure that does happen before granting credit.
"That’s not to say that an ELO experience started in the fall and everyone is going to get credit by the end of the semester," Richard explained. "If students haven’t demonstrated their level of competency or have achieved at that standard, we simply just extend it a little bit more — that’s the beauty of this program.”
He added: “It really is a partnership with the community, with the student, with the teachers and with the school.
"The issue that we have with Learn Everywhere is that as the bill that was set forth, we would not be in charge of granting that credit, but we would be directed to accept the credit," Richard said.
"I think we have a responsibility as administrators to say, ‘We can’t assure that students actually went through and demonstrated proficiency with those. That’s our official stance, and it’s independent of the Conway School District unless the Conway School Board says we want to get on board, too.”
During a visit to the Sun in January, Edelblut spoke enthusiastically about the new initiative.
"Learn Everywhere is a program that really tries to capture learning that is taking place in our communities, all over the place,” he said.
One example he gave was exploring the possibility with Fish and Game officials of coming up with a physical education credit through the deer hunters and turkey hunters associations and the fly fishing associations.
The amended bill will now go to the House for state representatives to take action on it.
Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro), now in his fourth term in the House, and who serves on the Education Committee, sees positives to Learn Everywhere.
“It is all about control and power, not the kids,” Cordelli said of the resistance to the program. “The education establishment is more concerned about protecting the system than the kids.”
He added: “Learning Everywhere is an excellent program that is a part of the extended learning opportunities program that dates back a decade.
"The idea is to recognize that learning also takes place outside the classroom. There are many businesses and organizations in N.H. that offer opportunities that extend beyond a single school district. Learn Everywhere recognizes that fact and eliminates the need for the organization to have to have their program recognized by multiple districts.”
Cordelli said the basis for this program was SB 435, which was submitted in 2018 and passed both the House and Senate on voice votes.
Gov. Chris Sununu and Edelblut say it would “give students opportunities to pursue their interests outside of school and connect with their community.”
Conway School Board member Mark Hounsell has been following Learn Everywhere and said that in addition to eroding local control, he believes the proposal could weaken local education standards, ultimately diminishing the value of a Kennett High School diploma.
On Monday, Hounsell made a motion to send a letter to the commissioner of education, state board of education, chairman of the House education committee and local representatives from Carroll County on Tuesday, stating its opposition to Learn Everywhere.
“Fortunately, the state Senate put in corrective language last week, which pretty much did away with the most offensive piece of Learn Everywhere,” he said.
“Now that bill will go to the House, but having been there and watched it for four decades now, there’s may a slip between the cup and the lip. You don’t know what a bill can look like by the time it’s done.”
Hounsell urged his colleagues to “take a leadership position” and to stand behind Richard, "and hopefully, the Principal’s Association will take a formal position in opposition.”
Board member Randy Davison, a teacher, agreed.
“I think it’s important that we do take a stand,” he said. “I think local control is important in public education. We measure the quality of what we present, we ensure accountability, and I think 'learn only here' is my take on it.”
Board chair Joe Lentini said he was surprised when he read the original Learn Everywhere proposal.
“I was really quite shocked to learn that basically we could be told that somebody is going to get credit for something that we can’t verify,” he said. “It seems to dilute the quality of our education.”
The board voted 4-0 to send a letter in opposition to Learn Everywhere, with Davison, Hounsell, Lentini and Joe Mosca in support. Colleagues Courtney Burke, Dr. Michelle Capozzoli and Jessica Whitelaw did not attend the meeting.