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Former state school board chair pitches 'competency-based learning' in Franklin

by Thomas P. Caldwell

FRANKLIN — The former chair of the N.H. State Board of Education brought his 10,000 Mentors program to Franklin on Oct. 20, but the principal of Franklin High School said the city already is on board.
Fred Bramante told the Franklin School Board about his initiative as president of the National Center for Competency-Based Learning, which he founded after leaving the state board. The program seeks out local mentors who will be able to assist in bringing meaningful and appropriate academic experiences to students who might not do well in traditional classroom settings.
Bramante spoke of his own failed education in which he placed 206 out of 212 students and got rejection letters from every college he initially applied to. He finally managed to get into Keene State College where he studied science which led to a job as a science teacher; but his real love was music, so he opened a record store. It grew into the Daddy's Junky Music Store chain, one of the largest such chains in the country. But when people came to him for interviews, he could not understand why they were interested in someone he still viewed as "not too bright".
He finally realized that the problem might be with the schools themselves and that, with a different approach, people like himself might excel or at least would be able to complete their education, rather than dropping out. Figuring out the problem became an obsession for him and he got Craig Benson's ear when Benson was running for governor. (Bramante himself was Republican candidate for governor in 2000.) Once he was elected, Benson named Bramante to be the chair of the Board of Education with the charge of questioning everything.
The board first took up the school calendar, with Bramante asking why it was based on 180 days of school. He learned that 180 days was set in 1906 after a Carnegie-sponsored symposium at Harvard University determined that the way to standardize teacher pay was to base a full-time position on 180 days of service, with students earning credit for completing 120 to 150 days of instruction.
"It's not about time, it's about learning," Bramante said. "Instead of time and place being the constants and learning being the variable, we decided to hold the kids to a higher standard of learning, and that would be the constant. The amount of time, and the place — the school — should be the variables. So since 2005, New Hampshire has said you don't have to go to school 180 days. If you can demonstrate competency, you can get the credits for graduation."
Bramante also said the old grading system, using A, B, C, D, and F, is not appropriate. "This being able to pass with a C or a D has got to go," he said. "If it's a required competency, that is the level we should be holding the kids to. We don't care how you get it done; if you want to learn geometry by building a house, that's okay. You just need to show mastery of the required competency."
The 10,000 Mentors program offers help to school districts electing to seek out local talent to help students reach those competencies. "We clarify the mentors' role and provide examples of what will demonstrate mastery," Bramante said, noting that Manchester was the first school district to sign on and Monadnock has followed.
Franklin High School Principal Richard Towne said he has had several conversations with Bramante over the past 15 years and "We're on a par with what he's talking about. We're one of the leading schools in the state when it comes to offering extended learning opportunities. We're developing not only additional arts programs, but in a bigger sense, we're creating connections with businesses. There is a lot of interest in this small city, and people are willing to donate time, money, and resources to work with our kids. It's part of our mission to provide opportunities outside of the school walls."
Towne noted that many Franklin students reach the 20 credits needed for graduation in their junior years and, through a cooperative agreement with Lakes Region Community College, they are able to spend their senior year earning college credits, at a reduced fee.
"If we do this right," Bramante agreed, "we can make college cheaper for a lot of kids. They might be able to get their high school credits by their sophomore year, and embed college courses into the high school so they graduate with an associate's degree. All of that is possible."
Schools working with the NCCBL 10,000 Mentors project provide funding through direct appropriations, title funding, grants, and fundraising efforts. "We are having conversations with others, similar to our conversation with Franklin, with no strings attached," Bramante said. "If districts are interested in having us help them, we are happy to have the conversation."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 11:59

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Police failure to show victim more than one suspect photo leads to dismissal of charges

CIRCUIT COURT — Stalking and indecent exposure charges against a Massachusetts man who regularly spends time at his family home in Gilmanton were dismissed by a 4th Circuit Court judge Monday after he ruled the out-of-court identification method use by police was faulty.

David Busa, 59, had been accused by a neighbor of standing in front of her house and exposing himself.

The woman called the police and told them she knew Busa's late father and that she thought the man in front of her house was his son. She said she could identifying him if she had a photo.

Police interviewed Busa that night and described him as agitated. The next day, police returned to Busa's home and he agreed to be photographed.

In a motion to bar in-court and out-of-court identifications filed in the 4th Circuit Court Laconia Division, Busa, through his attorney Jarred Bedrick, argued that her initial photo identification of him was suggestive and tainted because Busa's photo was the only photo she was shown.

Bedrick argued that there were no exigent circumstances that existed to prevent the police from procedurally including Busa's photograph in a photographic lineup and have the woman identify him.

In her statement to police, the woman also said "I think this is my neighbor..." and that she "believed it was her neighbor..."

The court agreed and dismissed the charges.

Busa pleaded no contest to one count of trespassing, was found guilty, and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine — suspended in lieu of one year's good behavior. He is also ordered to stay away from the woman and her property.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 11:19

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Laconia judge improvises to make up for lack of mental health court

CIRCUIT COURT — For about one-half hour every Tuesday, about 15 people quietly make their way up to Courtroom 1 of the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.

They're on the way to "Compliance Court" — what presiding Judge Jim Carroll refers to as his own version of mental health court.

"For some it's pretrial, for some it post convictions, and for some it's bail conditions," Carroll explained from his chambers early yesterday morning.

For the participants, Compliance Court means checking in weekly with the judge and providing documentation that he or she is obeying the recommendations of his or her mental health provider and/or probation officer.

In reality, explained Carroll, some courts use the probation and parole departments exclusively for this function.

"We're willing to step up and use our resources," he said.

Belknap County does not have a sanctioned mental health court although there is one in Keene in Cheshire County that began in 2001 and was the first of its type in the state.

Like the Recovery or Drug Court in Belknap County, in Keene the Mental Health Court provides for alternatives to incarceration to enhance support for mental health issues that can lead to substance abuse and criminality. The goals are to enhance justice and public safety, reduce recidivism, and use motivational enhancement techniques for people with mental health issues.

In a recent case, Carroll chose Compliance Court for a man who was accused of criminal threatening with a deadly weapon. Although the prosecution had asked for $10,000 cash-only bail, during the bail hearing Carroll learned the accused was a client of Genesis Behavioral Health, had no criminal record, and has missed an appointment because his counselor was sick. He was out of medication.

As part of his bail conditions, the man was ordered to go to Genesis that day, meet with his counselor, get back on his medication and bring documentation back to the court that he had done what Carroll asked.

Since then, he has had weekly meetings with his counselor and is not incarcerated. He has had no encounters with the police and reports regularly in person to the court.

Many of the people who are ordered into Compliance Court are from Laconia and prosecutor Jim Sawyer said yesterday that while the program can't solve all of the mental health issues, participation in it is part of the solution.

"It's not a magic bullet," said Sawyer. "but I think it adds some structure to their lives."

Sawyer estimates about half of the people participating in Compliance Court have cases that he is prosecuting and their participation is part of their bail conditions.

In addition, because participation is part of a bail condition, if there is any violation or non-compliance, Judge Carroll can incarcerate them on a breach of bail violation.

Sawyer said compliance with mental health orders can make a big difference in how he chooses to prosecute as well. He said if someone is complying with all of the terms of their bail orders and seem to be gaining something positive from mental health counseling and Compliance Court, it can work to their benefit in terms of his decision on how to prosecute their case.

Judge Carroll said he has two things he considers under the law when setting bail — whether or not a person is a flight risk and whether or not the person presents a danger to the community or him or herself.

While he rarely sees the flight risk, he said wrestling with keeping the community safe and still getting help for those who need mental health assistance is why he started the Compliance Court.

He said he knows there are no mental health services for people who are incarcerated while awaiting trial, so by keeping a few of them out of jail, giving them the structure they need to get the mental health help they need, he's optimistic that because of compliance courts that the final outcomes will be better for all.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 11:15

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State said to be looking to 'formalize' arrangemetns with homeowners who have been using railroad right-of-ways

MEREDITH — At a workshop yesterday, the Board of Selectmen declined to comment on a proposal by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) to lease railroad property owned by the state to the Needle Eye Association in order to construct a pedestrian crossing of the track, maintain a boat dock and provide access to Lake Winnipesaukee.

The state Council on Resources and Development will consider the proposal at a meeting on November 13.

For many years the DOT was permitted to lease waterfront property within the railroad right-of-way to abutting landowners to afford them access to the water. However, in 2007 the Legislature restricted the purpose of selling or leasing railroad properties to "continued operation of a railroad, or other public use."

At the same time, the Legislature addressed the circumstances of owners of developed residential lots adjacent to railroad properties on the shores of public waters. The DOT was authorized to lease the state-owned waterfront for the private use of those adjacent homeowners, who applied for a building permit or constructed a concrete foundation before January 1, 2011, so long as their use of the land did not interfere with railroad operations.

In correspondence, Patrick Herlihy, director of the Division of Aeronautics, Rail and Rransit at the DOT, explained that the Needle Eye Association owns a 17,400-square-foot corridor that serves as a right-of-way to the waterfront for residents of the subdivision. At an unknown time, members of the association built a dock on the railroad property. Herlihy said that the DOT is willing to lease between 50 feet and 300 feet of shorefront at the edge of the railroad right-of-way provided the association constructs and maintains a crossing with appropriate signage to alert pedestrians.

Selectman Peter Brothers told the board that he encountered similar situations while working at Meredith Village Savings Bank. "It's all about finding revenue," he remarked. He explained that after restricting leases of state-owned waterfront, the DOT is taking stock of such land, which has been used by adjacent property owners without leases — in cases for many years — and entering formal arrangements with them.

Brothers said that since no new development is planned for the property, apart from the pedestrian crossing, there was no reason for the Selectboard to comment.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 12:57

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