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Reimagining The Places We Call “School”

Written by Barry Brensinger

Many of us have vivid memories of February 20, 2020, the evening our Board of School Committee adopted “Our Community’s Plan For Manchester’s Future of Learning” as the Manchester School District’s strategic plan.  That night, the seats were filled in Memorial High’s auditorium and the air was teeming with optimism and purpose. Testimony was overwhelmingly positive, affirming the work of the Community Planning Group – with one exception.  Some wanted to know why the plan did not address facilities.

Long before that big night, many understood that Manchester School District’s facilities were in need of substantial modernization.  Several of our schools are among the oldest in the state, some approaching functional obsolescence.

In response to questioning, the first and only to-date addendum to the strategic plan was issued just two days later. It began by calling out the physical state of our schools:

“Recent studies conducted by MSD confirm the inefficient use of space in many of our current schools.  Additionally, some facilities are antiquated, with dated infrastructures and limited technologies.”

Then, it went on to highlight potential:

 “Modernized schools could complement and enhance learning, serve as multi-purpose centers of community, and be powerful symbols of our commitment to education and sources of community spirit and pride.” 

And concluded by framing the conditions needed to launch a compelling facilities plan:

“A comprehensive system-wide facilities assessment is a worthy undertaking in the near future.  However, it was intentionally excluded from this plan because:

  • A legitimate facilities plan could be similar in scope and time to the work of this strategic plan.  Such plans are typically beyond the scope of strategic plans.
  • Facilities plans customarily follow the adoption of effective strategic plans.  This is logical because facilities must be programmed and designed to support the District’s strategic objectives.
  • Perhaps most importantly, while new facilities are a valid aspirational goal, we believe that now is not quite the appropriate time for their development.  As evidenced throughout this plan, there is much foundational work to be done to improve our schools and optimize our system, laying the groundwork for appropriate facilities investments.”

Three years into the strategic plan, these essential conditions have been met and NOW is the time to address the places, buildings and sites, we call “school”.  Thanks to the efforts of our District’s leaders, teachers, staff, and community partners significant progress has been made.  Many initiatives of the strategic plan are well underway and the District is positioned for the next critical step – the creation of a facilities plan that mirrors the strategic plan and is equally aspirational and achievable.

The planning process for reimagining our schools has begun and the District has thoughtfully included opportunities for community engagement. It is so important that everyone participate and help shape the schools that will substantially define our community for decades to come.

Together we can explore and discover best answers to formative questions, such as:

  • How do we optimize our schools and system for economies of right-sizing and resource optimization?
  • How can teaching and learning be enhanced by spaces, equipment, and technologies that enable and inspire our students, teachers, and staff?
  • How can our schools better serve families and the broader community as centers of gathering, sharing, and access to information and services?
  • How will our schools reflect our collective vision and values and instill ever greater pride in the people and place of Manchester?

As demonstrated by our community’s strategic planning process, best plans are formed by the minds of many.  And, what could be more rewarding (and fun!) than working together to reimagine and shape the schools of our future?

Now is the time to show up!

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The power of building and tending to community partnerships is a multiplier, expanding our collective knowledge, expertise, experience, capacity, resources, opportunity, and commitment to our common goal of excellence and equity for all learners. The old saying that, “Two heads are better than one”, certainly applies to our work, and we are so very fortunate to have many, many heads contributing to the success of our District.