Pinkerton, Hooksett Continue Conceptual Talks

Though the Hooksett School Board has unanimously authorized SAU 15 Superintendent Dr. Charles “Phil” Littlefield to enter into contract negotiations with Pinkerton Academy, Littlefield said this week that at this point, all conversations between him and Pinkerton Headmaster Mary Anderson are “conceptual” in nature.

During its Tuesday, Sept. 3 meeting, the Hooksett board authorized Littlefield to enter into negotiations after he reported back from a meeting with Anderson on Aug. 27.
In a phone interview Thursday, Littlefield stressed the fact that any discussions with Anderson were conceptual. “These are concepts,” he said. “We discussed things such as, ‘Could we pursue something like this?’”
One of the concepts they are exploring is how many students will be allowed to attend schools other than Pinkerton. “Hooksett is a large community geographically,” Littlefield explained, “and parts of Hooksett could represent a pretty long commute. It’s not necessarily longer than students in other school districts, but it may be more convenient for some students to attend a closer school.”
In his talk with Anderson they discussed allowing up to 75 students to go to other schools in the first year of the contract, up to 65 in the second, up to 55 in the third and then up to 45 per year for the rest of the contract.  
Littlefield emphasized the fact that all Hooksett freshmen would be welcome at Pinkerton, “they would accept all our youngsters,” but that the district could send 75 to other schools in the first year “if we so chose.”
The clause allowing students to attend other schools would build in “a transition and a certain amount of flexibility,” Littlefield said.
He added, “We want to do an orderly transition that’s in the best interests of the kids.”
Other preliminary discussions involved looking at the provisions in contracts with other sending towns, Derry, Chester and Hampstead, Littlefield said. They looked at things such as the voice of the superintendent and board of the sending district, what representation the sending districts have on the Pinkerton board, and making sure Hooksett would have the same opportunities as the other sending districts.
He emphasized that everything is “conceptual” at this point and that the nuts and bolts of a contract would be worked out by him and Anderson later.
He and Anderson did come to a preliminary agreement that any contract would be 10 years in length, the minimum required by the state Board of Education.
The arrival of the Hooksett students matches up with a decline in Pinkerton enrollment, Littlefield said, and would provide “continuity and consistency” for the semi-private academy.
But it will take a while, Littlefield said, and there are “a lot of moving parts.”  Manchester will be one of those moving parts, as it may possibly receive some of the students opting for other schools.  Hooksett has been sending high schoolers to Manchester for 100 years, Littlefield said.
Anderson wrote in an e-mail, “Our intention will be to work towards only positive impacts of Hooksett students attending our school. We would not allow overcrowding. Projections indicate that Pinkerton’s enrollment would remain stable, growing little if at all, with a phase-in of students from Hooksett.”
Hooksett withdrew from its contract with Manchester in part because of alleged overcrowding in Manchester classrooms.
Anderson continued, “With stable enrollment, students can keep a rich variety of courses and opportunities while tuition remains reasonable, presently well over 20 percent below the state average cost-per-pupil. Pinkerton is dually committed to its students and the taxpayers of our partner districts.”
Anderson concluded, “We’ve found these forecasts are generally accurate, and they predict enrollment at Pinkerton will decrease some 500 students in 10 years, so attendance by Hooksett at Pinkerton would actually keep enrollment about where it is now, at a highly manageable level and to the benefit of students and the school districts they represent.”
Auburn sent its first full classes to Pinkerton this fall after voting to have Pinkerton as its school of record. This was a grassroots movement, Littlefield said, coming from the community rather than from the board and administration. “The formal tuition agreement began this September,” he said.  
“I have to put on my ‘Auburn’ hat,” Littlefield said jokingly. For Auburn, the transition from Manchester was “flawless.”
Littlefield described the Pinkerton staff and trustees as helpful during the Auburn transition.  “I enjoyed the interaction, the communication, our ability to influence programs and curriculum.”  Pinkerton has sent him data on Auburn students, which Littefield characterized as “invaluable.”
He’s hoping for the same experience with Hooksett.
Littlefield said no date has yet been set for his next meeting with Anderson.

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