Technology instructor Thomas Lienhard asked about technology moving forward in the classroom. Lienhard said that in Burlington, where he lives, the high school has iPads in every classroom. Chester said there is no replacement for classroom instruction, but that he is still pushing for money from the state so communities like Haverhill can enhance their computers and other technology.
When the discussion turned to special education, officials said Haverhill faces a bigger challenge than most Massachusetts communities. The city has a larger percentage of students with significant disabilities than many other cities and towns, they said.
Chester said he is impressed that Haverhill tries to include special education students in regular training whenever possible.
“One thing I really like that I’ve seen here in Haverhill is a real coordination of regular education and special education, as well as regular education and ELL programs,” Chester said. “That to me is usually a marker that students are being given access to what the jargon calls the general curriculum and that to me is a really healthy sign.”
ELL, or English Language Learners, refers to students who are not proficient in English and need special training to improve those skills.
Maury Covino, retired special education director for Haverhill who continues to advise the city, told Chester that less than 1 percent of special education students in the district pass the Alterative Assessment MCAS. He said this is a concern because these scores affect the overall scores of a school.
Dianne Connolly, principal of Pentucket Lake Elementary School, told Chester that her building, because it is a newer one and is handicap accessible, houses many programs. Twenty-nine percent of the student population is special education, she said.
“It presents some challenges,” she said.
“The bottom line for me is, is it working?” Chester said. “Are kids benefiting or not benefiting?”