Interview with Dr. Charlé

Dr. Ed Charlé is a candidate for the Madbury seat on the Oyster River school board.  Election day is Tuesday, March 13th.     District voters from all three towns may vote in this race.   In order to let the district know him better, Dr. Charlé answered questions gathered from the community.

Thanks for talking to me today, Dr. Charlé.   Would you care to jump right in and comment on the pending Taylor lawsuit?

Mr. Taylor’s got a lot of good points, but it’s going to make the board’s life difficult if we have to start the superintendent search from scratch.

How do you feel about HB 542, the new New Hampshire law which will allow parents to request an alternative school curriculum for any subject to which they register an objection?

I need to learn more, but my initial reaction is negative.  It sounds like a way of undermining public education.  It undermines the whole basis of everybody working together for one goal which is always what public education has been.

How do you think the school district should respond?

It’s the law, so we have to obey.  If the district is negatively impacted, we may work to change the law.

Do you support the buyout of former superintendent Coulter last year for $185,000?

My understanding is he had one year left on his contract, and he got fully paid for not working that year.  Why the board needed to buy him out when his term was almost over, I’m not sure.  For a board that said it would keep the budget under control, it doesn’t seem like they were careful with the taxpayer’s money.

Do you think Creationism or Intelligent Design should be taught in public school?

Evolution forms the backbone of so much of our scientific theory.    Creationism may be taught in religion classes.  As to the bill that requires the religious beliefs of evolutionary theorists be taught, that’s not a topic for a science class.

Please explain your conception of the board’s role in budgeting and financial oversight.

I think what works best is when the board sets guidelines as to a responsible bottom line, and lets the administration work out how to get there.  It’s not the board’s job to form the budget; that’s a job that’s supposed to be done through the administration and by people who are much more informed about budget matters and education.  Superintendent Levesque suggests the board recommend a flat budget for next year, no increase.  If you direct the administration broadly like that, they’ll figure out how to juggle things so that cost cuts will happen without being a significant detriment to the way the schools work.  I don’t think the board should rely on using its line item veto.

Are we currently spending too much money?

It’s difficult to make apples to apples comparisons, but it does seem like we spend more money per student than some other excellent districts in the state.  Enrollment has been declining and is projected to continue to decline.  Making the budget flat is a place to start, and a welcome break from budgets that increase every year.  The high school energy audit, shocking as it was, gives us an opportunity to save tens of thousands of dollars annually in fuel costs for a small investment.

Do you think the district is on the right track?

I think there needs to be a lot of communication between the board and the community and the teachers and administration to make sure we are on the right track.

What would you like to change in our district?

I’d like to find a way for everyone to get along.

What would you like to preserve?

I met with a number of teachers and administration and I’m just so impressed with all of them.  They seem so enthusiastic and earnest about what they’re doing, and we need to preserve that.  And I understand the kids are generally very happy in school and we should preserve that.

Would you discuss school board matters with other school board members outside of posted meetings?

I think in some cases I’m not allowed to do that.  I’m going to obey the board members’ code of ethics.  I understand the board will be trained in the Right-To-Know law and I will do my best to follow it.

When a board member violates official policy, how should the board respond?

The rest of the board should try to bring the member back in line, while being careful to respect applicable laws and policies.

Do you have any ideas about improving the transparency of the board’s work?

I have heard a lot of frustration regarding communication between the board and community.  I think it is essential to increase this communication.  The board business is conducted more and more on a paperless system.  Public correspondence, mostly printed emails, is currently available at the SAU office to read.  Board email and public correspondence could routinely be posted online.  Also, I’d like to explore routinely posting other records that are subject to Right To Know.  This would improve transparency and decrease the number of Right To Know requests, as the information would already be out there.

Do you think schools should be run like a business?

In the sense that they have to meet a budget and work within financial constraints, sure. But the profit of the business is the education of the kids, which is hard to put into a business model.  So, in some ways yes, some ways no.  Education is as much an art as a science.

Do you support HB 1517 and HB 1413, which would have New Hampshire withdraw from No Child Left Behind and refuse over $61 million in federal funding?

I’ve never been a fan of NCLB, and talking with teachers, most consider it a real bane on their life.  But it’s a lot of money that we shouldn’t walk away from.  An option I’m interested in is for the state to apply for a waiver to partially escape the requirements of NCLB without losing the money.

In the past year the district has lost a superintendent, a director of instruction, a principal, a principal candidate, and a director of IT.  Would you care to comment?

It seems to be a sign of a district in trouble.  Hopefully the new board can heal the rifts between the various stakeholders and stem the tide of personnel changes.

Given the enormous testing pressures facing school districts in NH and the nation, to what extent do you believe Oyster River should cut resources and time from from the sciences, the social studies–including history, civics, economics, geography, etc., the arts and all other areas to increase test scores in language arts and math?

I don’t think that’s a good way to educate our kids.  If we can fit it in the budget, I’d like to see more arts and music in the schools.  I know the elementary schools use the teaching of science and other subjects as an opportunity to teach math and reading, which seems to be working.

Do you support our district’s philosophy of heterogeneous grouping and differentiated instruction?  What is your opinion on class size as it relates to the successful implementation of heterogeneous grouping and differentiated instruction?

Yes.   Since I’ve become a candidate, I’ve learned how important differentiated instruction is in the district.  On matters of education, I tend to support the educators.  I wouldn’t presume to know enough to comment on optimal class size for differentiated instruction.

A common concern with differentiated instruction is that it is difficult to challenge the high achievers. Do you share this view? How do you think this concern can be addressed within the district and the community?

You want to do everything you can to challenge every student to meet their potential.   I would look into expanding our relationship with UNH.

What is your opinion of tracking?

Tracking is a problem because it tends to keep students identified as below average performing at a lower level.  The students tend to believe the labels they’re given.  This lessens their motivation for achievement and the opportunities for late bloomers are reduced.

Would you care to comment on your own political affiliations?

No.  While I of course have political affiliations, as a board member I will try to be as neutral, as understanding, and as concillatory as I can be, especially in the divisive atmosphere that currently exists in the district.  My philosophy when it comes to school board: study and learn as much as I can, listen to what people have to say, discuss it openly, and try to come out with a reasonable conclusion.

Would you care to comment on your opponent’s tweets that caused an uproar last summer?

No, except to say that I don’t see any reason why a board member should not be held to at least as high a standard as we demand of our administrators, teachers, staff and students.

Any closing thoughts?

It’s been enlightening to listen to the community, administrators and teachers about their concerns with the district.   I’m hopeful that as part of a newly elected board I can work to heal our district, get control of costs, and move our focus back to educating every student.   If elected, I will work hard to restore and improve the reputation of the Oyster River Cooperative School District.   Durham, Madbury and Lee residents, please vote for me at your regular polling places on Tuesday, March 13th, 2012.