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SAU 95 Moves Forward Without 'In Need of Improvement' Labels

A third round of waivers to the No Child Left Behind Act was accepted in late June.

Windham High School file photo. Photo Credit: Jake O'Donnell
Windham High School file photo. Photo Credit: Jake O'Donnell
The School in Need of Improvement (SINI) and District in Need of Improvement (DINI) labels are no more in town, as Windham prepares to move forward under a new strategy being adopted by the state.

After a third round, a waiver to the No Child Left Behind Act was accepted on June 26 by the U.S. Department of Education.

Windham Superintendent Winfried Feneberg said last week that because of the waiver, the punitive aspects of the act will no longer take their toll on districts like Windham.

Feneberg said that with districts required to prove proficiency based on New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) results, a total of 75 percent of schools in the state were being labeled as failing.

"It masks a lot of the real issues that are out here in the state and that schools struggle with," he said. "It hit communities like Windham and others that are producing a very good educational product."

With the DINI and SINI classifications going away, Feneberg said that limitations on restrictions on Title I funds will also be removed.

In the past, a certain percentage of funds needed to be dedicated to professional development activities and other factors out of the control of the district.

"So being able to have local control again, get the full allocation for Title I is a welcome addition and change," Feneberg said.

He said the waiver is meant to focus on targeting help to the lowest performing schools in the state.

According to a Union Leader report last month, 224 of the 468 public elementary and secondary schools receive Title I funds. 

Feneberg said that for school districts like Windham, the approach is to celebrate success and focus on quality improvement over time.

"The focus is really to prove and promote growth that individual students can achieve from year to year, so you can track individual students and you can have student learning objectives that are annually reachable and achievable," he said.

Future teacher evaluations will also change, with 20 percent of their evaluations being based on student performance.

Since that evaluation is harder to reach in non-tested subjects, Feneberg said that district professionals will most likely take the isue up with the Windham Education Association during contract negotiations.

Principals and administrators will also be measured in terms of their effectiveness, a concept that is conceptual right now but will be developed over time.

School Board Vice Chair Stephanie Wimmer wondered what the changes will mean for Windham's SINI and DINI committees, which she said have created a lot of good.

"From the (committees) I sat on, I think there was a very good spirit on them of continuous improvement," she said.

Fellow board members Jerome Rekart and Michelle Farrell agreed that the committees still have value. Rekart noted that despite better NECAP scores in recent years, there is always room to improve.

Feneberg said that while they may not be labeled as SINI or DINI committees anymore, the work of those committees is still valued and necessary.

"There's really a feeling in the state that this is a new beginning, away from the punishment to quality and acknowledging the hard work that our students and staff and parents do."

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