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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Howard Muscott talks with faculty from the Nashua School District during a Life Space Crisis Intervention workshop Thursday, December 2, 2010, at Nashua High School North.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Howard Muscott talks with faculty from the Nashua School District during a Life Space Crisis Intervention workshop Thursday, December 2, 2010, at Nashua High School North.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stimulus primarily used on tried ways

Nashua primarily used its stimulus funding to continue or expand on initiatives already under way – instead of using its money for professional development that brought new approaches in education to the district.

“For the most part, this allowed us to build on existing initiatives rather than pursuing a new set of initiatives for the two years we had the funds,” Nashua Superintendent Mark Conrad said.

With approximately 13,000 students and 17 schools, Nashua is New Hampshire’s second-largest school district.

Over the two-year period, Nashua was set to receive $5.2 million in stimulus funding, which was provided through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The vast majority of Nashua’s money was put into creating new positions or keeping people on staff. But part of the money was set aside to pay for consultants to come in and help develop the skills of the staff. In the first year, just over $100,000 of stimulus funding was spent on professional development. Many of the people and companies brought in have worked with the district in the past.

For example, one of the largest contracts approved through stimulus funding was with ICAT Resources. In its second year of stimulus funding in 2009-10, Nashua is spending $50,000 of the money to continue the second year of a three-year training sequence with the original 11 project schools, as well as bring the city’s other six schools into the initial training phase.

The previous year, ICAT’s first in the district, its services were paid for through an “in need of improvement” grant, which is also federally funded. Conrad said the district intends to finish the third and final year of the program next year, but where the money will come from once the stimulus money runs out is unknown.

“We’re not going to walk away from that, so that may limit funds for other needs,” Conrad said.

ICAT is based in Cantonsville, Md., and provides training that is meant to reduce the number of special education referrals by working with struggling learners early.

“For us, the real goal is helping kids, but the real long-term goal is helping classroom teachers,” said Todd Gravois, president and general manager of ICAT Resources. Gravois estimated fewer than 10 percent of the districts his company is working for are using ARRA funding to pay for the services.

Conrad said the professional development appears to be working, but he added that it’s too soon for that progress to be seen in any data. Anecdotally, Conrad said several schools have been able to lower the rate at which students are identified as needing special education services.

Additionally, Conrad said it’s difficult to look at the ARRA funding in a vacuum. The influx of federal dollars allowed the district to put money into other areas. For example, transferring the ICAT training to ARRA funding meant the district could pay for a math coach using its “in need of improvement” grant.

Among the goals Nashua set for use of the ARRA funding was “consideration of a short-term investment for long-term benefits.” At Dr. Crisp Elementary School, Principal Jane Quigley said she chose to bring in people to train staff with whom she had experience and was comfortable.

“All of our consultants are individuals we have seen and had experience with prior to this funding, whether we’ve seen them at a school, a conference or had interactions with other schools that have worked with them,” Quigley said.

While there has been debate nationally about the effectiveness and quality of certain types of professional development, Quigley said all of the programs brought into Dr. Crisp are high-quality.

“They are never canned programs,” she said. “They are always designed specifically to our building.”

Among the consultants brought to the elementary school through stimulus funding was Denise Shea, who worked as a third-grade teacher at Dr. Crisp before retiring in 2006. Since then, she has worked as an independent contractor for the school, training staff and working with students on writing skills.

In 2009, Shea’s payment was transferred to the stimulus funding. The first year, she made $17,200. The second year, she is set to make $12,000. She works part time, three days a week at $25 an hour.

“My job is to get the kids excited about writing, and I feel like I’ve met that goal,” she said. “There is a big difference from previous years.”

Shea, who has 32 years of experience as a teacher, was brought to the school immediately after her retirement from there. Shea was asked by Quigley to stay on to help with teaching writing. Like all of the contracts approved through stimulus funding, there was no request for proposals or consideration of other applicants.

Howard Muscott has been used as a consultant in Nashua before the stimulus funding to help train staff on approaches to dealing with student behavior. Using stimulus money, the district has hired Muscott for Life Space Crisis Intervention certification training, which, according to its website, “is an advanced, interactive therapeutic strategy for turning crisis situations into learning opportunities for children and youth with chronic patterns of self-defeating behaviors.”

For 5 1⁄2 days of work, Muscott is being paid $12,025. Materials for the 15 staff members who will be able to take part in the training will cost $2,250. Muscott is co-director of the New Hampshire Center for Effective Behavioral Interventions and Support. Nashua school officials said the long-term benefit of the training will be that some of the participants will be able to train other staff in the district.

Conrad said the training is critical. Without it, the district would likely see more injuries to staff and an increase in out-of-district placements. It’s unclear whether the training will be able to continue without the stimulus funding.

“Some of that may just go away, and that’s unfortunate, but that’s the nature of limited budgeting. You have to set your priorities,” Conrad said.

Prior to the stimulus funding, Edwards Educational Services, based in Alexandria, Va., had been working with failing schools in the city to develop plans for improvement, a requirement of No Child Left Behind. The company lists Nashua as one of 11 school districts and cities across the country with which it has long-term professional development projects.

In the first year of stimulus funding, the company was paid $33,084 in Title I stimulus funding to continue that work.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or