Al Howland for Oyster River School Board
B.S. Biology Hobart College, M.S.Ed Northern Illinois University
Past Teaching Experience:
Biology and Earth Science Teacher at Alan B. Shepard High School
Government/ Community Service:
Durham Representative Oyster River School Board 2012-Present
Durham Town Council 2016- Present
School Board/Town Council Committee Experience:
Oyster River Negotiations Committee, Oyster River Budget Committee, Oyster River Sustainability Committee, Oyster River Wellness Committee, Durham Economic Development Committee, Durham Agricultural Commission, Durham Integrated Waste Management Advisory Commission, Durham Parks and Recreation Committee, Celebrate Durham.
Years as a Durham Resident: 22
Over the last nine years, I have had the privilege of serving as the Durham representative on the Oyster River School Board. Additionally, for the last five years, I have also been a member of the Durham Town Council. The appearance of COVID-19 last year has been a remarkably disruptive event. It has been painful for students, parents, teachers, and school staff, as well as the general public. It forced the School Board to wrestle with some extraordinarily tough choices. Despite the recent promise of vaccines, the next year will continue to be challenging. It will require Board members to have the ability to respectfully listen to multiple opinions, have a clear understanding of School Board roles and responsibilities, and have the ability to collaborate with school staff. These are traits that have defined my time on the Oyster River School Board and Durham Town Council. As I approach the end of my third term, I feel the one year at large position provides a good opportunity to use my experience to help the district chart a course past the pandemic. Looking ahead, here are some of the challenges we face.
The safety of students and staff should be our highest priority. In the fall, a team comprised of administrators and nurses provided recommendations for masking, social distancing, and COVID protocols. The district has also engaged an epidemiologist to help provide weekly updates on the criteria for opening the schools. These can be found on the district website. While we have hopes that the vaccine will help us return to “normal”, the Board should continue to follow the recommendations of our core Covid team.
Social Distancing requirements limit the number of students in the schools and have forced the district to adopted hybrid plans. Each of these plans has significant flaws. Teachers have expressed concern about the loss of instructional time and parents have raised concerns about student engagement. How can we make these flawed plans better? An instructional committee comprised of teachers, parents, administrators, and School Board members has written a report of instruction strategy recommendations to address the problems associated with asynchronous learning. Staff and parents will need support implementing them.
Instructional losses over the last year need to be considered when planning for the summer and fall. An expansion of the existing summer REACH program is an interesting idea. Instruction in areas of need could be provided in the morning, and Durham Parks and Recreation could provide fun activities in the afternoon. The goal is to provide a positive experience that removes the “stigma of summer school.” School staff will also need professional development opportunities to process lessons from the last year and to plan for the fall. The proposed 21-22 budget includes a $300,000 COVID contingency fund that can be used for summer and fall programs.
Social-emotional and mental health issues have been a major focus of the counseling department and implementing a multi-tiered support system across the district is part of the district strategic plan. Isolation and student disengagement are two major concerns raised by parents and teachers during the pandemic. Evaluation and funding of the MTSS will be an important part of the next budget development process.
One of the primary roles of the School Board is to develop the district budget. Funding the schools while controlling community tax impacts is always a struggle. We need to be mindful of parents that have kids in the schools and residents who do not. Next year’s budget will include the second half of the bond payment for the construction of the new middle school. Since the State of New Hampshire no longer provides building aid, careful multi-year planning is required to prevent tax rates from spiking. This past year, I had an opportunity to chair the Budget Committee, and we spent six months crafting the warrant on the March Ballot. I would strongly suggest that this committee be allowed to bring the School Board a recommendation for the fiscal 22-23 budget.
While there will be a candidates’ night that should provide an opportunity to ask questions, I try to make myself easily available to residents. If you have a question, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t forget, election day is March 9th.