Looking at the workings of a council
I was invited to sit in on one session of the Community Council that serves the Fall Mountain Regional School District (Administrative Unit No. 60).
A grant from the Teacher Corps, jointly administered by the local school district and Keene (N.H.) State College, required that a council be formed to coordinate activities throughout the school district, but particularly in Walpole, Alstead, and Charlestown.
The Teacher Corps grant runs out this year; the US Department of Education is providing no further funds. And the meeting I attended was devoted almost entirely to planning for a continuation.
A teacher from the college has served as one of the two directors of the council. The other is Marie Commos, who stepped out of the classroom after 15 years to help the council and the communities. She will return to the classroom this fall.
It seems that each of the several towns once had its own separate school system; these were later joined. This exposed ''a lot of alienation,'' according to Marie Commos.
She feels, as do several of the council members, that ''communication among the districts has improved and that there is a real spirit of cooperation now.''
The meeting I attended started with a discussion of the future relationship of the council and the schools. Details were unresolved, but the council wanted a dual role of helping and being a watchdog on activities and school policies. It wanted a seat on the administrative team governing the school district.
In a report given on negotiations between council and district, it was noted that some school people showed the ''usual resistance to outsiders.''
A more specific matter was funding for the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) program - which provides needy children with their own copies of such books as ''Make Way for Ducklings.''
When a bake sale was suggested, and one of the women (the Community Council is made up entirely of women from the three towns) groaned at the thought of all the work a bake sale entails, another council member mused:
''Good things come hard.'' This brought forth general agreement that RIF was worth the trouble, and that only good could come from letting children start their own personal libraries.
Next on the agenda was building a resource file on people and places with background to strengthen the school program. The council member from Charlestown explained that she had already used the file and taken her private preschoolers on one of the suggested trips. Her assessment:
The discussion then swirled around making good use of the file, keeping it up to date, and even the more subtle question of how to draw in these ''superb'' resources to benefit the classrooms of ''reluctant'' teachers.
Some of the subjects covered by resources on file in these three rural New Hampshire towns are:
* Antique airplanes.
* Crewel embroidery.
* Galapagos Islands.
* Stained glass.
* Walpole history.
There was a lively discussion about volunteers in the schools. Effort after effort was being made by the 14 women sitting around the square of desks to ''not reinvent the wheel.''
A serious concern was raised on how to bring about ''better recognition of the contribution from volunteers.'' Here, a few schoolteachers and administrators came in for a drubbing.
Next on the agenda was a method for committee members to keep in touch. It was discovered that while it was a toll call for a member in Charlestown to call a fellow member in Alstead or Walpole, all calls from Alstead out to the two other towns were toll-free. Hence a phone tree was quickly established.
On to the development of a program for children in the district who are gifted, talented, or both. One member had done homework, reporting initial contacts and sharing some frustrations already emerging.
She got a mandate, needed or not, to ''press on.''
A discussion about how to keep on with problem solving, decision making, and coordinating community concern yielded this lament from a woman with many years of experience as a volunteer:
''I don't want to be a dropped stitch! How can we be sure to knit ourselves into a useful fabric?''
That sentiment drew warm response from all present. For this observer, it appeared to be a moment of consolidation and deep caring.
A touchy issue hit the table next. The film ''The War Nobody Wins'' had both backers and adamant dissenters on presenting it to the schoolchildren. The school board was to preview the film and decide to show it or not. The community council wanted to play a significant role in the preview process.
A clear statement was made by one council member:
''We have got to clear the way so that the school board will accept our opinion.''
Then some concern was expressed over whether children should ever be shown films that are designed to be ''troubling.''
From a young mother: ''I worry about the child who begins to feel frustrated and adopts a sense of why care after seeing films of nuclear destruction.''
Next agenda item - a report from a council member who, in her watchdog capacity, had attended the last school board meeting. It was clear and thorough and went step by step through decisions made by the board the evening she attended the meeting.
For the next item - how the community council might get included in some outside funding - a school administrator (male) joined the group. He explained the process for applying for a block grant. Needed: a definition of goals for the 11-school district.
Then this reporter left for another appointment, only to learn that the meeting erupted and continued way beyond schedule when it was discovered that the school administration had - without first consulting the council - committed it to a point of view on a controversial school program.
I was assured that the council made its position clear to the school administrator.
No, there are no dropped stitches in the Charlestown, Alstead, and Walpole Community Council.