March 29, 2007

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Manchester Publisher's Note: A West advantage
By†Jody Reese

The departure of almost a third of West High students to Bedford could be a great opportunity for the city of Manchester.

More than 800 students from Bedford will be leaving West High School and heading to the newly minted Bedford High School (400 per year for the next two years). For some this has been a blow to the school, but itís also a chance to try something very different in the city.

New Hampshire has never really had magnet schools. These are schools that specialize in an academic field and draw kids from all over a region (Manchester School of Technology is one exception). In other areas with bigger cities, magnet schools have been an option for students for more than 20 years. Some specialize in science, others in the arts. That might not be a bad model for West to follow and it could help the city.

Manchester is the center of the most affluent, business-heavy and populated region of the state. The stateís media, banking, sports and real estate companies are based here in the city. Adding a specialized magnet school would help make the city more of an education center. The Manchester region already has nine colleges in it.

Given that greater Manchester (basically all of the Merrimack Valley) is trying to attract small high-tech companies, making West a science magnet seems the best option. Dean Kamenís FIRST, DEKA and Segway add muscle to that, as do Autodesk and a few other area tech firms.

A science high school would encourage more science and engineering programs at the local colleges and might even be the deciding factor in getting University of New Hampshire to locate its science center in the Millyard.

A science magnet school would also bring parents into the area who want their kids to get a top-notch science education. These are usually the type of parents who themselves have skills that would help make this area more of a draw for high-tech companies. The two could end up feeding off each other in a very positive way. This type of school would also help create a more science- or tech-based culture in the area and that can only help.

New Hampshire and, unfortunately, this entire country is in need of skilled tech workers. Some experts fear that this shortage will mean companies will leave the United States in search of more educated workers in China, Korea and India. While a science magnet high school isnít going to solve that problem, it could give this region a real advantage in attracting companies in search of skilled tech workers.

In the end, high schools, just like hospitals, can benefit from doing one thing very well. A science magnet is likely to attract kids from all over the region, helping fund the school, replacing the lost revenue from the exiting Bedford students ó and that in and of itself would be turning adversity into opportunity.