Londonderry High School has been selected to host the 2015 Education Summit on Aug. 19, sponsored by the American Federation for Children and The Seventy Four, non-profits dedicated to educational opportunities for children in the U.S.
The political event will bring together Republican presidential candidates to engage in public discussions on the future of America’s Kindergarten through Grade 12 education system, as well as provide a hands-on learning opportunity for Londonderry students.
The Educational Summit in Londonderry will be the first of two such events, the second of which will feature Democratic presidential candidates at a school in Iowa.
“Last year, 1.3 million children dropped out of school, and U.S. students have flat lined on national and international tests,” Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children, said in a press release. “It’s time to have a national conversation, and no better time than as we look to 2016.”
Confirmed attendees for the Summit include candidates former Gov. Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. John Kasich and Gov. Scott Walker.
“This is going to be a huge production,” School District Facilities Director Chuck Zappala said of the event. “Over the years, we have had some candidates make appearances, but never on this magnitude. I have been here for over 28 years, and this is no doubt the biggest thing I have seen come to Londonderry. It will take them three 18-hour days to set up.”
As crews set up a television studio in the gym, Zappala said students in the school’s video production classes have been invited to watch them work and conduct sound and picture tests.
Students in the school’s history and civics classes have also been invited to view the event, and members of the school newspaper staff will have an opportunity to shadow reporters.
It’s anticipated that up to 200 news agencies from around the country will attend to vet candidates in the Republican presidential race, and between 500 and 600 members of the public will be admitted by a lottery system to attend the forum.
The Summit will be streamed live on CNN and other news networks, as well as recorded for play on other stations.
Representatives from the Washington, D.C.-based company hired to produce the event, Harbinger Outreach, visited several area schools before choosing Londonderry, according to Superintendent Nate Greenberg.
“They did some research on a number of other Districts, and based on that research felt we were a really quality district. They came for a visit and they were greeted in a really friendly manner. They found people easy to work with, and I think that speaks well of the District. This is an interesting thing for the community,” he said.
Zappala said the District was informed of its selection to host the event just a few weeks ago, and he has been working overtime with the production company to plan for what will be a complete conversion of the high school gymnasium into a television studio.
“I met on site last week with about 15 people from the production company and spent almost the entire day looking at the gym’s infrastructure, electrical and plumbing. They’re going to set up a stage with lighting and sound systems. They’re going to bring a truck with a portable air conditioning unit, as well as a couple generators to run the air conditioner,” said Zappala. “We’re having weekly teleconference meetings, and next week a few people from the production company will be on site with the engineers who built the gym to make sure everything is being done safely.”
The District is to be reimbursed for 100 percent of the costs associated with the production, down to the expense of extra toilet paper for the bathrooms, according to Zappala.
“No taxpayer funds will be used for this,” he said.
The District has calculated custodial charges, police and fire details, even the anticipated costs for electricity and water in the bathrooms, according to Zappala.
Food service will be providing a boxed lunch for reporters and staff, and in the case of bad weather, the non-profits sponsoring the event have agreed to pay the cost of relocating sports teams that would have practiced in the gym to SportsZone in Derry.
The Summit is to be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., offering each candidate time for a short speech, followed by a question and answer session with The Seventy Four Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Campbell Brown, an award winning journalist and former news anchor for CNN, as well as with other features reporters.
“There is no question that for far too long the failing education system in America has not been given the attention a crisis of this nature demands,” Brown said in a press release. “This summit is a unique opportunity to ensure education is a national priority as we head into 2016, and that we hear directly from the most influential voices in politics about their vision on how to fix this broken system.”