Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY — On the wall of Serena Levine’s office hangs a sign that reads, “Gifted students need to spend part of their day with someone who laughs at their jokes.” Providing just such an environment for gifted Derry students has been one of Levine’s goals over the past 15 years as the director of the district’s Program for Acceleration and Curriculum Enhancement.
“Any student is more comfortable when they’re being challenged at whatever level they are,” said Levine, who is the district’s director of supplemental services. “I think this program offers the opportunities to be challenged that might not always be there and the chance to work with students who have similar needs at a similar level.
PACE directly serves 275 students in accelerated math courses for grades four through eight, Levine said, and another 115 students in accelerated language arts courses for grades six through eight.
In fourth grade, selected students join an accelerated math class that covers material from fourth through sixth grade in two years, Levine said. Those courses then continue into middle school and ultimately prepare students to take an advanced track at Pinkerton Academy, she said.
One PACE teacher is stationed at each of Derry’s five elementary schools to teach accelerated math classes and provide wider enrichment programs for the whole school community, like short-term groups on a special topic or specific subject intervention programs at certain grade levels.
Two PACE teachers are placed at both middle schools to lead accelerated courses in math and language arts, which is only offered at the middle school level.
Levine said that Derry has one of the more comprehensive gifted programs among other public school districts, but that hasn’t always been the case, she said.
“When I first started working in the program, there were two teachers who traveled back and forth between four elementary schools and provided fourthand fifth-grade accelerated math and that’s about all they had time to do,” Levine said.
“Now it gives teachers the opportunity to be a part of that school community and to have the time to work with colleagues in the building and to have connections to know students better,” she said. And after 15 years growing Derry’s gifted program, Levine will be honored this weekend with a New Hampshire Friend of the Gifted award at the annual New England Conference on the Gifted and Talented in Connecticut.
“It’s an honor to be able to advocate for this population of students to make sure that their needs are met, so it’s a treat to be honored for that work,” she said.
Levine first started working in the district in 1976 as a first grade teacher at Derry Village School. In the early ‘80s, Levine took a break from teaching to raise her two children — both of whom are now in the education field.
By 1995, Levine began directing the PACE program, but now her responsibilities include facilitating the district’s ESOL and summer school programs, among others, said Superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon.
Levine also runs a new teacher evaluation program, where Hannon said she serves as a “mirror” for new teachers struggling in their first years.
“Serena’s talents are many and her hats are many,” Hannon said Wednesday. “She’s such an upbeat, positive person for this district and she has such a history here. She’s just a great asset to everybody.”