MANCHESTER, NH – Memorial High School Principal Arthur L. Adamakos said this past school year by far has been the most challenging in his 41-year-career with the Manchester School District.
Adamakos this week reflected on his career with the Manchester School District now that his June 30th retirement is in sight.
The COVID-19 pandemic upended the school year, resulting in remote learning since March and the cancellation of proms, award ceremonies and class trips. And there is still no word on how the city’s four high schools will celebrate graduations.
“My goal is to have a physical graduation, not a virtual one,” he said. “That’s what I have been campaigning for. Still, we’re going to have to practice social distancing.” And administrators must figure out how to deliver diplomas. “That could be interesting so there’s a lot to be discussed. It’s in progress,” he said.
It is important for the seniors but Adamakos is looking forward to it as well. After all, a retiring educator’s last official event is usually graduation.
He said the Class of 2020 “is a really good class. 22.5 percent of the class has a 3.5 grade point average or better. I feel bad because they lost out on the prom, award ceremonies and a play (“A Chorus Line”) had to be canceled. The band trip to New York City had to be canceled. Cultural trips to France and Greece had to be canceled or postponed.”
It began on March 17 when Manchester’s 13,702 students became remote learners; 1,403 of them attend Memorial High School. “We had a few days to plan and then bam, we had to go to remote learning,” Adamakos said. “That’s not really how education works. You want to look at all the alternatives and how to provide that service and then go forward and do the best you can.”
Despite the short notice, he said teachers have adapted to do the job.
”It’s just that we always worry about the kids who don’t learn best under that model and what are we going to do with those guys that need to see us every day and who need that interaction with someone who is a positive role model on a regular basis,” he said. “That’s the group I worry about the most.”
Since March the students also lost the social aspect of high school – with both teachers and classmates.
“You can always sit in front of a computer and download material and read it on your own but when you get stuck you need that person to coach you along,” Adamakos said. “It’s all about relationships and being that positive role model for the kids that need us the most. I like seeing the faculty every day but right now we’re doing Zoom meetings with them.”
The Zoom sessions work OK with educators, he said, because they are adults. “We go with the flow,” he said. “We know this is the best of the situation and it’s been working out OK when we have meetings but that’s not the job” when it comes to students.”
Teachers need to interact with kids.
“I think if the faculty took a vote they would prefer to be in school. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of the kids would want to be in school rather than at home because of all the distractions,” he said.
Another challenge with remote learning is teachers are doing double-duty – teaching their class and their kids at the same “which can be stressful for some people,” he said.
Bandwith and connection speeds also are issues.
“If you have five people in your home all on computers at the same time and you are teaching classes while your kids are trying to do their school work, it’s really a challenge,” he said.
It is taxing the bandwidth of the home and the individual places, he said.
At Memorial, there is a straight connection to the internet with wireless access in each room.
“Not so at a house. Some people are having a hard time connecting. So, it’s been a challenge. We’d like everything to go as smoothly as it possibly can, and how do you do that when people are having trouble connecting. How do you reach those people?” he said.
Adamakos said some people believe educators can adapt and do everything online. But, he said, it doesn’t work for everybody.
To ensure all students have the same opportunities, Adamakos said assistant principals, guidance counselors and volunteers called homes to find out what the internet connectivity was for every person. “That was a Herculean task,” he said.
Out of the 1,400 students, about 90 to 100 were provided with laptops.
There were also 92 students identified as preferring hard copies. Teachers came up with three weeks of lessons for them and created a packet of hard copy material which was then delivered to the student’s home. Assistant principals, teachers and Adamakos and his administrative assistant made the deliveries.
Students leave their completed work in a drop-off box at the school.
“We let it sit in the box for a couple of days as a preventive measure before we can scan it in and send it back to the teachers. So we have been doing that for the past nine weeks,” he said. “It’s a lot of work but it’s a service we provide for our kids so everyone is on the same playing field at the end of the year.”
He said he is proud of his staff.
“They did a lot of leg work with the telephone, delivering materials – we didn’t mail anything to anybody,” he said. “We went right to their house and dropped it off. The first batch I did a third of the deliveries, myself with my administrative assistant. I drove up to the house, she went out, put it at the door, rang the doorbell and ran back to the car. Back, then there were 50 to 60 stops per person. Now we’re down to fewer stops but we have to do that to make sure they get the materials in time.”
Forty-one years ago, when he first took a social studies teaching job at the then Hillside Junior High School, filling in for a teacher who was on maternity leave, there was no Internet.
Obviously he said the biggest change over his four decades in education is technology.
“When I first started we had an abacus,” he laughs.
He had taught about five years before “the advent of the personal computer. When the Mac came out in ’84 and all the other IBM/PC types came out in the early 1980s it was like, “Wow, what can we do with this?’ Now, we do everything with this,” he said.
Adamakos views his career as a calling and one where you have to stay current to meet the students’ needs.
Years ago, there was never a thought to have social workers in the high school, something Memorial incorporated about four to five years ago. They work to connect students with services they need. There is also a Student Assistance Program where a counselor will talk to them about obstacles to learning.
Working with faculty, he said one accomplishment was improving the quality of Memorial.
“When I got here fewer than half the kids were going to college,” he said. “Now it’s between 75 and 80 percent.” They are going to either two- or four-year colleges.
He said the dropout rate was pretty high 25 years ago but has steadily declined.
“For 2018-19, our dropout rate was 1.7 percent,” he said. Some years it is higher but generally under 3 percent. “It’s been that way for quite a while.”
He believes it’s continued to decline for several reasons. What also helped was Gov. John Lynch passing a rule that said kids couldn’t drop out of school until they were 18-years-old.
“That made a big difference,” he said.
Years ago when the city’s dropout rate hovered around 25 percent, Adamakos said it was a time when people could obtain jobs and make a living.
“Back then you only needed a high school diploma to survive. Now you need an advanced degree,” he said. “The longer you stay in school the better paying job you’ll get which has really assisted us.”
Adamakos only taught for eight years before moving into administration. He was at Hillside for about 1 ½ years before moving on to Memorial where he taught social studies, civics, U.S. history and economics.
His first administrative job was as an assistant principal at West High School. He became principal at Hillside at the age of 31, the youngest ever in the city.
Then it was on to Memorial, where he’s been principal for 25 years.
“People think I was born in Manchester because I’ve been here so long but I was not,” he said. He was born in Nashua. “They also think I went to Memorial High School.”
That would be another no. Adamakos was graduated in 1974 from Nashua High School. He went on to graduate from Boston University and earned his master’s degree from Rivier College in Nashua.
Adamakos is a bachelor. “People claim I was married to the school,” he said. He said he was promoted at a very young age and being a principal involves a lot of night work so that didn’t leave much time for a social life.
“Plus, I also took care of my aging parents but they’re both deceased now,” he said. “The fact is there were other obligations.”
Marriage just didn’t materialize. “I’m not remorseful about that. It’s just the way sometimes life works out. It is what it is. I am content,” he said.
He also faced medical issues, undergoing by-pass surgery in 2012.
With retirement, he’s looking forward to doing things he didn’t have a chance to do, like reconnecting with family. Adamakos is a twin. His brother George went to West Point and retired from the U.S. Army before building a career in the defense industry. George and his wife Julie live in Exeter.
He isn’t completely giving up education, however, because he still is going to teach part-time at Southern New Hampshire University.