MANCHESTER, NH – This school year marks the 176th year of Central High School. We hold a long tradition of academic excellence, passionate community involvement and, of course, Central Pride. Over this time Central High School has seen tremendous change – both positive and challenging. With the pandemic, everything was altered. School, sports, and life as we knew it came to a screeching halt.
As we begin another school year, it is with cautious optimism that we look forward to a more normal year – a year where we will be able to learn in classrooms as opposed to our makeshift home offices or bedrooms, a year where we will again be able to volunteer and reach out to the larger Manchester community, and a year where our Central Pride can be on full display. As we all venture into this school year, we also have the change of a new principal. Ms. Debora Roukey takes the helm as principal of Central High School, ushering in a period of exciting change for our school.
Ms. Roukey began at Central seven years ago as an assistant principal. Her commitment to the field of education outside of Central has been intentional and extensive. She started her career in education at the age of 21, first in the private sector at a residential treatment center and later, moved into the public sector working at the public schools in Londonderry. She then went on to receive her administration certification.
She says that in the field of education she “found my niche.” She returned to school for her administration certification, because she loved the challenges she was facing and wanted to be able to continue to learn. She served as an assistant principal at West for six years, and then transferred to Central. For her, Central High School is “like no other.”
Ms. Roukey attributes Central’s uniqueness to two phrases: “Bleed Green” and “Central Pride.” Over the course of her time at Central she says she has been able to see that people really do bleed green, that their commitment to and love for this school is in their blood. Then, she gave her own special definition for what she sees as true Central Pride.
“Central Pride means to me that everyone is invested and onboard and engaged in what it is we are doing in the building. Whether that is in the classroom, playing sports, or on the stage, Central Pride means that we can appreciate the work and effort that everyone puts in as part of this community. Above all, Central Pride means that our students are successful,” Ms. Roukey said.
“There has not been one day, for as long as I have been assistant principal – and for as long as I have sat in this seat [as principal] – that I have driven to work and thought that I did not want to go to work today. It has never happened. I love it. I love the kids. I love the staff. I love the diversity. I love the challenges,” she said.
Ms. Roukey rises to this role as principal somewhat historically, as well.
In the 176 years of Central High School, she is the first female principal. She shares that she hopes that this “inspires other females to go for their dreams, to step forward and have a voice, to take a chance, and to toss their name in the ring.” She also says that, while she is humbled by the attention she has received, “I feel like I got this position because I am qualified and I have done the hard work. If you do the hard work, it should not matter if you are male or female, and I am so thrilled that our district recognizes that.”
When I asked Ms. Roukey what she was most looking forward to this year, she immediately replied, “Seeing the kids, hands down.” She said that she “wants to ride this wave of excitement of being back and in the building.” Although she does anticipate challenges, the greatest obstacle being “the unknown – the unknowns of what restrictions will be in place, when those restrictions might be lifted, and so forth.” She stressed that coming back this year, she wanted people to feel “100 percent safe and comfortable in the building” and also that she wanted “everybody to participate in school activities and classes meaningfully.” Her main goal for this year is to “bring this building together like a giant family – like a group of brothers and sisters who are all taking care of and looking out for each other.”
Ms. Roukey takes up the proverbial reins as principal at a unique time. For one, she will have to navigate the evolving COVID variants, but she will also need to stake out Central’s very future. There has been much discussion about what will become of Central High School, with rumors of the Classical Building closing and proposals to combine all three high schools. Ms. Roukey said that, as far as she knew, discussions about the closing of the Classical Building “have been tabled,” but she did say that “it’s my job to make sure we are utilizing our buildings as best as possible, and if it means trying to bring in other resources to help our students have more options and more opportunities, that will be my goal. I do not want an empty building. I want a building where our students will benefit from programs or resources that we can provide.”
When I asked Ms. Roukey about the role she thought she would play in discussions surrounding the combination of all three high schools, she took a long pause, finally responding, “I don’t think there will be a single person advocating for this discussion. It will be the masses. Anybody who has come to Central, anybody who has attended Central, anybody who has any affiliation with Central will have something to say. Yes, we do see challenges with older buildings. Certain things do need to be presented and we need to think outside the box, so I understand fully how this is an idea being presented, but I want to do everything I can to keep Central right where it is.” Ms. Roukey was clear: She will not only be an advocate for the school and its buildings in the long term, but a champion for each and every one of the students, teachers, and staff at Central each and every day.
Ms. Roukey wanted to send a special message to the students of Central and also to the Manchester community. She said to the students, “Welcome back. We cannot wait to see you. We want to create experiences for you and provide instruction that is exciting. We want you to be part of this giant family and understand what Central Pride really is. Get involved. Show your stuff. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
To the Manchester community, she sent an invitation: “I invite you to any and every event that we are doing so that you can see what Central Pride is all about, so you can see how talented our students and staff are, and so you can see what this community is going to be getting back in the future.”
There is no question that Ms. Roukey “bleeds green.” She is taking on the office of principal with energy and enthusiasm. At the risk of making a gauche attempt at wordplay, it is evident that Ms. Roukey is no rookie.
As we all continue to celebrate this historic 176th year of Central High School, we can be confident that we will have someone in our corner, making sure we get involved, encouraging our voices to be heard, and sharing with the community that special something that is Central Pride.
Manchester Ink Link is dedicated to the future of journalism through education, and is partnering with The Little Green by co-publishing stories originating in Central High School’s monthly student-run publication, one way of providing more insight into student life and perspectives.