MANCHESTER, N.H. – The money’s in place, and now there’s a plan to spend it on.
On Wednesday night, the Board of School Committee (BOSC) Special Committee on the Superintendent Search recommended a plan from New Hampshire Listens to obtain feedback from the community, after the full BOSC approved funding for New Hampshire Listens on Monday.
Working with community organization partners and Manchester School District Chief Equity Officer Tina Philibotte, the University of New Hampshire-based outreach and collaboration organization will co-design, facilitation and support seven stakeholder meetings from April to June gathering feedback from Manchester residents as to what they consider important in hiring the next Manchester School District Superintendent.
When At-Large BOSC Member Peter Argeropoulos asked how New Hampshire Listens would draw out Manchester residents to provide opinions, New Hampshire Listens Co-Founder and Director Michele Holt-Shannon said that 80 percent of the organization’s work would not be toward the stakeholder meetings themselves, but a variety of efforts to bring people out to the meetings. Holt-Shannon said that often New Hampshire Listens seeks to find places where underrepresented communities feel comfortable to invite them into listening sessions, but noted that there have been situations where the group has literally knocked on doors of residents to invite them if needed.
Ward 10 BOSC Member Gary Hamer asked if New Hampshire Listens has engaged in a similar process before regarding superintendent searches. At-Large BOSC Member and Special Committee on the Superintendent Search Chair James O’Connell told Hamer that the group’s goal is to help solicit feedback from the community rather than search for a superintendent, but Hamer said that their experience with superintendent searches was pertinent given the special committee’s role.
Hamer also asked Holt-Shannon about the group’s experience in Manchester as well.
Holt-Shannon noted that the group has engaged in several school-based initiatives in the past, but did not specify a search for a new superintendent. She also said that over the group’s 12-year history, it has had many staff members and fellows that have lived in and around Manchester, including some current ones.
Argeropoulos said that community feedback is important, but expressed frustration with the lack of alternatives to New Hampshire Listens prior to authorizing up to $10,000 for their efforts. He also expressed frustration with a lack of clear goals and questions in New Hampshire Listens methodology, which takes an open-ended approach at soliciting feedback to gauge what is on the minds of those engaged in their stakeholder conversations.
Other members of the board disagreed with Argeropoulos’ concerns however, stressing the need for a more organic approach than what has been used in previous superintendent search efforts.
Ward 4 BOSC Member Leslie Want noted that during the hiring process for former Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt, $50,000 was authorized for a consulting group from Omaha that did not have nearly as much connection with the community as New Hampshire Listens has.
Want also noted that the BOSC did not need to know what it is looking for in a new superintendent, as it already had posted advertisements for the position stating what it is looking for. Instead, New Hampshire Listens’ role is to find out what Manchester residents are looking for in as an outside third-party facilitator, providing feedback that will be incorporated into the BOSC’s perspective as the board looks over potential candidates.
Want, O’Connor and others also noted time constraints, such as a deadline of April 29 that will serve as the first cut for incoming applications.
O’Connor noted his time with Parent Teacher Organizations and the same group of faces that returned to meetings each week as something to avoid, hoping New Hampshire Listens can reach out to every section of the city, from underheard communities to “billionare yacht owners.”
“Please hear loudly and clearly that we want to hear from you,” he said in a plea during the meeting to Manchester residents.
Ward 2 BOSC Member Sean Parr said that New Hampshire Listens approach could serve as a template for other community outreach initiatives once the superintendent search concludes.
The recommendation for the plan was approved in a non-unanimous voice vote, with an amendment requesting regular updates from New Hampshire Listens. That recommendation will be reported to the full BOSC on April 11, with the special committee next meeting on April 12 at 6 p.m.
UPDATE: According to the Manchester School District, the consulting firm in 2019 was paid $24,509.71 rather than $50,000.