Public forum highlights leadership qualities of school superintendent finalists

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Interim co-superintendent Amy Allen fields a question from a resident during Wednesday’s forum at Memorial High School. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH — Three superintendent finalists appeared before an audience of about 150 residents — parents, teachers, students, school administrators and school board members — as each candidate seeks to be the next leader of the city’s school district.

Two of the three candidates are already well known within the district — Jen Gillis and Amy Allen are currently serving as co-interim superintendents, elevated to that collaborative position following the premature departure of Dr. Bolgen Vargas, who resigned in January citing personal and professional reasons.

Dr. John Goldhardt of Utah, introducing himself to Manchester residents Wednesday night. Photo/Carol Robidoux

The third candidate, Dr. John Goldhardt, is Executive Director and Chief of School Leadership and Performance for the Salt Lake City (Utah) School District. Of the three candidates, he has the most experience in school administration, having been a teacher, school principal and executive.

Finalists were selected by the Board of School Committee from a field of 11 who applied for the superintendent’s job and were identified through a national search process.

On Wednesday the public phase of the process allowed each candidate to spend about 45 minutes with the public, taking about 10-15 minutes for introductory remarks before fielding questions from audience members, who stepped up to microphones.

Questions were varied — including how candidates would address unfilled paraprofessional positions; how they would rebuild trust in city schools among teachers families and students; how to work within the city’s challenging budget while retaining teachers; how better to equip teachers to deal with the unique circumstances presented by those students who come to Manchester from traumatic situations as refugees; and how to improve students’ basic academic skills.

They were also asked to share their greatest accomplishments and failures.

Goldhardt shared his personal story, a father of two sons requiring special education services to address learning and speech challenges. Now that his youngest son is graduating from high school, Goldhardt said he felt free to take his career to another level by pursuing his passion for education and administration in a city like Manchester.

He also said he’s committed to being part of the community for an “absolute minimum” of five years, adding that he would prefer a longer-term stay, citing studies that show long-term leadership is known to create more positive outcomes for the schools they serve.

Both Gillis and Allen were asked if they would be interested in a co-superintendent arrangement, which is how the two have been managing district operations since May 1.

After each candidate’s Q&A session, audience members were given color-coded index cards and were asked to write “yes” or “no” on the card to indicate whether they approved of the candidate to move forward in the process.

A special Board of School Committee meeting is scheduled for May 16, and will convene in non-public session to interview candidates. It is expected that they will emerge with a recommendation.

Interim co-superintendent Jen Gillis talks about her vision for Manchester schools. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Gills was up first and talked about the effectiveness of collaboration. She said her vision for the future of city schools would be mapped out using “governance by design,” to equip students for the future. She also said she will continue her “tireless pursuit” of how to make the district excel.

Goldhardt was up next and spent a little more time than Allen and Gillis talking about his family and work history in Utah. He outlined 10 principles by which he would lead, saying, “leadership is an action, not a position. His style of leadership would be one of an aligned district-wide system of shared vision, mission, strategic plan, board goals, policy and budgets.

“When office leaders and school leaders share goals and values, they’re able to work together.

Allen talked about lessons learned while she was principal of Parker Varney Elementary, which included having to earn the trust of teachers and students. She was at that time the sixth school principal in five years.

“It’s about collaboration and trust, I had to build that trust and commitment before I was able to move toward innovation,” said Allen, who added that listening, being fair and transparent are all part of building trust.

Brief biographies of the three candidates can be viewed here. Wednesday night’s session was filmed by Manchester Public Television.

About Carol Robidoux 6505 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!