Thursday, March 4, 2021

Asst. Supt. Allen to retire, Chair Newkirk will not seek chair, Elementary schools to open Wednesdays, Candidates Nights

Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen to retire in June

I don't normally report on the ups and downs of every school board meeting, but last night's was especially newsworthy.  Presumably only the truly obsessed school board watchers like myself stuck it out to the very end of the meeting.  Usually nothing much happens after the board goes into non-public session to discuss sensitive topics at the end of a meeting.  The start of non-public is my cue to go home. 

This time the board had three non-public meetings lasting over a half hour.  They reconvened after each to do the roll call vote to start the next one.  The last time, before adjourning, after 35 minutes of mostly a sign indicating the board was in non-public session, the board came back around 10:30 pm to vote on accepting Assistant Superintendent Todd Allen's retirement effective the end of this year, June 30, 2021.

They seemed as shocked as anyone.  There was nice round of members recounting stories of the first time they met Todd Allen; start the video at 2:52:30 if it doesn't start there automatically.  Thanks to Alexander Taylor for getting the meeting video up so fast.

As for the first time I met Todd, well, I didn't exactly meet him before I inadvertently insulted him in public. Back in 2011 I was at the school board podium making a comment to the bad board (Brackett, Kach, et. al.) about how they had screwed up the ORHS principal selection by failing to hire superstar principal candidate Justin Campbell, who was subsequently snapped up by Hanover.  Todd, the newly selected principal, was of course right there. I added something like, "I mean no disrespect to our new principal."  He graciously smiled and nodded, indicating no offense was taken.  He's a real gentleman. 

It's a big loss to the district, and a big hole to fill.  Unfortunately we probably can't throw much of a party for Todd given the pandemic, so I'll say thank you so much Todd for all your work and dedication to the Oyster River schools for over thirty years, and good luck in the next phase of your life.

Tom Newkirk will not seek the school board chair this month

After the election on Tuesday is certified, the first act of the new board is to choose its chair and vice chair.  Chair Tom Newkirk was first elected vice chair in 2012, right after he was elected to the school board, and has served as chair continually since 2014.  Chair Newkirk announced last night that he won't seek another term as chair.

Tom led the district through many difficult issues over the years.  Just a scroll through the headlines of this blog, we see issues of football, the high school field, redistricting, later start times, the new middle school, racism, cell phone policy, competency reporting, the pandemic, the turnover of every administrative position except superintendent and ORMS principal, and much more, all handled during his tenure with his usual aplomb.  

Tom will remain on the board; his current term runs another year.   He didn't mention if he'll seek reelection then.

I'll start the speculation on the new chair.  It of course depends on the outcome of Tuesday's election; it's the new board that votes for chair. Vice Chair Michael Williams signaled his interest in the position by running for vice chair against Denise Day last March. Ms. Day had been vice chair for a few years before Mr. Williams.  

I think of Board Member Williams as the maverick on the board, often the 1 in 6-1 votes.  It's hard to advocate and be chair at the same time, but I'm sure Mr. Williams could make it work.  

As for the other possibilities; let's assume the incumbents win election. I'd rule out Member Turell as being too new, and Member Howland probably isn't interested as I don't believe he's planning to run for reelection should he win the one year term on Tuesday.  That leaves members Williams, Cisneros, Day and Klein as the likely possibilities.  

I won't try to guess who'll they choose.  I'd say members Day and Klein have the most calm demeanor / team player / consensus builder / good listener / attention to procedure qualities that would be ideal to for the chair to have, and that Chair Newkirk had in droves.  But really any of the members would be fine chairs. 

Schools to open for more in-person time

This Monday, March 8, is the scheduled day for ORHS and ORMS to start bring every student who cares to attend in person into the buildings two days per week.  The ORHS change has been planned for a while now; I think the principal said that 55% of the students opted to attend in person.  The students get another chance to change their minds when the fourth quarter begins, I think in early April.

The ORMS change is a consequence of the governor's order.  Middle school students who wish to, currently attend in-person one day a week.  The district considered writing an appeal to the governor to keep the current system, as the middle school change results in an increase in asynchronous time, in which the student is expected to complete work independently. That was what one of the non-public sessions was about; they didn't take any action after it so I don't think the appeal will be made and the district will scramble to comply with the governor's order.  [EDIT 2pm 3/4: I'm told that no action means the decision to send the appeal stands; it's not likely to succeed given a similar appeal from Dover failed.]  It's not particularly reasonable for the governor that's punted the responsibility to the local districts for the last year to now issue a decree because he doesn't like what some have done, but that's life.

The elementary school is increasing in-person time by opening up Wednesdays, starting April 9.   The board approved the change 6-1, with Chair Newkirk voting against.  The elementary school principals Misty Lowe and David Goldsmith presented a three way choice: first graders back full time, bringing kids in for additional time on Wednesdays, or keeping everything the same.  It seemed pretty clear to me (and Chair Newkirk) that the principals favored not changing, though I don't think either came out and said it. It's unusual for the board to overrule the administrators but here they are clearly reflecting the parents' desire for more in-person time at school.

The principals were most concerned over the loss of the Wednesday relearning days; not sure if they call them that at the elementary school level.  Currently throughout the district, teachers don't teach new classes on Wednesday; the students use that day for relearning and the teachers use it as planning time, meeting time, and for professional development. The principals repeatedly warned essentially that education would suffer without those Wednesdays for teachers; the board said to do it anyway.

Candidates Nights

The Moharimet PTO did a great job hosting and moderating Candidates Night for the Madbury and At-large seats last Tuesday, 3/2.  There are two candidates for the Madbury seat, incumbent Dan Klein and Michelle Dunbar (Kevin Abbott has withdrawn), and three candidates for the one-year at-large seat, incumbent Al Howland, Jill Piparo and Matt Durkee.  The hosts and all the candidates should be very proud of the debate on Tuesday night.  I suggest all interested citizens watch it.  It lasted a little under two hours, exceeding the 90 minutes scheduled, but long enough for all the candidates to make their positions known on most of the issues.

Around 53 people watched on Zoom; I assume there were a similar number on facebook chat but I forgot to check.  I won't try to recap the debate here.  My pet peeve is when some candidates don't seem prepared enough to even know when they're misunderstanding the question.  But that's just me; they all came across as reasonable and Oyster River will likely be fine with any of these folks elected.  I didn't change my opinion about who I'm voting for on Tuesday (the incumbents), but the debate did make me look forward to supporting some of the others in future years.

Tonight, Thursday March 4, is the second Candidates night, hosted by the Mast Way PTO, nominally 7-8:30 pm, for the Lee and Durham Candidates.  Here are the links; it was fun to watch live on Tuesday; at the end they asked audience questions contributed via Zoom chat and Facebook live chat; presumably they'll do the same tonight.

                Zoom link: Password: 123456
                Facebook Live:

The Durham candidates are the incumbent Yusi Turell and newcomer Erik Mason. Controversial candidate Jeff Fortin has dropped out to spend less time with his family.  

The Lee Candidates are the incumbent Brian Cisneros and Nicolas Alcocer.  There was a third candidate, Debra Cavanaugh, who filed and quickly withdrew, I think in time to have gotten her name off the ballot; we'll see. 

This is just meant to be a quick update; I wasn't going to write anything until after tonight's debate, but there was just too much news to get out.  Please see my previous post for more on the candidates.  

See everybody on chat at the debate tonight!