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Scene in Manchester: Hillside parents take school's success seriously

Special to the New Hampshire Union Leader

January 27. 2013 11:03PM

I THINK we can all agree there is a lot of complaining going on about Manchester public schools. As a soon-to-be public education parent, I don't doubt that I will be joining the ranks of complainers when my son enters first grade in the fall.

But for now I want to give praise to a group of parents at Hillside Middle School who have stopped complaining and started working together to lead the way toward creating an exceptional educational experience for students and teachers.

The school's PTO is hosting an inaugural benefit auction on Friday, Feb. 8, at Derryfield Country Club. The event will include a silent and live auction, food and entertainment. The goal is to raise $15,000 for the school's science and technology programs.

Hillside parent and event organizer Maureen Hamel said there is real interest by Hillside parents to stay involved and help improve their children's education, and many are helping out through this fundraiser. The core planning team includes Lisa Walsh, Justine Bernard, Katie Greenwood, Joanne Craighead and Hillside Principal Brendan McCafferty. Other standouts include parents Karen Radwanski, Shayna Wright, Elaine Pavitt, Stephanie Ferro and Andrea Elliot, and teachers Pat O'Neil, Diana Seitz, Sharon Price and Margie Moore.

My mom said she remembers when I started attending Hillside, back when it was just a two-year school. She said parents had invested so much energy into helping out at the elementary level that when middle school arrived they needed a break before the high school years began.

I also remember Hillside as being a scary place filled with a bunch of adolescents at the most awkward times of their life. And I don't blame parents who would rather just keep their distance until their little "tweens" get hold of their hormones. I also commend teachers who take on this challenging age group.

But although the middle school years are a time of awkward transition, they are still an important time for learning, and the Hillside PTO won't settle for an "adequate" education. The organization's goal is to "define a new kind of public education, uniting with parents, local businesses, as well as the community of Manchester, N.H."

Many local businesses have stepped up as event sponsors, and I'm sure many Hillside parents will be attending. I also hope many future Hillside parents will be there. As Hamel said, it's up to future parents to help build on the momentum this group is starting. Just think, if we work really hard, we may have nothing left to complain about.

Traveling Panda

Remember when I wrote about the "Sad Panda" painting I made at Muse Paint Bar last month? To recap, I painted a picture of a very sad panda and my friend Chris Proulx at Double Midnight Comics and Collectibles took it to his shop to see if he could sell it.

Imagine my surprise when I found it hanging on the wall at Child Guidance Early Learning Center when I dropped my son off for school there last week.

Kristen Biron, the school's owner, bought my painting for an undisclosed sum. But she doesn't plan to keep it. She already has a list of people who want to buy their own turn with the painting, which has been renamed "Traveling Panda." Each new owner will be asked to sign the back of the painting and the money from each purchase is being collected for the Union Leader Santa Fund.

I was truly touched that Biron came up with this creative fundraiser for a charity that is very close to my heart. I'm also just happy she reads my column. Biron is a special woman who runs an extraordinary school that is one of our city's hidden gems.

Now here is where I need the help of you, my loyal readers. I have been given the challenge of finding my "Traveling Panda" at each of his new locations. If you see him, please email me at And if you are interested in owning "Traveling Panda" yourself, contact Proulx at Double Midnight Comics & Collectibles at 669-9636.

You will be seeing red

There is nothing wrong with your eyes. Everyone will be wearing red this Friday. At least, they should be. Feb. 1 is National Wear Red Day to raise awareness of heart disease in women.

Audra Burns from the American Heart Association shared some scary statistics about heart disease in women, such as, "Thirty nine percent of Americans think they are in ideal heart health when in reality less than 1 percent really are."

Yikes! Yet another case where it's good to be a "1 percenter." Thank you in advance for wearing red on Friday to remind me to find out which percentage I fall into.

Warmed my heart

The crew over at Burke Advertising in Bedford is giving almost $1,000 to four local charities, and I'm proud to say that I helped. It was all part of the very clever "Warm Your Heart" Christmas package I received from the Bedford company. Inside was a travel mug, a package of hot cocoa mix, and a card that let me choose a nonprofit to receive a donation.

Well, the votes are in and each of the four eligible non-profits - Breathe NH, The Concord-Merrimack County SPCA, Legacy Bridge and Special Olympics - will get a piece of Burke Advertising's Christmas donation pie, depending on the number of votes they received.

I'm relieved that each nonprofit is getting something. They are all worthy charities, but I voted for Breathe New Hampshire because it was first on the list and because I have the pleasure of working out with organization president Dan Fortin.

I know a lot of companies and individuals give donations in lieu of presents at Christmas time. We are fortunate to get many of them for our Union Leader Santa Fund. And no one can forget when George Costanza gave nonexistent donations to the nonexistent Human Fund. Thanks to Burke Advertising's twist on that tradition, which let me participate in the giving process.

Time to buy your bunnies

Easter is not until March 31 this year, but it's not too early to order your chocolate bunnies from the Manchester Salvation Army. These bunnies are 8 ounces of delicious milk, dark or white chocolate, and they raise money for one of the best nonprofits in our city. But the best part is that they are not last-minute drug store bunnies!

Think ahead. Order today by contacting Kaisy Korcoulis at 627-7013 Ext. 216 or

NH365.Org Event of the Week

Downtown Manchester is going to be overtaken by hundreds of tiny princesses this week as Disney on Ice makes its annual trip to the Verizon Wireless Arena. An extraordinary lineup of stories from the Disney animated film vault will comes to life in eight performances Wednesday through Sunday. And the little princes in your life will love this show just as much as the little princesses.

Tickets range from $15 to $75. Visit http://www.NH365.orgfor information on this and other things to do around the Granite State.

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