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Another View: For Manchester's new superintendent, hope and challenges

March 05. 2013 6:18PM

The opportunity to improve the education of students from Manchester, Hooksett and Candia has hit zero bubble. Seventy-eight brave souls who fancy themselves transformational leaders have offered their services to the children in our community, and I for one hold hope that the person selected to do the job will have the wisdom to learn the landscape and the courage to confront it. I hold hope because we live in Hooksett and my first-born son has selected Manchester High School Central as his next school.

I am excited for him. My son is a strong, confident student involved in band and athletics, usually a good mix of ingredients for successful students at any high school. He had the luxury of touring other high schools before making his final decision, and his mother and I left it up to him since he would be the person actually going through the experience. We have had our turn at high school; it is his turn now.

I have worked at Central and am now a principal of another large, urban high school in the state. My wife has been a teacher at one of the other Manchester high schools for 18 years. Our family understands the value, importance and challenge of a quality education in an urban environment, and we are very knowledgeable about the issues Manchester is facing regarding funding and accusations from some residents of our town about poor quality.

But we, and I suspect many other Hooksett families judging by the number of students still in attendance, believe the teachers in Manchester and the opportunities Central affords are some of the best around.

To live up to my expectations, the incoming superintendent will need to broker a new perspective on the role of the Board of School Committee and mayor in the operations of the school district. Working together as a leadership team, these three entities must put aside their personal and political agendas and address the more important issues related to educating children.

They will and must struggle, for in the struggle is the greatest growth of a mind and body found. It is where learning happens, and we need as much learning to happen as quickly as possible in order to be successful.

The new triad must continue working with advisors and build a sound strategic plan. That plan should lead the actions of the board, uninfluenced by personal motives or preferences.

Ask questions about what type of student you wish to see at the conclusion of his or her academic experience, and there you will find your vision. Then, let the paid professional chief academic officer do the work he or she has moved here to do: improve student learning. Leave it to the superintendent to make the daily decisions that are based on sound academic research and proven best practices, and hold him or her accountable to keeping the board well informed.

Only when the superintendent is sprung from the personal interest manacles of board members can he or she effect improvement by developing and training next generation leadership in the schools. Leadership in schools does not rest with the principal, but lives within the teachers' role as distributed by the principal. It should be the effort of every school leader to reach out as far as possible and cloak teachers with the skills, responsibility and opportunities to exercise leadership in the classroom, the courtyard, the faculty meeting and the department.

Principals require training to lead this way, and they will require a tremendous amount of trust-building with those who evaluate them on an annual basis. Supported by an effective communication program where all stakeholders are encouraged to "pull the chain and stop the train," leadership development can thrive in the school system and positive change can occur.

We are a Hooksett family, and I am a father of a Central student. I will be an advocate for his high school education and that of his two younger brothers when they begin on Lowell Street. I believe in the people of the Manchester School District; I do not believe in the current system under which they work. My expectation is that the new superintendent will identify the same and work courageously to change the system so that all students will become strong and confident regardless of their zip code or pedigree.

David Ryan of Hooksett is principal of Nashua High School North and a candidate for the Hooksett School Board. He is the 2012 New Hampshire High School Principal of the Year and one of three finalists for 2013 NASSP/MetLife National High School Principal of the Year.

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