Bedford superintendent resigns after outrage over support for counselor in Exeter sex abuse caseBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON and JASON SCHREIBER
Union Leader Correspondents
July 27. 2018 11:37PM
BEDFORD — School Superintendent Chip McGee resigned Friday in the wake of public outrage after educators from the school district and others spoke in support of former Exeter High School guidance counselor Kristie Torbick, who recently pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student.
McGee’s announcement was made Friday and was immediately accepted by the school board.
“I have decided to resign my position as superintendent of the Bedford schools. It would be difficult for me to continue to lead the Bedford School District at this point because of circumstances beyond my control. I do not want to become a distraction from the continued good work happening in Bedford,” wrote McGee, who has served the district for 15 years.
The school board has appointed Mike Fournier to serve as interim superintendent, effective immediately. Fournier has been principal of McKelvie Intermediate School.
Jennifer Asdot has been appointed interim principal at McKelvie.
“Nobody wins in this situation,” school board member Bill Kassler said Friday afternoon, adding the controversy has caused the district great sadness and pain.
Kassler said it is time to move forward, explaining McGee resigned to promote healing in the community and district.
“I think it is important that we start to rebuild trust,” Fournier said. “And, I think trust is going to come with clear communication. I think it is going to come with transparency and it is going to take some time.”
Fournier said students are his first priority, specifically their safety.
McGee’s resignation follows Torbick’s July 9 sentencing, during which she pleaded guilty to four counts of felonious sexual assault and was sentenced to prison for 2½ to 5 years.
Nearly two dozen educators and other professionals attended the sentencing on her behalf.
Bedford Dean of Student Services Zanna Blaney spoke at the sentencing and praised Torbick’s work. McGee was aware that Blaney planned to speak.
Bedford guidance counselors Alison Mattson and Christine Mulcahey also were among 23 people who wrote letters of support for Torbick, who worked in Bedford before she left in 2016 and was hired in Exeter, where she met the victim, a freshman when the assaults occurred on multiple occasions.
The school board is investigating Blaney’s testimony and where to go from here.
“Matters of investigation and adjudication of personnel complaints are private and not public and we are just not at liberty to share those details,” Kassler said.
He said Fournier is now charged with handling the investigation.
“We have to follow an investigation and personnel matters in a way that is fair and that follows practices and affords all parties due process,” said Kassler, who asked the community to give the district time.
Several parents were calling for McGee’s resignation, and still are calling for the resignations of Blaney, Mattson and Mulcahey.
Local parent Nicole Boll said it is unethical for guidance counselors to support a confessed child molester. She said McGee had plenty of time and opportunity to be forthright about how the controversy transpired but was not direct with parents.
“I have no personal joy in him resigning. I want the Bedford School District to move forward and that cannot happen until parents have trust in the system,” Boll said. “The leadership needs to make clear and sometimes difficult decisions. Chip made this more complicated than it should have been. Chip says it was beyond his control — it was completely in his control.”
Parent Kamee Verdrager Leshner said, “I think Blaney, Mattson and Mulcahey should resign. The school district needs to ask some hard questions. She said she was hoping for McGee’s resignation and is confident it is a step in the right direction.
Jannette Mooney, another parent, said it is time to focus on the three remaining staff members involved in the situation.
“I think we will pull through this,” said Mooney, adding she is pleased with Fournier’s appointment.
In a statement, the school board said it respects the professionalism and dedication of the staff and are confident they will continue, under Fournier’s leadership, to do the important work of educating children.
The board also said it will task the new administration with completing the review of the events of the past few weeks and make recommendations regarding personnel and policies.