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December 17. 2012 10:22PM

Hooksett, Candia officials no-shows at Manchester superintendent search meeting

MANCHESTER - Members of the committee overseeing the search for a new superintendent for the Manchester School District were ready to sit down with counterparts from Hookset and Candia to discuss the search last night, but none of the school board members from the two towns showed up for the 5:30 p.m. session.

The meeting was scheduled as part of a week-long series of "stakeholder engagement" sessions organized by the Board of School Committee's superintendent search committee and a Chicago-based search firm brought in to find candidates for the post.

Candia and Hooksett board members were invited because those two communities send students to high school in Manchester under long-term contracts that run until 2018.

School board member Ted Rokas, who chairs the search committee, said the meetings are intended to ask people with a stake in the city schools what they want from the next superintendent.

"It is one of the most important parts of the search," Rokas said. "This is where everybody who wants to have a say gets their say."

Only four of the 12-person combined membership of the two committees could be reached early Monday night. All but one recalled having received the invitation. Candia members Deb LaBlonde, Kim Royer and Mary Rapaglia said they had other commitments. Hooksett member David Pearl said the e-mailed invitation "never made it to my calendar," and noted that members of the Hooksett board will meet with the full Board of School Committee later this week.

Manchester's board has meetings with both the Hooksett and Candia boards late this week. The sessions are part of continuing discussions about the relationship between the city and the town school districts in light of the staff cutbacks in Manchester's high schools. Unlike previous sessions, the Manchester board has scheduled a "public forum" as part of each meetings. The Candia session is Thursday at 7 p.m., and the Hooksett meeting will be held Friday at 6 p.m.. Each session will be held at the Manchester Health Department office at 1528 Elm St.

This week, 11 meetings have been scheduled with various segments of the community, termed "stakeholders" by the search firm. A session with school principals and the planned session with the Hooksett and Candia school boards kicked off the series.

One focus group is scheduled today with outside agencies that interact with the schools.

Several groups are scheduled to meet Wednesday. Focus group discussions will be held with representatives of higher education and the school district administrative offices. Educational support workers and teachers also meet Wednesday, in separate sessions.

On Wednesday at 6 p.m., a community input session has been scheduled for the Memorial High School auditorium. It is open to the public, and specific invitations have been sent to Parent-Teacher organizations, multi-cultural groups, the YWCA ,the YMCA, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, and several others.

"Questions we are asking are positive and negative views of the school district and the characteristics they would like to see in the new superintendent," Rokas said. "We want to hear the truth, we don't want the hear everything made up."

A consultant brought in to serve as facilitator for the meetings said there will be "no discussion" at the public input sessions because it is intended as an opportunity to hear what different groups think the district needs, rather than a back-and-forth discussion.

"What the search committee is looking for is some guidance in what the district is looking for, from the extended community," he said.

The facilitator sent to Manchester by ProAct to guide what committee members refer to as a "holistic, global approach" to finding a superintendent refused to identify himself to a reporter, despite repeated requests.

ProAct is being paid $20,500, plus expenses, for its work. The funds were raised from the private sector by Mayor Ted Gatsas, who listed a professional search as one plank of a school reform package he brought to the school board in September.

billsmith@unionleader.com

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