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June 06. 2013 11:47PM

Meet Manchester's 3 school superintendent finalists

MANCHESTER — The Board of School Committee selected three finalists Wednesday to head the Manchester School District. The finalists — outgoing Memphis (Tenn.) School Superintendent Kriner Cash, Fall Mountain Regional School District (SAU 60) Superintendent Debra Livingston, and Franklin and Hill School Districts (SAU 18) Superintendent Maureen Ward — all have worked in large school districts facing similar issues confronting Manchester, school officials said.

The board selected the three superintendent candidates out of four it interviewed Wednesday evening. A fifth candidate dropped out Tuesday.

The finalists spent Thursday touring city schools and met with city and school officials, leaders of community groups, and teachers and support staff. They will visit more schools today and participate in a public forum at Memorial High School at 6:30 tonight.

The board will hold a special meeting Saturday morning, at which it is expected to select the superintendent.

The finalists have had experience with redistricting, dealing with tax caps and have a track record of improving student performance on standardized testing — all key issues facing Manchester, Ward 5 school board member Ted Rokas said.

"We have three excellent candidates," said Rokas, who chaired the superintendent search committee.

At-large school board member Kathy Staub said all three candidates "would embrace the challenges" of running the state's largest school district with an estimated 15,500 students.

"We kind of took it on the chin in the last school year and need to recover from that, not just with the public, but with our employees to rebuild their morale," Staub said, referring to last year's budget cuts and teacher layoffs.

"We need someone who can kind of lead us to that place. The thing that impressed me is they all have a good energy level...They are optimistic and they really believe they can do a good job," she added.

Mayor Ted Gatsas said the three finalists are strong choices and "much different candidates" than the three picked during the first round.

"I found them to be more in touch with what is happening in Manchester," said Gatsas, who chairs the school board. "I feel comfortable that we are on the right track (with them)."

Kriner Cash

Cash announced his resignation as superintendent of Memphis City Schools in January, when it merged with a neighboring district. The district has 103,000 students.

Cash was recognized for his role in reforming the district, but he also ran into controversy, including a proposal to set up a school-run police force, according to an article in the Commercial Appeal of Memphis.

The local board had voted last June not to renew Cash's contract, according to the article.

Cash previously served as chief of accountability and system-wide performance at Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida. He also was superintendent of Martha's Vineyard Public Schools in Mass. and was associate dean at Howard University School of Education in Washington, D.C. where he also was assistant professor.

Debra Livingston

Livingston is the superintendent of the Fall Mountain Regional School District, which has 1,600 students and includes the towns of Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Langdon and Walpole. In January, three schools in the district received the Commissioner's Excellence in Education Award for student growth and achievement.

Livingston spent most of her career at the Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas, which has more than 37,000 students. There she worked as a teacher, principal, was appointed director of secondary education in 2003 and promoted executive director of curriculum and instruction in 2005.

Maureen Ward

Ward is superintendent of the Franklin and Hill School Districts, which has about 1,300 students. She helped restructure curriculum and instruction, closed a school in response to changing space needs, hired instructional coaches to work with teachers and oversaw some of the highest gains in the state on New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) indicators.

Prior to taking over the district in 2010, Ward was assistant superintendent of SAU 21, a six-town school district of 5,200 students that comprises Seabrook, North Hampton, South Hampton, Hampton Falls, Hampton and Winnacunnet Cooperative High School from 2006-2010.

Manchester is conducting its second search for a successor to Thomas Brennan, whose resignation is effective July 1.

In the first search, the three finalists came from districts significantly smaller than Manchester. One withdrew during his interview and the two others failed to muster votes of enough school board members to win the job.

After deciding to start again, the school board boosted the pay from the $160,000 range in the original search to as much as $190,000. The board also added to the job description a preference for candidates from districts with at least 5,000 pupils.

New Hampshire Union Leader Staff Reporter Kathryn Marchocki contributed to this report. tsiefer@unionleader.com


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