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April 10. 2014 10:50PM

R.I.P., Tom Brennan: A good manager and better man

Tom Brennan led Manchester’s public school system through five tumultuous, trying years. The progress made during his tenure was largely his doing. He did much with little, which is a great tribute to his abilities as a manager.

When Brennan was hired in 2008, he was predicted to be a tough, no-nonsense superintendent. The description does not do him justice. He was tough, but also fair and broad-minded. He stood up for the district and pushed his ideas before a sometimes hostile Board of School Committee. Yet he was no pig-headed bureaucrat. Brennan understood that his job was to be effective. Instead of posturing, he rolled up his sleeves and worked hard to improve the schools year after year.

He worked with school board members and the mayor to create opportunities for change. He consistently put the students first, and it showed in his passion for the job and the policies he pursued.

Our favorite Tom Brennan moments were those times when he sat calmly before a board of bickering school board members and coolly injected a dose of reality into the discussion when he was finally given a chance to speak. This happened a lot. A good example was the meeting in December of 2009 when the board voted 9-5 to restore funding for extracurricular activities that had been cut from the budget earlier in the year. Brennan informed the board that he could do that, but to make it work he would have to cut $80,000 in textbooks and other classroom supplies. Point made.

Before Brennan was hired, a lot of people wondered whether anyone could be found for the job. Manchester was regarded as something of a dysfunctional district. Tom Brennan accepted the challenge and achieved successes that few would have thought possible. He guided some serious reforms, the most important being the granting of academic credits for sports and off-campus instruction. And though he often found himself unjustly on the receiving end of deliberately barbed criticism, he did his job with good humor and a gentle kindness. He will be deeply missed.


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