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Paul Feely's City Hall: Spirit-building ideas for schools include some old favorites

January 20. 2018 4:10PM

New Ward 2 school board member David Scannell believes more can be done to improve the school district's public image.

"When I knocked on doors during the campaign, many constituents with positive experiences to share noted the disconnect between personal experience and public perception," writes Scannell in a memo to fellow school board members. "We need to change public perception."

To those ends, he has proposed a list of ideas he hopes to discuss with school officials in the coming weeks. Among those ideas:

1. Revive a local version of the Edies. "As you know, each year, a coalition of organizations puts together a gala event that celebrates educational excellence on a statewide basis," said Scannell. "The Edie Awards garner lots of attention and provide a forum for telling positive stories about public education. For many years, the district partnered with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, the mayor's office, and other organizations to produce a low-key but meaningful ceremony at which one faculty member, staff member, or volunteer per building was recognized. We should revive this event or something like it."

2. Formally recognize community partners. "The recent publicity devoted to the York family and the closing of Indian Head Athletics underscores a point made by (Ward 9 Committeeman Art Beaudry) at a recent meeting: the Yorks have been reliable and devoted partners to the school district for many years. They deserve more than just a letter of thanks. Let's find a way to recognize in a significant manner the Yorks and other individuals and businesses that stand by the district year after year."

Scannell mentions the Derryfield School as an example of a longtime community partner.

"For over 25 years, the institution has been, in my estimation, the largest single donor to the district annually and collectively through its sponsorship of the Summerbridge/Breakthrough program," said Scannell. "For over a quarter of a century, the school has run an expensive summer program for the exclusive benefit of Manchester students. The annual cost of that program to the Derryfield must exceed $200,000. As sponsorship of the program will now be shared with Southern New Hampshire University, we should thank the Derryfield School in a significant way to recognize what it has provided our kids with for the last quarter of a century."

3. Bring back the special recognition ceremony for high school graduates heading into the military. "I was persuaded not to include this request in our organization day discussion of the rules, but I think we need to go back to making a recognition ceremony an annual event," said Scannell. "These ceremonies were great events in years past, and they were certainly more fitting that the casual shout out we give to those heading into military service at graduation ceremonies."

4. Launch an annual 'Principal for a Day' program. The program would invite local businesspersons, elected officials and other notables into city schools to shadow principals for a day.

"Those individuals are nearly instantaneously turned into advocates for that school," said Scannell. "Done right, this program requires significant planning, but perhaps we could start with a scaled-down version."

5. Highlight testimonials of local notables who have positive things to say about Manchester's schools.

"We all saw Seth Meyers's tribute to his favorite teacher at West, Wally Lubelczyk," said Scannell. "Why couldn't we collect similar tributes to Manchester educators and the educational experience provided by our schools from other notables?"

6. Invite recent graduates to board meetings to offer testimonials at the public comment session about their recent success and the manner in which the Manchester School District helped them achieve that success.

"A recent encounter with a Central grad I had in class included a moving and inspiring account of how the teachers and programs at Central inspired his success," said Scannell. "Those stories are out there everywhere. We just need to share them. Part of our problem is hiding our light under a bushel."

7. Tap into the extensive public relations expertise that exists in our community among city school alums.

Scannell hopes to hold discussions on the PR proposals in the near future.

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Members of the Aldermanic Committee on Lands and Buildings held a nonpublic session last week to review responses to the city's Request for Proposals to redevelop 630 Harvard St., site of the former Genest's Bakery, then came back into open session to recommend a proposal for the site submitted by Tokena Corporation, headed up by former State Sen. Tom DeBlois.

The city took title to the building - considered a neighborhood blight by South End residents for years - in May as compensation for years of unpaid taxes totalling nearly $804,000. The building was constructed in 1933 and has - at various times - housed a book bindery, a metal shop, a metal sculptor and a taxidermy shop.

DeBlois said late last week an agreement to purchase the property has yet to be finalized with city attorneys - the exact purchase price has yet to be disclosed publicly - but he plans "big improvements" for the site, including a 42-space parking lot and other "aesthetic" improvements.

Tokena Corporation purchased the former St. Joseph Regional Junior High School building in the downtown area for $525,000 in November 2015, and DeBlois believes his work renovating that site for professional and business offices helped him land 630 Harvard St.

"We have a great vision for the property," said DeBlois. "I have a good track record, and I assume that's why they chose us."

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In 2016 when a vote by aldermen on a new board chairman ended in a 6-6 tie between At Large member Dan O'Neil and former Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, a vote by former Mayor Ted Gatsas to break the stalemate in favor of Long was followed by a motion from At Large member Joseph Kelly Levasseur to make the vote unanimous, which passed on a voice vote without opposition.

No such motion was made earlier this month when Mayor Joyce Craig broke a 7-7 tie for chairman between O'Neil and Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann in favor of O'Neil -that is, until new Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines spoke up on the matter last week.

"There's a perception out there that this is a divided board," said Baines last week. "My relatively short experience since being elected tells me a different story. I firmly believe there's unity on this board and a love for Manchester."

Baines made a motion to elect O'Neil chairman of the board unanimously. Hirschmann supported the move.

"I fully agree with Alderman Baines," said Hirschmann. "I have mentored youth on the field of competition for many years, and at the end of a spirited competition we'd leave the field and shake hands. I urge you all to vote for Dan O'Neil. It was a great competition."

The motion passed on a voice vote without opposition.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at

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