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Newfound superintendent 'won't defend' employee who sought leniency for guidance counselor who sexually assaulted teen

Union Leader Correspondent

July 18. 2018 9:19AM
Kristie Torbick speaks in Rockingham County Superior Court to the student she sexually assaulted while a guidance counselor at Exeter High School. (JASON SCHREIBER/CORRESPONDENT FILE)

BRISTOL — The head of the Newfound Area School District says she had no idea a high school guidance counselor planned to speak in support of former Exeter High School guidance counselor Kristie Torbick when she pleaded guilty and was sentenced last week for sexually assaulting a student.

Superintendent Stacy Buckley said Tuesday that neither she nor anyone else from the administration supported Newfound Regional High School guidance counselor Shelly Philbrick when she addressed the court.

She said she is now investigating the incident as a personnel matter.

“I am not going to defend her in any way,” Buckley said of Philbrick.

Philbrick was one of several people who publicly praised Torbick for her work as a guidance counselor and asked for leniency during her sentencing in Rockingham County Superior Court — despite Torbick’s admitting to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old Exeter freshman in December 2016 and January 2017.

Torbick, 39, of Lee, pleaded guilty to four counts of felonious sexual assault and was sentenced to 2½ to five years in prison followed by a seven- to 14-year suspended sentence. Prosecutors had asked Judge Andrew Schulman for a five- to 10-year sentence.

“Whatever she said we had no knowledge of what happened and do not support any of it. I absolutely have concerns about her statements,” Buckley said.

Nearly two dozen people showed up at court on Torbick’s behalf.

The teenage victim also spoke about the impact of the sexual encounter with Torbick, but at one point left the courtroom in tears as one supporter after another spoke positively about Torbick’s work and the difference she had made in the lives of other students over the years.

“I pray the court show justice for the victim, but also leniency upon Kristie today,” Philbrick told the judge at the hearing. She said Torbick has also suffered by losing her reputation, credentials and dignity.

Philbrick spoke about how Torbick may have crossed professional boundaries, but added, “I know in my heart the intent was for her to help. This is the character of the person facing sentencing here today.”

Buckley, who said Torbick worked for the Newfound district several years ago, insisted that Philbrick’s statements “should not be reflective” of the feelings of others in the district.

Buckley isn’t the only school official who has spoken out in the wake of the controversial sentencing.

Bedford School Superintendent Chip McGee has also apologized after Zanna Blaney, the dean of students at Bedford High School, commended Torbick during the sentencing and read parts of her performance evaluations from when she worked for the school before she was hired in Exeter.

McGee said he was aware of Blaney’s plans to speak, but regretted allowing her to attend.

“In hindsight, we regret attending the hearing in that it may have suggested, however incorrectly, that we support this horrible and illegal behavior,” he said.

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