The walls are still bare, but prominently displayed on a wooden bookcase in Manchester School Superintendent John Goldhardt’s new office is a framed statement he says sums up his philosophy.
“Leadership is an action not a position.’’
His goal is to bring new leadership to Manchester’s 22 schools and its 14,000 student population by focusing on “aligning’’ the school system with a focus on student achievement, he said.
“It shouldn’t matter what section of the city you live in or the school your child attends, every student should be guaranteed a quality education,’’ Goldhardt said. “My big issue is that schools should be inviting, no matter how old or how new. They should be clean and user friendly.’’
To become acquainted with the school district and its issues, Goldhardt has hit the road on a “listening tour,’’ where he meets with teachers, staff, administrators, parents, the school board and city officials.
“I’m gathering information about the district, who we are and how we operate,’’ he said.
What he has discovered so far is that the school district has some “incredible staff who are passionate, caring and professional,’’ he said.
Goldhardt succeeds former superintendent Bolgen Vargas, who surprised the school board, the mayor, students, staff and parents by announcing in January he was resigning after less than three years. Vargas never stated his reasons for leaving.
Goldhardt, 55, has signed a three-year contract, with an annual salary of $170,000 per year, but wants to stay longer depending on the will of the 15-member Manchester School Committee.
With 15 bosses sitting on a sometimes contentious school board, Goldhardt said, “I understand that we all have differing ideas and opinions, but my goal is to find common ground and a common vision.’’
He added, “It’s okay if there is not 100 percent agreement, as long as there is a consensus.’’
Goldhardt has already impressed Manchester Proud member Barry Brensinger. Manchester Proud is a community-based movement to create a shared vision for Manchester schools. The new superintendent has agreed to serve on the Manchester Proud council and community planning group, Brensinger said.
“It’s off to a very good start,’’ Brensinger said, adding he is “confident’’ this is the beginning of a good partnership for Manchester schools and the Manchester community.
School board Vice Chairman Art Beaudry said of the new school chief, “I have full confidence he will do a great job.’’
Beaudry said Goldhardt has already reached out to all the school board members to discuss issues.
“He is trying to build a consensus,’’ he said. And, while “you can’t please all the people, all the time,’’ Beaudry said, Goldhardt is “very approachable.’’
Overcoming obstacles is nothing new for Goldhardt. He has accomplished something no one else in his family has done – gone to college.
Coming from a low-income family of 10, Goldhardt is the second youngest of eight siblings, but the first in his family to graduate from college.
“I did it on my own,’’ he said. “It gives me a different perspective.’’
After earning his undergraduate degree from Southern Utah University, Goldhardt began his career as a high school teacher in his native Utah.
As he earned his master’s degree in public administration and then doctorate of education, Goldhardt climbed the school administrative ladder as assistant principal and principal, before becoming the executive director for school leadership and performance within the Salt Lake City School District in Utah.
The Salt Lake school district is comprised of 40 schools with 24,000 students speaking 90 languages, a 57 percent minority enrollment and nearly 60 percent of the students are low income, he said.
While Salt Lake has the lowest per pupil spending in the country, Goldhardt noted Manchester has the lowest per pupil spending in the state.
“I’m no stranger to doing more with less,’’ he said.
The Manchester schools also have only a 74 percent high school graduation rate.
“We have not arrived until we get 100 percent (graduation rate). That is the only acceptable goal,’’ he said.
But Goldhardt has assured the school board there would be no “big’’ organizational changes in his first year.
“It’s poor leadership to step in and just expect people to change,’’ he said.
Although Goldhardt said he feels a mixture of excitement and nerves in his new position, after 30 years in Utah he knew it was time for a change. Since the New England region is a family favorite, the Manchester job seemed like a perfect fit.
As he gets settled in his new job, he and his wife, Roma, also an educator, are now empty-nesters who are pulling up stakes in Utah, selling their house and furniture.
“It’s less expensive to buy new furniture than ship the old stuff,’’ he said.
Goldhardt is temporarily camped out in a hotel and living out of a suitcase until his wife arrives with their dog and they finalize the paperwork to buy a house in Manchester. The couple has two sons. Christian, 22, is attending college in Utah; and McKay, 18, will spend the next two years performing his Mormon missionary service before attending college.
It took him 30 years and 2,800 miles to get to Manchester, “but I’m happy to be here,’’ Goldhardt said.