MANCHESTER — More than 150 people took part in a question and answer forum featuring the three finalists for superintendent of the Manchester school district Wednesday night at Memorial High School.

The three finalists are current co-superintendents Amy Allen and Jennifer Gillis, and John Goldhardt, executive director for school leadership and performance with the Salt Lake City school district in Utah.

The forum was divided into three, one-hour segments with each candidate. Forum attendees had the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates, hear their views on issues facing the district, then indicate on a piece of paper their choice for superintendent.

The pieces of paper were collected at the end of the evening, and school board members are expected to be given vote tallies to take into consideration when they meet Thursday night in the district offices at Manchester High School West to interview the candidates and choose a superintendent. The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

During their respective segments in Wednesday’s forum, both Gillis and Allen expressed support for moving forward with the co-superintendent model, with Gillis saying she believes this is “absolutely on the table” as an option.

Dr. Bolgen Vargas was hired as superintendent in September 2016. In January, he surprised school board members, Mayor Joyce Craig, students and parents when he announced he would resign from the position. April 30 was his last day on the job. Vargas never revealed his reasons for leaving.In March, school board members voted to hire the firm McPherson & Jacobson LLC out of Omaha, Nebraska, as consultants to oversee the superintendent search.

In 2016, the personnel search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates — hired by the district to head up the search for the city’s next superintendent of schools after Debra Livingston announced she would retire — reported receiving 37 responses to a job posting advertising the position.

School officials said this year’s search drew responses from just 11 candidates.

Allen and Gillis have been serving as co-superintendents of Manchester schools since May 1.

Jennifer Gillis

Former Southside Middle School principal Gillis was chosen as the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Manchester schools in 2018.

“I am a very proud member of the Manchester school district,” said Gillis. “I’m very proud of the students. We see them achieve. We have amazing leadership teams in this city, that are unstoppable. One of the powers of Manchester is we have amazing people at the building level. Together, we’re going to move far.”

Gillis served as principal of Southside Middle School for four years, having come to the Manchester schools after serving six years as assistant principal at Mountain View Middle School in Goffstown.“My vision is every student is exposed to high expectations,” said Gillis. “Every student has a right to succeed. Every staff has a responsibility to help students achieve those expectations.”

In addition to her experience as a principal, Gillis spent nearly 15 years teaching, mentoring, coaching and advocating for students in public education. She worked in the field of brain injury rehabilitation before starting a career in public education.

“I understand the power of team,” said Gillis. “I’m a proud member of the Manchester school district. I respect what we’ve done, and what we need to do. We will be stronger as a group than we are singular.”During her time in Manchester Gillis has worked with a number of community agencies. One notable initiative is the District Safety Plan, in which she collaborated with a number of community agencies, including law enforcement, fire and emergency services. She was also active in the development of the redistricting plan at Southside Middle School.

Gillis earned a BS degree from Endicott College, an MBA from Franklin Pierce University and is working on her doctorate from Plymouth State University.

“Here I am, moving forward, taking that next step,” said Gillis. “I have a lot of pride in the work we’ve done, I stand ready to keep that work moving forward. The power is us, and I think our time is now. Our strength is us. We need to stop waiting. We need to start moving.”

Dr. John Goldhardt

Goldhardt is the executive director and chief of school leadership and performance for the Salt Lake City (Utah) School District, a position he has held since 2017.

“I’ve enjoyed exploring the communities of Manchester, and various schools,” said Goldhardt. “I will always advocate for children All children. I love what I do.”

Salt Lake City School District has 24,000 students, three comprehensive high schools, one online high school, two charter high schools, one alternative high school, five middle schools, one K-8 school, one charter K-8 school, 26 elementary schools, 80 school administrators, and a $250 million budget.

In his position, Goldhardt oversees the hiring process and evaluations of all principals and assistant principals, leads the School Leadership and Performance department and supervises the District Athletic Director, Title 1 Director, and Career and Technical Education.

“I am committed to spending an absolute minimum of five years as superintendent, but would actually prefer 10 years,” said Goldhardt. “We don’t plan on renting in Manchester. We will purchase a home and intend to become invested in the community.”

Goldhardt has previously served as principal of Murray High School (1,600 students) and also principal at Snow Canyon Middle School (880 students). He was a teacher for five years, all in Utah.

In addition to holding a doctorate degree in educational leadership from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, he holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Utah.

“I believe the work of public education must be done in collaboration with families and communities,” said Goldhardt. “It means working hand in hand with elected officials at all levels to ensure schools have the resources and the policies to meet their needs. Public education must be about more than good instruction. It must be about creating a more equitable society.”Goldhardt was asked how he would work with some of the “strong” personalities on the 15-member school board.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some unique school boards in the past,” said Goldhardt. “Your school board is a lot bigger than I’m used to. My current school board, there are a lot of personality differences between some members and meetings can be cantankerous. As a superintendent I’ll ask the board if they would be open to a retreat together where we can talk about goals. I’m also a realist — you will never get 15 people to agree on everything. The board are my bosses. I want to work with them, not against them. I’m very good at working at relationships with people.”

Amy Allen

Allen has been a member of the Manchester school district staff since 2009.

“Our district is full of great teachers, principals and students,” said Allen. “What we have here in Manchester is an opportunity.”

She was promoted to assistant superintendent in October 2017. Allen was assistant principal of student services at Hillside Middle School, before being named principal at Parker-Varney Elementary School in 2013.

During her time at Parker-Varney, Allen focused on raising achievement for all students, closing the achievement gap, preparing students for college and career, and providing support for her faculty and staff to accomplish those goals.

Parker-Varney received the 2015 Elementary School of Excellence EDie Award from the New Hampshire Excellence in Education committee. In announcing the selection, members of the EDies Elementary School Selection Team wrote they chose the school “due to its strong focus on creating a student-centered learning community,” referring to it as “a hidden gem” in the Queen City.

“I believe in a school system that is truly school-centered,” said Allen. “The question we need to ask ourselves every day is, ‘Is this best for kids?’ As an educator, as a resident of Manchester, and a parent, I am so proud to stand before you tonight. We need to start celebrating our successes.”

Allen was a member of the 2018 class of Leadership Greater Manchester. She holds a BA/BSW degree and MSW degree from the University of New Hampshire, and is completing her PhD work from Capella University.

Allen spoke in favor of more instructional learning time in the district, and promoted the city’s summer learning program.

“I’m invested in the school system not only as an educator, but as a parent,” said Allen, a Manchester resident. “I’ve fought on behalf of my own child’s education, and I will fight for the education of all our children.”