MERRIMACK — In a new era of school administrators, the local school district is once again placing its focus on the students.
It has been 18 years since a new superintendent took the helm, but newly sworn-in Superintendent Mark McLaughlin said this week that he is ready and looking forward to embracing the changes.
“This is a period of transition,” he told the school board, noting that aside from a new superintendent, the district will also enter the upcoming school year with a new assistant superintendent, two new assistant principals, a new student services director and a new principal.
“We understand the gravity of the responsibilities that we have,” McLaughlin said of the nearly 3,900 students and 250 professional staff within the district.
Moving forward, he said the district will be guided by several core principles that it has always found to be a priority.
The first priority is to determine what is best for the students, according to the new superintendent. Another primary focus is to do what is right for the taxpayers who support the community and the school district.
“We are mindful of the responsibility we have to the taxpayer as well,” he said.
And while the students and taxpayers are at the forefront, McLaughlin said the district must also strive to make the best of the present moment while also casting an eye to the future.
During his first year as superintendent, McLaughlin said his focus will be on communication. He said the district recognizes that the public deserves better, frequent and informative information.
“We are committed to doing that,” he said, noting the exception of crisis situations where student safety is the priority and communication may need to be delayed slightly.
He also intends to prioritize instructional improvement, including the addition of Universal Design for Learning, which provides a way for teachers to more efficiently plan for instruction that will support the needs of more children in a comprehensive manner.
“We also know that graduation rates, particularly at the high school, are a concern,” McLaughlin said.
The high school principal will be discussing this issue with the school board in August, including efforts made throughout the past year and specific actions planned for the next year.
Standardized testing scores will also be a focus for the new superintendent.
“I think it is fair to say that we have scores that are, at best, in the middle of the pack,” he said.
He urged school officials to keep an open mind when viewing test scores, stressing there is a way to use those scores, as well as several other measures, to gain a better picture of what is being provided to local children in the education system.
“When it comes to this year, we knew there would be change,” Merrimack School Board Chair Shannon Barnes said.
Former superintendent Marge Chiarfery retired on July 1; McLaughlin served as assistant superintendent for the past 10 years.
“We are in a good place as a district,” Barnes said.