Newly elected Manchester School Superintendent John Goldhardt plans to conduct a “listening tour” with school and community leaders with a top goal of boosting student learning.
“I need to learn first before I can lead,” Goldhardt, 54, said recently before flying home to Utah. “My top priority is what we can do to improve school achievement.”
The school board chose Goldhardt over two in-house candidates to lead the state’s largest school district with more than 13,700 students.
Goldhardt will start his new position July 1, at a salary of $170,000 per year, contingent on passing a criminal, financial and background check and receiving New Hampshire superintendent certification. Board members have approved offering him a three-year contract.
Goldhardt said he plans for the district to conduct “an analysis of looking at all angles to find out where the gaps are” and determine “where we need to target and doing it one bite at a time.”
Goldhardt said he also wants to walk through the school’s 22 schools and “put together a priority list.” He calls himself “a relationship-builder” who likes to collaborate and help other people grow.
Goldhardt, executive director for school leadership and performance with the Salt Lake City school district in Utah, was selected for the job from a field of three finalists that also included current Manchester co-superintendents Amy Allen and Jennifer Gillis.
School board members made their choice following three hours of interviews behind closed doors with the candidates Thursday.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring someone with his credentials, demeanor, attitude and outlook,” said at-large school board member Rich Girard. “He strikes me as a man with an iron determination to get things done with a velvet touch doing it.”
Before the vote Girard talked by phone with the superintendent and school board president in Salt Lake City.
“They basically confirmed for me that he’ll be able to put up with whatever this board can throw at him,” Girard said.
Goldhardt succeeds Bolgen Vargas as superintendent of the state’s largest school district.
Vargas was hired as superintendent in September 2016. In January, he surprised school board members, the mayor, 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.
Allen and Gillis have been serving as co-superintendents of Manchester schools since May 1.
“We respect the decision of the Board of School Committee,” Allen and Gillis said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming Dr. Goldhardt into our district and assisting him with his transition, so we can make it as seamless as possible.”
Girard said the two in-district candidates are “both very capable people” who will assist Goldhardt. He said the school board at its Thursday meeting discussed the option of continuing co-superintendents but chose Goldhardt instead.
Following the private interviews of the candidates Thursday night, the school board spent another 100 minutes of discussions in nonpublic session before members came back into open session about 10:40 p.m to take a vote.
In the initial round of voting, Goldhardt received eight votes of support from board members Art Beaudry, Mary Georges, Leslie Want, Lisa Freeman, Dan Bergeron, Ross Terrio, Kelly Thomas and Girard. Allen received four votes, from Sarah Ambrogi, Katie Desrochers, Pat Long and Mayor Joyce Craig. Gillis received one vote from Jimmy Lehoux. Board member John Avard was absent.
A motion was then made and approved to make the vote unanimous in support of Goldhardt.
Goldhardt’s 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 kindergarten to grade 8 school, one charter K-8 school, 26 elementary schools, 80 school administrators, and a $250 million budget. The district has 57 percent minority enrollment, 90 languages are spoken, and 20 percent of the students are English language learners. Almost 60 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunches.
In his position, Goldhardt oversees the hiring process and evaluations of all principals and assistant principals.
He also oversees and leads the School Leadership and Performance Department and supervises the district athletic director, Title 1 director, and Career and Technical Education.
He previously served as principal of Murray High School (1,600 students), and as principal at Snow Canyon Middle School (880 students). He also was a teacher for five years, all in Utah.
In a candidates forum Wednesday night, Goldhardt told attendees he was impressed by what he has seen in Manchester schools.
“I’ve enjoyed exploring the communities of Manchester, and various schools,” he said. “I will always advocate for children. All children. I love what I do.”
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,” he said. “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.”
“I am committed to spending an absolute minimum of five years as superintendent, but would actually prefer 10 years,” Goldhardt said on Wednesday. “We don’t plan on renting in Manchester. We will purchase a home and intend to become invested in the community.”
In addition to having a doctorate degree in educational leadership from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, he has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Utah.
In March, school board members voted to hire the firm McPherson & Jacobson LLC out of Omaha, Neb., as consultants to oversee the superintendent search. School officials said the search drew responses from just 11 candidates.