WINDHAM — About 300 people turned out for a heated school board meeting Tuesday at the Windham High School auditorium, following the news that some popular teachers would not be getting their contracts renewed, and that a longtime athletic director had announced his resignation.
Some students were waving signs in support of their teachers, and dozens of parents, students and district employees spoke.
The immediate concern was the loss of a handful of teachers, including computer science teacher Raj Gupta, who approached the podium to applause and took a selfie with the crowd before speaking.
“I’m really, really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had here,” Gupta said during a time of public comment. “I understand that the board is not the group that is responsible for personnel decisions. My fate is sealed; I understand that. I accept that.”
Gupta then submitted his teacher evaluations for the public record. He later said he did that because he wanted to make it clear the reason for his non-renewal was not based on his evaluations.
Other teachers named during the meeting who are losing their jobs include Matthew Jablonski, Jeffrey Merrill and Steve Burton.
Gupta said Thursday he is aware of at least five teachers not getting their contracts renewed, each for individual reasons.
He added that he was proud of how he had helped grow the computer science program.
During the meeting, which lasted more than three hours, emotions ran hot. Students and parents expressed sadness and anger at the loss of their favorite teachers and athletic director Bill Raycraft, who announced last week he would be resigning effective June 30.
Residents credited Raycraft with elevating the high school football program to Division I.
A Friday news release from Raycraft said, “the expectations for his job have changed to the point where he cannot perform the functions of the job to his standards of excellence.”
Board member Rob Breton said he was shocked to learn of Raycraft’s resignation, and said he felt it was unnecessary.
Some residents said they felt the contract decisions were made without sufficient public input or student input.
Past board chairman Dennis Senibaldi said personnel decisions are the purview of Superintendent Richard Langlois.
“We have no say in that,” Senibaldi said just before the meeting. “We can’t force the superintendent to hire anybody.”
Newly appointed board chairman Keleigh McAllister said during the meeting that the administration doesn’t arrive at its personnel decisions in a vacuum. Rather, they are the result of input from a wide range of district staff and administrators, she said.
For former school counselor Beth Lippold — whose contract was not renewed last year after five years — the frustrations expressed at Wednesday’s meeting were a flashpoint in a larger issue that she described as the district’s “toxic environment in which our teachers are working in.”
She said teachers in Windham work in constant fear of their jobs.
“You have to toe the line. If you don’t toe the line, you’re out,” Lippold said.
Some parents threw verbal jabs directed at Langlois, but McAllister repeatedly warned them not to say anything inappropriate and asked the public to keep their comments positive.
Before the meeting, parent Kiki Evans said about 800 high school students had walked out of the school in protest at 10 a.m., and Gupta was visibly moved by the show of support, she said.
Calls to Langlois’ office were not returned by press time.