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Stevens High Has New Principal

Claremont — The School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to hire the Hillsboro-Deering Middle School principal as the next Stevens High School principal.

It is clear, however, Patricia Barry will have her hands full with challenges given the strong criticism the board and administration came under from parents, students and others during Wednesday night’s meeting where her hiring was announced.

Barry will replace Frank Sprague, who is retiring at the end of this school year.

“I thank you for this opportunity,” Barry told the board. “I am really excited to be part of this district.”

Barry said she was inspired by those she has met in the community, particularly the students.

“There is something good happening in that school,” she said. “I look forward to the challenges ahead.”

Before the board approved Barry’s hiring, it heard numerous complaints from about two dozen residents on a variety of issues, including the dismissal of a longtime substitute teacher, the decision not to renew the contracts of four Stevens teachers and the demolition of the high school stage as part of the $12.6 million high school renovation project.

In February, the Stevens renovation committee reversed an earlier plan to demolish the stage and replace it with a three-inch platform after a number of residents complained that the stage was structurally sound, historically significant and provided excellent acoustics.

The contractor and architect developed a new design to remove and replace the decking and level the stage and reinforce the substructure, which is about 80 years old.

“I don’t know what happened,” Stevens Theater Arts teacher Larissa Cahill to the board. “Please let us know if it is gone.”

Cahill said if the old structure needed to be completely replaced, she and others wanted to salvage the wood and have keepsakes made from it so people could have a piece of Stevens history. Cahill said she understood that decision but was upset that neither she nor the Stevens Alumni Association was informed and the wood was thrown away.

Renovation Committee Chairman Dave Putnam said during a break in the meeting it is his understanding that when the deck came off, the condition of the wood underneath was not worth saving and it was better to “build from the floor up.”

She also said they wanted to save at least 50 sets of auditorium chairs that come four to a set but only got about half and the rest were “smashed” and thrown away.

“I feel I let the alumni association down and for that I apologize,” Cahill said.

Carol Thebarge, the substitute who was terminated earlier this month, was the first person to speak during the public comment period.

She took the opportunity to publicly excoriate Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin over his decision to dismiss her after 35 years of teaching because she refused to comply with a 2010 School Board policy that teachers cannot have students as friends on social media website, such as Facebook.

Thebarge said the timing of her dismissal, which came just weeks after former teacher Christopher LeBlanc was charged with sexual assault against a minor student, unfairly links her to those circumstances.

She said McGoodwin first told her that there was no problem because she was in the privacy of her own home and then was abruptly told to comply with the policy.

“I am injured. I expect an apology,” said Thebarge.

Thebarge said if she complied and removed students from her friends on Facebook, it would “look like I am a danger to students.”

“My reputation has been tarnished.”

McGoodwin did not respond when Thebarge asked if she was “owed and apology,” but School Board Chairman Richard Seaman said the administration can’t selectively enforce its policies.

“I don’t believe you are owed an apology,” Seaman said. “Everyone was aware of the policy and it needs to be enforced. You had a choice.”

Several people spoke in support of Thebarge.

“I think the way you have treated her publicly is disgraceful to the community,” said Crystal Hawkins.

Thebarge’s son-in-law Salvatore Rea said the decision has “touched a nerve.”

“I can’t believe what is going on here. You made mistake, a big mistake.”

Some said other teachers have students as friends on Facebook and they are not forced to comply.

Others were critical of the recent decision by McGoodwin not to renew four contracts with Stevens teachers.

The reasons were not fully explained because they are personnel related but speaking generally, McGoodwin spoke about his plan to improve education in the district and evaluating teacher performance.

Stevens senor Owen Ritondo said he had spoken with some of the teachers and they did not know the reason for nonrenewal.

“These teachers have made a difference. Stevens High School will not be better without them,” said Ritondo.

He called upon the board to reverse the decision.

“You as a board can take a look at the teacher evaluation and see if they are indeed bad teachers. Anything you can do as a board would help Stevens.”

Parent Mike Charest told the board there appears to be a lack of good management in the school district and poor communication with the community.

“Perhaps you should rethink some of your knee-jerk reaction decisions,” Charest said.

Board member Becky Ferland, a former Stevens teacher, said she felt compelled to apologize to Thebarge.

“I feel the way she was treated was so unprofessional,” Ferland said.

Ferland also said when it comes to evaluating teachers, there needs to be consistency and the same standards applied.

“Be sure to follow the letter of the contract and make it fair to everyone,” Ferland said.

Seaman sounded a note of optimism when he said the board would take up the issue and work through them to address everyone’s concerns.

Given all that was said at the meeting, one resident said there is a lot to do.

“You have a real mess,” said Sonya Lawson.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.