SAU 23 Superintendent Departs for Vt.
Haverhill — The veteran superintendent of the school district that includes Haverhill and Piermont will cross the Connecticut River at the end of the school year to take charge of the supervisory union educating students in South Royalton, Sharon, Strafford, Tunbridge and Chelsea.
Bruce Labs submitted his resignation to the board of School Administrative Unit 23 last week — on the same day that he learned that U.S. News and World Report conferred one of its Best High School Bronze Awards on Woodsville High School.
“I was walking on air all day long,” Labs said of the timing of the award, during a telephone interview on Thursday.
With two months left in his 11th academic year as superintendent and 36th year overall as a teacher and an administrator in the district, Labs came back to Earth to resume tying up some loose ends. That includes leading searches for new teaching principals at Piermont Village School and Bath Village School, teachers of math and English at Woodsville High, teachers for kindergarten and Grade 2 at Bath, a science teacher at Warren Village School, and a new technology coordinator for all eight of the district’s schools.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do here before I’m done,” Labs said. “Not more than usual for this time of year, but plenty.”
Labs’ work ethic, for which SAU 23 is paying him $101,588 this year, helped win over South Royalton School Board member Geo Honigford while the Orange Windsor Supervisory Union was narrowing its search for candidates to replace retiring Superintendent David Bickford.
“He has a great deal of experience,” Honigford said. “It’s not his first rodeo. He’s very personable, very hard-working. Another thing that was important was for the candidate to have an understanding of dealing with five different (town) school boards. It’s a lot to manage, not as straightforward as having one board.
“Anybody who can do that job gets my kudos.”
In SAU 23, that job became complicated last fall, when a majority of Haverhill school board members of the district tried to block renewal of Labs’ contract for 2014-2015. Using a formula in New Hampshire law that gives each member’s vote a “weight” proportional to the number of students in the member’s town, the Haverhill members initially appeared to narrowly defeat the renewal despite simple-majority support from board members in Piermont, Bath, Warren and Benton. Eventually, the district’s attorney said that the board used an incorrect formula, whereas the correct one added up to a reversal of the vote.
After the reversal at a public meeting, Labs told the audience of all the boards and residents of the district, “If I’m not the person that you need to have in this position, I’ll gladly step down. I don’t want to be here if you don’t want me here.”
On Thursday, Labs insisted that the near-miss did not by itself prompt him to start looking for positions elsewhere.
“This is about looking forward, not backward,” Labs said. “I’m sorry to leave here, but I’ve been flirting with this idea for some time.”
Labs said that part of what makes Orange-Windsor attractive is that the supervisory union has been “very interested in collaboration. That’s my big thing, or one of them.”
He pointed to a bus contract with Blue Mountain Union (directly across the Connecticut River in Wells River) that “saved $1 million for our district over the last seven or eight years,” and to cooperation among members of the North Country Superintendents’ Group in buying oil, propane and natural gas, and winning a grant for a program that trains principals.
“I was on the market, but it was a limited market,” Labs said. “It needed to be good for me, and good for them. I’m excited about the possibilities. The communities are very similar. That helps me to understand a little better how things work.”
David Corriveau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 603-727-3304.