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Claremont School Board Lends Support to Superintendent

Claremont — The School Board last night voiced full support for SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin in the wake of last week’s vote of “no confidence” by the city’s teachers union.

The board’s vote to back McGoodwin came after about 30 minutes of comments by the five board members present. Members Heather Irish and Charlene Lovett were not able to attend.

“The board has confidence and 100 percent support for what the superintendent is doing,” said Chairman Richard Seaman, a sentiment that was echoed by board members Kristin Kenniston, Brian Rapp and David Putnam.

Board member Gene Grumman said he liked what McGoodwin was doing but wasn’t necessarily a fan about how he was going about it.

Don Lavalette, president of the Sugar River Education Association, was not in attendance, nor were any teachers. Attempts to reach Lavalette last night were unsuccessful.

“They wrote with such conviction, I am surprised we did not see anyone here to defend what they wrote,” said Kenniston.

A letter and about three pages of anonymous comments from teachers sharply criticizing McGoodwin accompanied Lavalette’s notice of no confidence.

The letter said McGoodwin’s has shut down two-way communication and his lack of leadership and flawed decision-making has undercut morale and impaired the learning environment. The union did not ask the board to take any action regarding the no confidence vote.

Former teacher Liza Draper, who left Maple Avenue at the end of the last school year and is Seaman’s wife, said the public should not view the union’s position as unanimous.

“I don’t think the SREA speaks for everyone,” Draper said. Draper said she’d like to know how rank and file teachers feel about their principals and the superintendent.

“Not all teachers belong to the SREA,” she said. “Some didn’t sign on (for no confidence).

“I hope you will continue to support him,” Draper told the board.

The only other person in attendance was Mayor Jim Neilsen. He recounted one of his first meeting’s with McGoodwin.

“He told me he wasn’t here to make friends or create jobs but to educate children and (said), ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to succeed.’ ”

Neilsen said he liked what he heard then and likes what he sees now in regard to how McGoodwin is taking on the challenge of low academic achievement that has plagued the district.

“I am happy to hear he has the board’s support. He has my support,” said Neilsen said, who expressed disappointment in the union’s timing, just weeks before voters will decide the fate of a $12.6 million proposal to renovate Stevens High School.

“Here is another reason people won’t support school improvement,” the mayor said, referring to the “no confidence” vote.

Board member Brian Rapp said the board was “blindsided,” just before the upcoming vote.

“It is unfair to throw this it at us when we are trying to focus on school improvement.

“As a union member, I understand where they are coming from, but I feel there was a different way to go about this,” said Rapp, head of the local firefighters union. “I really wish they felt comfortable enough to talk to us about the issues.”

Seaman believes the discontent has mostly to do with the changes McGoodwin has implemented since he was hired in July 2011. Those changes, aimed at improving academic achievement, are here to stay, the chairman said.

“We can’t go back.”

He said the board charged McGoodwin with putting in place plans to bring academic standards to a level taxpayers expect.

“He said the process won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty,” Seaman said, recounting what McGoodwin told him.

The changes have brought a level of discomfort and frustration that is to be expected, Seaman said.

“Change is difficult and there will be challenges with it.”

The need for change is obvious, said Rapp

“You can do the same thing just so long before you need to make changes,” he said. “He is doing what we asked him to do.”

A few of the board members said they have heard from parents who like what is going on the in the schools under McGoodwin.

“Parents are encouraged by what they see. They are applauding us for trying to make changes and bring us to a higher level of success,” said board member David Putnam.

Only Grumman, who taught school for 35 years, suggested that McGoodwin has the right plan but may not be implementing it in the most effective way.

“I can’t say I’m 100 percent behind the methodology,” said Grumman, who qualified his vote by fully endorsing McGoodwin’s plans but not his method for implementation. “As an ex-teacher, I know it can be difficult to deal with.”

“We can always improve how we do business, but we have to make these changes,” Putnam said to Grumman.

The board said it was confident McGoodwin would reach out to the teachers and find common ground to proceed and resolve their differences.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.