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Don Mahler: Lebanon Makes Right Call

Linda Preston, Lebanon Junior High atheltic director, leads the Lebanon High Class of 2010 in a cheer after delivering the commencement address to 176 seniors on June 10, 2010. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Linda Preston, Lebanon Junior High atheltic director, leads the Lebanon High Class of 2010 in a cheer after delivering the commencement address to 176 seniors on June 10, 2010. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

For the first time since the Lebanon High athletic director search went haywire last month, sanity returned to the process. If for only a few moments.

And we have Linda Preston to thank for that respite.

Preston, the longtime Lebanon Junior High athletic director, was approved to take over as temporary athletic director at the high school on Wednesday night by a unanimous vote of the School Board. The support shown for Preston should have come as no surprise. She was a finalist for the AD job about 20 years ago, when Al Dobson was selected. Today, she is beloved throughout the city; has the respect of the high school coaches, knows all the high school athletes and will bring solid credentials as an administrator.

“There isn’t a person in the community who would be dissatisfied over the temporary hiring of Linda Preston,” said board member Hank Tenney.

Preston’s selection — along with soothing the Lebanon athletic psyche — also will help ease the work load on administrative assistant Pam Spaulding, and allow the players to play and coaches to coach without wondering who’s got their back.

She will hold the job until the board fills the full-time athletic director’s position. How long that will take is anyone’s guess.

So if I were Preston, I’d be bringing in my favorite comfy chair, because I think her stay in the AD office may be a long one. Just look at the problem the school had trying to identify a qualified pool of applicants for the doomed AD search this summer.

I’m sure Superintendent Gail Paludi will be beating the athletic bushes to find a qualified AD, but what makes anyone think that search will go any better the next time around?

As long as the athletic director’s job description requires a candidate to have a principal’s certification, the pool will be guaranteed to be shallow — at best.

The qualifications for the AD job include certification as a building administrator, a master’s degree and teaching/coaching (preferred). There are also 28 performance responsibilities listed in the job description, including “Supervises and provides written evaluation for all coaches and co-curricular advisors ...”

Interestingly, the responsibilities say nothing about evaluating teachers.

Remember, the last search took three tries to bring all of four candidates in front of the search committee, with two being advanced to interview with the superintendent.

Now, this is where things get a little muddy. In most selection scenarios, when the top choice is not accepted — for whatever reason — the second choice moves up. But that did not happen in this case. After Sharon Elementary School Principal Barrett Williams failed to receive a School Board majority, he withdrew his name from consideration. But the other finalist, basketball coach and science teacher Kieth Matte, was never offered to the board for a vote.

Worse yet, according to Matte, he was not even contacted — by anyone in the school administration — to explain why.

So what does that say? He was good enough to make the final cut, but not good enough to be the final choice? Didn’t he deserve to know that? Didn’t we deserve to know that?

Lebanon is a plum athletic job. It has a great reputation, has solid coaches, strong teams and quality programs. So why are we going through this dysfunctional selection process to find an athletic director? Because of a requirement first seen in 2011 that forced AD candidates to have — along with their solid athletic credentials — a principal’s certification.

Yet that requirement was not in place when Matt Laramie was named AD in August 2004. And he didn’t even have a master’s degree at the time. It was not in place when Kelly Carey was hired to replace Laramie in 2007 .

So how, you ask, did the school and its evaluations survive?
Simple: Dan Whitaker, the school’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment — along with his team of Gina Moylan and Jim Nourse — handled the evaluations.

If it worked then, why couldn’t today’s director or curriculum, instruction and assessment pick up the three evaluations? Just asking.

OK, here’s another thought : If the administration is so wedded to the principal certification as part of the AD job description, why not build in a caveat that allows — even requires — the AD candidate without certification to earn that qualification while on the job? That way, the pool is opened to a wider group of candidates with the critical athletic background, while at the same time fulfilling the administrative need for certification.

Think how many qualified AD candidates did not apply because they were scared off by the principal certification. Why would you knowingly cut off your candidate pipeline? Makes no sense to me.

Teachers go for their master’s degrees all the time while they are under contract, so why can’t the AD be given the same flexibility?

The certification is only on the books so that the AD can evaluate the two physical education teachers and the health teacher. You’re telling me this hoopla is all over three evaluations?

You think people want to come to Lebanon now — no matter how inviting the position and the $82,000 salary — knowing the kind of backbiting and infighting that is going on surrounding this hire?

It’s time for the Lebanon school administration to cut out the carping, drop the unworkable requirement and get to work. Do it for the kids; do it for the community and do it for Linda Preston. That’s the least you can do after what she has done for you.

Don Mahler can be reached at dmahler@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.

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LHS AD Post to Be Reviewed

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lebanon — A subcommittee of the School Board will review the required qualifications for the high school’s director of athletics and co-curricular activities and also propose a new rule for hiring committees for administrative positions. The committee’s work comes on the heels of a contentious, and ultimately unsuccessful, process this summer to hire an athletic director. Kathleen Berger, the chairwoman …