Enfield Village School principal resigns, citing increased burden on educators

  • Fourth grader Dylan Wright, 9, and his mother Kassandra Blair, of Enfield, left, joined Principal Harrison Little, middle, other students and their parents on a walk to the Enfield Village School from the nearby Community Building on the first day of class Tuesday morning, August 27, 2019. It was the second year of the student parade, organized to alleviate traffic at the school building by Principal Harrison Little and Police Chief Roy Holland, both in their second years at their jobs. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2022 9:39:33 PM
Modified: 5/13/2022 9:37:55 PM

ENFIELD — Citing the increasing role that public schools are forced to play in providing social services with few resources to do so, Enfield Village School principal Harrison Little announced this month he will leave the elementary school at the end of the academic year and take a break from public education.

“I know if I continue in this path that I’m on, my effectiveness is going to lessen,” said Little, who is finishing his fourth year at the school. “Without a change of scenery … I don’t want to become another jaded link in the chain. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I don’t want to give less to this school or this community.”

Little said he was 14 when he decided he wanted to pursue a career working with children and 17 when he decided to become a teacher. He became a principal, in part, to be an instructional leader, a coach for teachers to help them become better at their craft and interact with students.

“That’s certainly a portion of the role, but it is a very small percentage of what is expected of school administrators in 2022, and sort of what’s thrust upon us by the New Hampshire Department of Education, central offices, the community,” said Little, who grew up in Etna and graduated from Hanover High School. “And I think the big one that people don’t talk about enough is the provision of social services through public schools.”

Little isn’t alone in his concerns. Superintendent Amanda Isabelle said she sympathized and that the community has relied on educators to fill more needs for children. The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone in the school system.

“I think that’s demonstrated by the many principals, assistant principals and even superintendents openings throughout the state,” she said. “I think the job is hard in a non-pandemic time.”

She’s also seen an increase in criticism directed at educators — ranging from rising property taxes to accusations that they’re not doing the best they can do to educate children.

“There’s a very loud minority that just continue to complain that schools aren’t good enough, that we don’t do enough, that there’s not enough communication and discipline,” she said. “It’s hard to do a job when you don’t feel appreciated by your community.”

Little, who has been principal at EVS for four years and previously served as an assistant principal at Indian River Middle School in West Canaan for three years, emphasized that the increasing pressure on schools to provide social services was there even before the pandemic. Educators help run flu shot clinics, make sure kids get their teeth cleaned, distribute food through food pantries, provide meals, wash clothes and even make sure families have gas money. More children are also in need of “additional emotional support,” and the waitlist for those services is getting longer.

“We’re given seven hours a day of access to these kids, and we’re expected to teach them to read and write, all the things schools are expected to do, and more and more stuff gets heaped on public educators. It’s back-breaking,” Little said. “The pandemic certainly played a part and made things more challenging, but it’s not the pandemic. This is the direction public education has been heading in for a long time, and I think something needs to change.”

In the meantime, educators and school staff are left to fill in the gaps. They’re experiencing higher rates of burnout as a result, which is leading them to feel ineffective at their jobs.

“They’re blue in the face trying to help all these different kids, and there’s nothing there. There’s no services to be had, there’s no help, there’s no cavalry,” Little said. “If you can’t — no matter how hard you work and how many hours you put in and how much effort you bring to bear — if you don’t feel like you can get the job done or do justice to it, it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other.”

Little said he decided to speak openly about his concerns with public education in hopes that community members will be inspired to get more involved.

“With my departure here, I am hoping that I can spur on some sort of change or some sort of awakening or I can do something for those I am leaving behind on my way out,” Little said. “I’m hoping that this will get people a little more invested, awake, attuned to what’s going on, and people will start to contribute to help things.”

Little’s loss will be felt by the community, said Tomieka Childs, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Enfield Village School, where she also works as a paraeducator. She credited Little with being a great role model for students and staff alike.

“I think he has done a really great job at trying to put the students first, not just in education but social emotional needs,” she said. “The next person definitely has big shoes to fill, but we trust our district to choose a good candidate.”

Childs said she agreed with Little’s plea for the community to become more involved in the school and public education: Show up to meetings, vote, volunteer and email school officials.

“The littlest things really do make the biggest change,” said Childs, who started out at EVS as a volunteer before becoming a paraeducator and is now in school to become a teacher.

Little, who was a teacher and the athletic director at Lebanon Middle School prior to his work in the Mascoma Valley Regional School District, said he does not have another job lined up and is unsure of what he will do next.

Isabelle said the district will form a committee including EVS parents and staff to select the next principal. Applicants inside and outside the district will be considered.

“The goal is to hopefully have someone in place in July,” Isabelle said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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