IMHO: Mascoma’s move to full-time AD will set part-time AD back

  • Greg Fennell. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 6/1/2019 10:10:27 PM
Modified: 6/1/2019 10:10:24 PM

Progress always comes at a cost.
   Mascoma Valley Regional High School in West Canaan has been on an upswing the past couple of years, what with the expansion of the school, the refurbishment of its athletic fields and changes in key administrative positions. With improved resources at its disposal and a school population that should remain stable for the time being, district leaders are planning for a future that they hope better serves its students.

Near the top of the list: redefining the job of athletic director from part-time to full-time. It will happen without the man who’s held the job the past 10 years.

John Kelly is a 70-year-old retiree and, hence, can’t commit to the full-time requirements the reconfigured position will entail. As Mascoma moves forward, he will be left behind.

“First of all, I was never asked by anyone, ‘What is a day for you like? What is the job expectation in terms of time commitment?’ ” Kelly said on Thursday evening. “Despite not having been asked, I voluntarily provided it. I got no acknowledgement that it was even received.

“I am a taxpayer in the community,” the Enfield resident added. “I know what the job entails, so it’s a two-way street. I certainly would have preferred to continue, but I was never given an explanation why. I’ve been told nothing about the rationale for the move. I’ll be honest: I’ve been in the dark from beginning to end.”

SAU 62 board chairman Cookie Hebert seemed to indicate otherwise, telling me recently that the district has been “talking about this for almost three years now.” Budget constraints and the need to get the school expansion passed took precedence. Now the time has come to bolster athletic department administration.

Hebert, of Dorchester, said the reasoning behind making the AD’s job full-time is twofold.

“We’re looking at this because of the growth of the sports program and of other issues that have come up with other clubs that students want,” Hebert said. “Bass fishing, golfing, other things like that, and we’re looking to have a unified team as well to help with our special education students, to get them more into physical education. … It’s a good community service project for our kids.

“There’s a venue piece as well, with scheduling. We have a lot of community events within our building. We’re trying to implement growth to try and do the best we can to make what we have work for everyone.”

Kelly took up the role of part-time Mascoma AD in 2009 after a 37-year career teaching at Lebanon High School. The job worked out nicely for his schedule, affording him time to do things he enjoyed while staying involved in an educational setting. The school also got a good bargain out of the deal, with Kelly working hours that were hardly part-time.

“There was no typical day, obviously,” Kelly said, laughing. “I’m in school by 8:30 a.m. or so. I’ll spend the first 2-3 hours taking care of weather delays or correspondence with other ADs, things with the NHIAA, the things kids have to ask about practices or whatever. I’ll generally leave the building and spend a couple of hours with my wife — we’re now providing day care a couple of days a week for my granddaughter — then I’ll go back around 2 p.m. and stay through.

“If it’s a game day, I’ll be there until 7 or 8 at night. If not, once practices get going and things seem to be progressing OK, I’ll head home usually around 5 or 6 or so.”

An “atypical” day, Kelly said, might take up to 14 hours.

“They enjoyed the benefit of my willingness to do it,” Kelly said. “I loved it. I don’t want to sound sappy, but it wasn’t a job. It was a wonderful experience that I thought I’d be wrapping up my career with.”

The SAU 62 board approved the full-time athletic director at its meeting on May 14. Debra Ford, the district’s business administrator, indicated that the number of current staff members retiring would make it possible to fund a full-time AD, according to meeting minutes. Vice chairman Tim Josephson, of Canaan, said watching the volume of work Kelly handled convinced him it was time to elevate the job to full-time status.

Amanda Isabelle, the district’s interim superintendent, “stated extra coverage for co-curricular activities after school, creating consistency within the programs, maintaining the athletic calendar at both MHS and (Indian River School), oversight of coaches and communication” would all be part of the reconfigured job, according to the minutes. The district started taking applications last week.

In an interview on Thursday, Isabelle estimated the district has been paying Kelly around $27,000 for his work. The full-time AD will make between $40,000 and $65,000, depending on qualifications.

“We’re looking at high school numbers that will be solidly between 350 and 400” students the next few years, Isabelle said. “We’re looking at expanding extracurricular opportunities for our students. We just recently started a girls soccer club; that’s the addition of another team. I’m anticipating, in the next couple or three years, we’ll be running some really solid cross country and track teams. … I’m looking at people talking to me about being part of collaborative equestrian team. I’m looking at golf; multiple parents have talked about starting that. Bass fishing, there’s a lot of interest in providing that.

“John Kelly has worked very hard on very limited hours, and to expand that job and oversee another five or six sports activities would be unfair. That’s more time than he can give us.”

Upper Valley school districts all have their own views of what an athletic director does. Hartford’s Jeff Moreno works as a school administrator during the day — handling discipline and student support, among other things — before changing hats for afternoon and evening event management. Several other ADs schedule both high school and middle school contests. There is no cookie-cutter formula.

Kelly said he doesn’t begrudge Mascoma’s decision; he just wishes he’d received more notice than he did and more of an acknowledgement of what he’s done. He and his wife had planned their next year on the assumption he’d still be working.

“I would say it’s unfortunate he feels that way,” Isabelle said on Friday. “It’s no intent of ours for him to feel not valued. He’s extremely valued for the work he’s done for Mascoma.”

“He’s been in on the conversations,” Hebert said last week. “I can’t speak for him or how he’s feeling; it’s just time for Mascoma to have a full-time AD. It’s nothing against his job whatsoever. He’s done a spectacular job for us, always has. … We don’t want someone to work for nothing.”

The school on the hilltop beside Route 4 in West Canaan continues on an upswing. Isabelle hopes to have the new full-time AD hired by July 1. Kelly will begin his full retirement a year sooner than he thought.

It’s the cost of progress.

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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