New Lebanon school superintendent Allen dives into learning about everyone

Amy Allen, who started as superintendent of Lebanon, N.H., Schools on July 1, after working as assistant superintendent of the Manchester School District, talks with a school board member after a meeting at the SAU 88 office, on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Allen is a 1991 graduate of Mascoma Valley Regional High School. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Amy Allen, who started as superintendent of Lebanon, N.H., Schools on July 1, after working as assistant superintendent of the Manchester School District, talks with a school board member after a meeting at the SAU 88 office, on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Allen is a 1991 graduate of Mascoma Valley Regional High School. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

Superintendent Amy Allen, left, speaks during a meeting of the Lebanon School Board at the SAU 88 office in Lebanon, N.H., on Thursday, July 27, 2023, to discuss the purchase of a managed detection and response service following a cyber attack in June. Allen, took over the position from Joanne Roberts on July 1. School Board Vice Chair Martha DiDomenico is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Superintendent Amy Allen, left, speaks during a meeting of the Lebanon School Board at the SAU 88 office in Lebanon, N.H., on Thursday, July 27, 2023, to discuss the purchase of a managed detection and response service following a cyber attack in June. Allen, took over the position from Joanne Roberts on July 1. School Board Vice Chair Martha DiDomenico is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-01-2023 9:54 PM

WEST LEBANON — For Amy Allen, taking the reins of the Lebanon School District is a homecoming of sorts.

A 1991 graduate of Mascoma Valley Regional High School, Allen has been staying with her mom in Enfield when she needs to be in the Upper Valley. This fall she plans to look for her own place, for herself and her cockapoo, Ozzie.

The “Upper Valley has always been my home,” she said in a recent interview in her office in the district’s administrative building on Seminary Hill. 

Another attraction to the position for Allen was the size of the Lebanon district, which has about 1,600 students, compared to nearly 13,000 in Manchester, where she worked for more than a decade.

It’s “important to develop relationships with families and your staff,” she said, noting that Lebanon schools have strong parental and community support. “I’m excited for that opportunity.”

Allen began work in Lebanon on July 1, taking over from Joanne Roberts, who held the position for nearly nine years. As it was for Roberts, the Lebanon job is Allen’s first as a superintendent. 

Allen, 50, who was a finalist for the part-time superintendent position as Lyme’s in 2022, said the timing was right for her move back to the Upper Valley after her daughter graduated from Manchester Memorial High School this spring.

Allen holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire, where her daughter is headed this fall, and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in educational leadership from Plymouth State University. She’s worked in Manchester schools since 2009, in capacities including assistant principal, principal and finally assistant superintendent.

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She served as principal of Parker-Varney elementary school in Manchester from 2013-17, a time she described as a “big part of the career.”

Allen helped lead a turnaround, and honors included being named 2015 school of the year by the New Hampshire Department of Education, as well as earning a national school change and innovation award from the National Principals Leadership Institute in 2016. 

Mike Beaulac, principal at Manchester’s Green Acres Elementary School, who was a teacher and then assistant principal at Parker-Varney when Allen was there, credits her with allowing teachers to pursue learning opportunities, which they then brought back to their colleagues. 

She gave teachers “freedom to take risks and do different things in the school,” said Beaulac, who also said Allen recognized his potential for school leadership and encouraged him to apply for the assistant principal position.

The changes the Manchester school implemented at the time included multi-age classes and competency-based assessments. 

Beaulac recalled a trip to New Orleans that he took with Allen when they toured the city’s charter schools. 

It was “eye-opening to see how other states (and) schools are doing things,” Beaulac said. 

He gained a sense of the importance of “student freedom of choice to drive their own learning,” he said.

Karen Soule, a member of the Manchester School Board who chairs a teaching and learning committee, worked with Allen closely in her role as assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and leading. 

Soule also commended Allen’s work with competency-based learning, which she brought to the entire district after leaving Parker-Varney. Allen also worked to help implement the district’s strategic plan, which included producing a shared student handbook for the district’s five high schools.

And Soule commended Allen’s work helping to promote safety, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as her work to help students make up for any learning time they may have lost due to the pandemic.

Soule said Allen helped students “not necessarily catch up” but “build from where they are.”

The approach varied from school to school and student to student and included opportunities for learning after school, on Saturdays and online. Soule said Allen worked to use relief money to ensure that all students had Chromebooks to use for their schoolwork. 

“She understands, and she listens, and she follows up,” said Soule, a former school superintendent herself. 

Now in Lebanon, Allen is busy getting to know the community here. She has a 100-day plan, which was somewhat derailed by the June cyberattack that forced some of the district’s systems offline and delayed the release of grades for middle and high school students. 

In addition to leading the district’s recovery from the attack and seeking to fill the place of the director of technology who is retiring, Allen has been meeting with community stakeholders. 

That effort aligns with the priorities of the school board that hired her, she said. 

The board was “looking for a collaborative leader that would engage students” and “collaborate with faculty and community members,” she said. The goals include: “increasing outcomes and opportunities for all our students.”

Richard Milius, the Lebanon board’s former chairman who served on the committee that selected Allen, said in a June interview that Lebanon is “fortunate” to have found Allen with her experience in the state’s largest school district.

“She knows how to deal with disagreements and politics,” he said, adding that he hoped that experience wouldn’t be necessary. “It’s good to have someone who knows how those things work.”

In terms of conflicts on her radar, Allen said Manchester has seen more private schools pop up with the state’s Education Freedom Accounts that offer public money for students to attend private schools.

“We have to be advocates for public education (and) advocates for our students,” she said of the role of public school officials in state politics. “… I believe strong communities need strong public schools.”

She plans to work with other advocates around the state as the New Hampshire Department of Education reviews the state’s Minimum Standards for Public School Approval, also known as the ED 306 Administrative Rules.

Allen also is familiar with Lebanon’s ongoing conversations about the role of the school resource officer in the district. She had a meeting planned with the district’s social worker, who is going into her second year with the district, as well as the SRO. Manchester schools have social workers, SROs and behavioral health counselors, she said.

“We had great working relationships with all of them,” she said.

Also on Allen’s mind is recruitment of paraeducators and teachers. To that end, she plans to bring an educator apprenticeship program through the National Center for Digital Equity to Lebanon that helps train students to become paraeducators and paraeducators to become teachers.

She plans to advertise the program to the district’s current paraeducators and graduating seniors.

It’s “really important that we are continuing to grow our workforce,” she said.

Fortunately for Lebanon, the district has relatively few openings going into the fall. An advertisement in Saturday’s Valley News listed eight teaching positions. Substitutes and paraprofessionals are needed across the district.

Allen also looking ahead to budget season, which she said will give her insight into the community’s priorities. 

When school begins late this month, she’s looking forward to spending time in classrooms, getting to know the teachers and, especially, the students, with an eye toward “building those relationships (and) creating spaces for where they can be heard and valued.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.