Superintendent takes over SAU 34
Focus is on better student test scores
After a tumultuous year, the Hillsboro-Deering, Washington and Windsor school districts are finally moving forward with a stable leadership team in place, according Richard Pelletier, chairman of the SAU 34 school board.
Earlier this month, the schools hired Bob Hassett, a retired superintendent of Lynnfield Public Schools in Lynnfield, Mass., as their next superintendent.
Pelletier, who is also chairman of the Hillsboro-Deering School Board, said SAU 34 needed a superintendent who could improve student test scores. Last year, Hillsboro-Deering High School ranked fifth from the bottom among high schools in the state.
The schools also needed stability, he said. When Hassett begins in June, he'll be the third superintendent in three years. Alan Genovese resigned in August after one year on the job, and interim Superintendent Garry Murphy was quickly hired in September.
'It's been a very difficult year this year. One of the more difficult years I think I've ever had as a school board member,' Pelletier said.
But he hopes Hassett is here to stay.
Hassett retired as Lynnfield's superintendent last year, after 15 years with the school district. He spent three years in that role, and previously served as assistant principal and principal at Lynnfield High School since 1997. Before that, he taught in Melrose, Mass., for 20 years.
'If you look at my history, I have a tendency to stay where I'm at,' Hassett said.
Hassett said he's enjoyed a year of retirement but missed working in education. The SAU 34 position was the only one he applied to because he felt its relatively small student population would allow him to 'be visible in the schools.' He signed a three-year contract this month.
Hillsboro-Deering High School also hired a principal in January. After serving as interim principal since August, Jim O'Rourke became the school's fifth new principal in the past six years.
'It's all about getting the right team in place, from the administration on down to the teachers,' Pelletier said. 'Unfortunately, we've had a lot of turnover in the last few years. Hopefully that's going to come to a stop.'
Hassett said he knows the schools need to improve their NECAP test scores, and he believes he can help by aligning school curriculums with the tests. That's how he raised test scores in Lynnfield, he said.
But, unlike in Massachusetts, where standardized testing is a graduation requirement, Hassett said SAU 34 must get students more invested in their test outcomes. Hassett said O'Rourke has already been working this school year to do that, and he was impressed with the 'mutual respect' between teachers and students when he visited the school.
Marjorie Porter, who ended her term as vice chairwoman of the Hillsboro-Deering School Board earlier this month, said the high school has benefited this year from O'Rourke's leadership.
O'Rourke and the teachers turned around 'what could have been a terrible situation' following poor test rankings and former principal Dixie Tremblay's resignation in July, Porter said.
A federally funded School Improvement Grant provided money to train teachers. Porter, who's also a Democratic state representative, said she's seen teachers taking more initiative.
'I was very impressed with the things that Mr. O'Rourke did to encourage the kids, or to make the kids understand that they had to take steps themselves to get these test scores up,' Porter said.
Test scores are already showing improvements, and Porter said she hopes Hassett will continue guiding the schools in the right direction.
'He's got his hands full, but not as much as he might have had if we had not had such a positive, tremendous year in the high school as we . . . had,' Porter said.
Hassett understands he'll be leading schools that need to improve. But he's confident that, with time, it can be done.
'Things don't happen overnight,' he said. 'The great strides that Lynnfield made during my time there was a result of a team effort.'
Despite the turnover in leadership, Pelletier said the schools 'haven't been just treading water' this year, and have been working to build that sense of teamwork under Murphy, the interim superintendent.
Murphy has 'worked hard with the staff on hammering that point home on, 'What we have is unacceptable, we are going to work hard to improve,' ' Pelletier said. 'He has gotten the administrative team all rowing in the same direction, all moving forward.'
Hassett said working at SAU 34 'is a challenge I'm looking forward to.' While he sees similarities between his new school districts and the schools in Lynnfield - both are relatively small, for example - he acknowledged that there are also differences.
At Lynnfield, Hassett only oversaw schools in one town. As superintendent of SAU 34, he'll oversee four towns. While Lynnfield's student population is larger, its geographic area is smaller than Hillsboro, Deering, Washington and Windsor, he said. And the population and setting of Lynnfield, a suburb of Boston, are different than those of the four New Hampshire towns he'll work with.
But Hassett said he's not concerned about those differences.
'I think that children are children,' he said. 'No matter if they're living in Hillsboro or Lynnfield, they're children. And good teaching and learning happens . . . regardless of their location, in my opinion.'
Hassett signed a three-year contract for the position last week. He'll earn $129,500 next year, Pelletier said.
'We're looking forward to next year,' Pelletier said. 'I think we're going to have a good year.'
(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org)