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Franklin superintendent named finalist for Manchester job

Maureen Ward, superintendent of the Franklin and Hill school districts, is one of three finalists to succeed Thomas Brennan as superintendent of the Manchester School District.

The search committee named the finalists Wednesday night and hopes to make a decision this weekend, Chairman Ted Rokas said. This is the second try to find Brennan’s replacement after a search ending in March failed to produce candidates the school board supported. Ward is competing with Kriner Cash, outgoing superintendent of Memphis City Schools in Tennessee, and Debra Livingston, the superintendent in the Fall Mountain Regional School District in Charlestown.

Ward has been a finalist for five superintendent jobs, including this one, since January of this year. Since she began at Franklin and Hill in summer 2010, Ward has led a massive turnaround initiative for Franklin’s failing schools, which included securing a $2 million grant to drastically overhaul teaching and learning methods. The plan, finishing its second year, focuses on revamping and developing curriculum, improving teacher instruction and creating a more positive school climate, among other things.

Ward did not return requests for comment.

If selected as Manchester’s new superintendent, Ward would face an even greater array of concerns, as the district of about 15,500 students is more than 10 times the size of Franklin and Hill. For the second search, the board added to the job description a preference for someone with experience leading a district of more than 5,000. Rokas said it doesn’t mean the candidates have to be in a district that size presently, but at some time during their careers.

Before working in Franklin, Ward was assistant superintendent in Hampton, serving a district of about 4,000 students. Before that, she was superintendent of a small elementary school district in Arizona and taught in British Columbia.

Candidates through the first search were interviewed via online video messaging, but the interviews were in person this time, Rokas said. The candidates toured the district yesterday and today, and they will participate in a community forum tonight. Final interviews will be held tomorrow. The candidates in the first search lacked community support, which is an important factor, he said.

“It’s going to be everybody’s superintendent,” Rokas said.

The issues Manchester’s new superintendent will face include tight budgets, no teachers’ contract and a battle with Hooksett over overcrowding in classrooms.

“Challenges surround the fact that it’s our biggest, most diverse community and they’re facing a tough economic state,” said Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.

Already this year, Ward has been a finalist for three superintendent jobs in Massachusetts and one in the Hollis/Brookline School District. She was rejected from one position and withdrew from another. In the other two districts, the search was canceled. In 2011 when Ward was a finalist at another Massachusetts district, she told the Monitor she planned to stay in Franklin and Hill until she retired. But earlier this year she said she was searching for jobs in Massachusetts to be closer to her family.

Although Ward has been a finalist for other positions, neither the Franklin nor School Administrative Unit 18 school boards have discussed her possible exit, Franklin board member Tamara Feener said. SAU 18 board Chairwoman Kathleen Russo declined to comment. But Feener said it’s become clear that Ward wants to leave, and the board should begin thinking about the future.

“It’s pretty evident – it’s been all over the papers – that we need to start being proactive,” Feener said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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