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After 25 years leading Concord schools, Abbot-Downing principal McNeish set to retire

The search is on for a new leader at Abbot-Downing School, as veteran Principal Deb McNeish plans to step down at the end of the school year.

With 25 years as a Concord principal, McNeish is the district’s senior elementary school principal. She has brought high energy, exciting ideas and a true dedication to students at each school she has led, Superintendent Chris Rath said.

“She knows her kids inside and out, she knows the names, the families, the grandparents,” Rath said.

The district is already soliciting applications for a replacement, with the goal of bringing a final nomination before the school board in March. McNeish could not be reached for comment.

McNeish began her career in Concord’s schools as principal at Rumford School and also went on to lead the Eastman and Conant schools. After the school consolidation project, she became Abbot-Downing’s first principal. There, she is in charge of 425 students in kindergarten through fifth grade and 55 faculty and staff members.

At Rumford, McNeish presided over some of Concord’s neediest students, a large percentage of whom were on free or reduced lunch, said Clint Cogswell, a school board member and former Concord principal. As principal, he said, she was attentive to the needs of each and every student. She also created a strong sense of community among students and parents.

“People were very proud of their school,” Cogswell said.

During the elementary school project, McNeish was influential when it came to determining what resources the new schools should have, Rath said. In the transition phase, when students at Rumford started attending Conant, McNeish skillfully united the students and parents from both to lead to a smooth transition.

“That’s an art,” Rath said. “There’s no how-to book for that.”

As a leader, McNeish knows how to bring out the best in her staff and their students, and she’s always looking to learn something new, Rath said. Above all, she knows how to earn the trust of the students and parents she works with.

“She really does engage with families and sees their school as a school where families are very much a part of what’s going on,” Rath said.

Applications to fill the principal’s job are due Jan. 3.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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