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Merrimack Valley board member remembered for expertise, commitment to every student

As a member of the Merrimack Valley School Board, David Longnecker wasn’t afraid to stand up to criticism, and he consistently emphasized how proud he was of the board’s commitment to providing all students with a quality education.

“I think one of the reasons for that ability to stand up and feel confident about what he was saying is because he was an expert in what he was saying,” said fellow board member Lorrie Carey. “It wasn’t coming from someone whose hobby was sitting on a school board just because they thought it was a fun thing to do, but a real passion for educating students.”

That toughness and high-level experience are just two of the things the school community will remember about Longnecker, who died suddenly Jan. 30 while working in the yard of his Salisbury home. He was 67. His 12 years on the Merrimack Valley School Board marked the final chapter in a long and distinguished career in education, which included an assistant deanship at Northwestern University, high school administrative positions and an advisory role with two local charter schools.

All of that experience combined to make him a board member who treated his commitment like a full-time job. He was instrumental in developing the district’s long-range plan and felt strongly that all students were capable of succeeding

in education despite their diverse needs, his colleagues and wife say.

Longnecker was married to the former Seelye Burr for 44 years. The two met at DePauw University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history. He then went to Northwestern University, where he got a doctorate in education and become assistant dean of students. Later in life, he moved to New Hampshire where he served in the roles of teacher, administrator and counselor at the New Hampton School and Spurwink School in Farmington. The couple moved to Salisbury in 1998, where Longnecker became active at Merrimack Valley, and also served as chairman of the board for School Administrative Unit 46, which includes Merrimack Valley and Andover.

He was a staunch advocate for the creation of the district’s first charter school, CSI, which is aimed at high school drop-outs who want to finish their degrees. His involvement with CSI, and later the TEAMS Charter School, demonstrated his belief that all students were capable of finding success in education, Superintendent Mike Martin said.

“David was always centered on students, and he was centered on all students. He believed we should try to help all kids get their high school diploma and that all kids could learn at higher levels,” Martin said. “He was supportive of kids with challenges and kids who needed to be challenged at a higher level.”

His absence has already left a void.

“There’s a feeling of emptiness,” Martin said.

A quick glance at Longnecker wouldn’t have revealed the educational expert that he was, Carey said. She always called him the “unassuming academic – because if you judge a book by its cover you would never know the layers of ability and experience and dedication to research and understanding that David had.” A worn brown jacket, muddy boots and a signature mason jar full of coffee accompanied Longnecker to almost every meeting, Carey said.

Longnecker was also a supporter of the International Baccalaureate program, which each of the district’s schools are in the process of adopting, and also advocated for individual learning plans, Carey said. Even as the recession hit and the district struggled to keep costs low, Longnecker fought to keep sending kids to Concord’s vocational programs despite tuition increases and to keep the summer reading program, Carey said.

“He saw students as individuals who were capable of learning, regardless of their situation,” she said.

Longnecker’s passion for working with children was reflected in home life as well. He leaves behind two children, Molly, 40, and Jeff, 38, as well as five grandchildren who called him “Pop.”

“He was a kid magnet,” Seelye said. As soon as his grandchildren walked in the house they’d glance at her and say, “ ‘Oh hi, where’s Pop?’ And they would climb all over him,” she added.

When he wasn’t doing school-related work, Longnecker was a fixer-upper.

“He was always building things and fixing things, and we live in a very old house,” Seelye said.

The couple chose to make a home in New England because they both had fond family memories from the area. Longnecker was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., but his family spent summers in New London. Seelye’s family summered in Maine. Their children were small when the couple decided to leave Evanston, Ill., where Longnecker was working at Northwestern, and head back east.

“We said, ‘What are we doing living away from the coast?’ So we came here,” she said. They lived in several communities, including New Hampton and Concord, before settling in Salisbury.

When remembering her husband’s passion for education, Seelye’s description aligned perfectly with the view his colleagues offered:

“He cared so much about kids being able to fulfill the potential that they had,” she said.

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

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